“Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do … and what is right to do.”

Like any sales producer, I love closing insurance deals. However, I also enjoy reviewing an insurance policy and advising a client when they have an excellent, existing policy and are not in need of my services. As insurance brokers, we have the awesome responsibility of safeguarding our client’s assets. Every decision we make always needs to be in their best interest.

Ethical behavior and honesty should be the first priority of any insurance agent when conducting business for their clients. Ethical behavior is the lubricant that keeps the economy running smoothly.

We as agents, who are inundated in sales language and technique, are under tremendous pressure to “close deals.” For some, the pressure can sometimes compromise decisions and redirect those decisions to fulfill self-interests rather than the interests of their clients.

In other words, agents often face both external and internal pressures to advise their clients to purchase more insurance than they need or — the other extreme — underinsure a risk just to close the deal. This cheapens the agent’s professional credibility, and indeed cheapens our industry as a whole. In order for our economy to flourish, the consumer must have a healthy level of trust, and rely on their insurance agents to be ethical and fair when conducting business on their behalf.

It’s time the insurance industry began measuring a new sales and support staff “promise” on new standards. When screening future applicants, testing should be included for ethical and moral behaviors. Insurance coverage, sales technique and style can be taught, but the workplace can’t teach a person to be honest, moral and ethical. Every company is striving for an ethical workplace environment that supports a positive reputation and the healthy morale of all employees. Ethics violations hurt business and cost money due to lawsuits and lost business.

So how do people learn to be ethical and honest? We learn behavior when we are growing up, from our parents and our role models. Over the last two decades, the decline of morals and values has significantly affected the business marketplace — so much so that business is scrambling to find ways to ‘legislate morality.”

Consider the fact that the State of California now requires four ethics education hours, per licensing period, in order to renew an insurance license.

Here are simple ways the insurance industry can begin focusing on ethics.

Develop a Code of Conduct for your company. Make sure everyone in the company has been trained to do the following:

» 1. Respecting one’s self, co-workers and customers is the first step in maintaining ethical behavior. Doing the right thing every time regardless of the outcome.

» 2. Demonstrating integrity by initiating honest and reasonable carrier negotiations, keeping your word, and never promising more than you can deliver just to “close the deal.”

» 3. Generously offer good advise — even if the results don’t equate to a “sales win.” Be passionate and committed to helping the client, rather than helping yourself.

— Joanne Gonzales, CSRM, CISR, is vice president of Brown & Brown Insurance of California, Santa Barbara Branch.