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Scandals, Ethics, and rebuilds

In many industries and professions scandals come along from time to time, they usually leave a legacy of change and they may leave lasting damage or recognition that an ill has been found and resolved.

Insurance

In my industry of Insurance perhaps the most telling recent scandal was the activities of Micheal Bright, who ran Independent Insurance, a business that grew rapidly and then collapsed in 2001 spectacularly after a cover up by Bright and the hiding of key facts from other Directors (More here >) – Many insured customers we left overnight without insurance and, as Independent were a prominent business insurer there were implications for the whole economy. Michael Bright paid with a prison sentence of seven years passed in 2007.

One of the interesting (at least if you like ‘dry’ discussions about market regulation) things Independent did was to feed into the establishment of appropriate prudential regulation through the FSA in the early 2000′s and helped to ensure that whilst there were financial difficulties in insurance the level of bail out (in the UK) was minimal in the financial crisis. These things aren’t directly linked but we can join the dots in hindsight. Anyone who is interested in where insurance prudential regulation is going will find good background in this paper by Zurich (PDF >)

Politics

The expenses scandal broke into an area where scandal is (sadly) quite well known, historical scandals have always involved either sex or money or both, and this time it was money alone. Again though what we saw was the worst wrong doers being jailed and the system being changed to address the concerns the scandal had raised. With more transparency it’s now possible to see what most MP’s were claiming (here >) until the new independent review body was operating properly (IPSA). Public trust in the the propriety of expense claims isn’t, at least obviously, one of disdain and disgust any more. It was.

Medicine

There have been many scandals in Medicine, and two spring to mind, most recently in relation to breast implants where commercial grade silicone was used rather than medical grade. A scandal that’s still being resolved and the final bills and costs aren’t resolved. Nor yet the mechanisms to avoid a repeat.

Slightly further ago was the case of Harold Shipman. As a GP he could murder and then certify the deaths of old patients and did so an estimated 215 times (or more – see here >). As a result of his activity those who die an apparently natural death (so no Post Mortem is required) and who are going to be cremated now need certification of death from two independent medical experts. A sensible and logical protection that has a cost, but provides certainty. A change I know we welcomed when my Mother died last year, even though there would never have been any suspicion of anything that needed such a check. The fact that it is now automatic is sensible.

Sport

Those of us with longer memories who watched olympic games in an era when drugs were not tested regularly can recall the strongly altered body shapes of those fed a diet of steroids. In 1976 East German swimmers won 11 out of 13 medals but it wasn’t until the 1990′s that there was confirmation of the use of Steroids. It was cheating, on a national scale. There’s a timeline of drugs in sport here >

The regulations and testing that we now force our sports participants to endure does mean that we, generally, trust the contests to be fair. Transparency and good regulation lie at the heart of that, along with an acceptance by the professionals themselves of the need for it.

The battle for ethics

There are many more examples. Few professions escape the spotlight of scandal from time to time, because few professions are other than a collection of humans with all their faults, and emotions.

The trouble is, whilst these scandals are in the news and unresolved they take over attention and concern from the real business of the profession, the profession suffers (badly) until it takes ownership and demonstrates buy in from all in the profession. Then it can heal and it can rebuild its reputation.

Would you agree that if your profession has a scandal, the more that people within it, who take the ethical stand, who don’t defend the past, but create the future, the more quickly it can rebuild?

William Buist
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