An article by the ChAD’s new syndic
Jean-François Hamel, C.I.B., C.R.M., Syndic
A few months ago, after spending over 20 years working in the field as a damage insurance broker, I decided to make a major career change and accepted the position of Syndic at the Chambre de l’assurance de dommages (ChAD). I pored over a number of investigation files either currently underway or completed, as well as many complaints filed with the Syndic’s Office, and was struck by both the diversity and the extent of the shortcomings in these files. It made me realize how important it is to respect professional standards and best practices, since reducing consumer complaints is closely linked to strengthening the reputation of our profession.
In today’s world, consumers are well informed and expect more of their representatives. Generally speaking, insureds know that redress is available if a professional acts negligently and they have no trouble finding out where to go to assert their rights. It is no doubt in part for this reason that the number of complaints filed with the Syndic’s Office has risen over the last few years.
Having worked for many years in the industry myself, I understand just how fast paced a damage insurance professional’s day can be. However, agents, brokers and claims adjusters must never forget their obligations to the public as well as the fact that not fulfilling these obligations will result in serious consequences.
YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE
In this age of ultra-efficiency, it is important to stress that every professional is responsible for his or her own conduct. A professional cannot escape the consequences of a breach of ethics by saying that he was merely following his employer’s procedures or instructions. For instance, a pizza delivery man cannot justify speeding by explaining that his employer requires that orders be delivered within 30 minutes. This argument will not spare him having to pay a fine, since the Highway Safety Code takes precedence over company policy. The same principle applies to respecting the ethical obligations that govern the professional practice of damage insurance representatives and claims adjusters.
CONSEQUENCES THAT MAKE YOU THINK TWICE
The Syndic’s Office is charged with conducting an investigation if it believes that a breach to one of the Codes of Ethics, the Act respecting the distribution of financial products and services or its regulations has occurred. If the Syndic’s Office observes that a technical error has been made, it may impose an administrative measure that will enable the professional to correct his practice.
The most frequent shortcomings1 that trigger administrative measures are related to the clarity of information provided to insureds, the non-waiver agreement, a lack of accountability, negligent record keeping, carrying out one’s mandate poorly, using immoderate language, failure to inform or explain, and improperly implementing the complaints processing policy.
When the Syndic’s Office observes that a disciplinary offense has been committed, it files a formal complaint with the Discipline Committee. If the respondent is found guilty of one or more charges, the Committee imposes a sanction based on the seriousness of the offense and case law derived from previous similar incidents.
Sanctions may range from a reprimand to permanent strike from the membership roll, if the protection of the public is in danger; and fines may range from $2,000 up to $50,000 per charge. The Discipline Committee may also require that the representative take a specific course, which will not be counted as one of the 20 mandatory professional development units. All disciplinary decisions are made public. Furthermore, notifications of both temporary and permanent striking from the membership roll, as well as limits on the right to pursue activities, are published in the newspapers to keep the public informed.
Above and beyond disciplinary sanctions, the stress caused by legal proceedings and a sullied reputation, representatives who engage in ethical misconduct in their professional practice also tarnish the image of the profession in the eyes of the public. This, in turn, weakens the public’s trust in the profession and the whole industry suffers. Furthermore, the representative may also be sued civilly for professional liability.
The profession’s credibility in the public eye is important. It is therefore in the industry’s interests that the Syndic’s Office of the ChAD maintain discipline and ensure that representatives respect their ethical obligations.
I would now like to invite you to take some time—once a year, for instance—to review your Code of Ethics, the annotated version of which is available on chad.ca. In doing so, you can avoid certain unfortunate consequences, but more importantly, you will be able to offer your clients value-added services that they will no doubt greatly appreciate.
HOW DOES THE DISCIPLINE COMMITTEE DETERMINE SANCTIONS?
The Discipline Committee is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal that operates under the rules set out in the Quebec Professional Code.
Before rendering its decision, the Discipline Committee hears both parties’ arguments in order to determine the most appropriate sanction under the circumstances. Both the offence(s) and the professional found guilty of committing them are taken into consideration when determining the sanction. If both parties agree on certain recommendations, the Discipline Committee must follow them unless they are unreasonable. Aggravating factors, such as repeatedly committing an offence or endangering the protection of the public; or mitigating factors, such as the person’s background, cooperating with the Syndic’s Office, or pleading guilty as soon as possible, also have an influence on determining the sanction.
The sanctions imposed by the Committee are not designed to be punitive. Rather, they serves as an example to peers of what not to do and thus help to prevent such misconduct from re-occurring.
The Syndic’s regular column, based on actual cases brought before his office, will return in the next issue. Its purpose is to help you reflect on your professional practice, specifically with respect to your ethical obligations.
1. According to the 2013 Annual Report of the Chambre de l’assurance de dommages.