Call me Pollyanna, or just dismiss me as a member of the "liberal" media, but in my humble opinion, the Spitzer probe into possible fraud and anti-competitive practices in insurance will ultimately be good for the industry.Yes, he's tenacious. Yes, his investigations are causing upheaval in the market. Yes, brokerage firms and carriers are spending a lot of money right now to deal with the situation-and earnings are off. And yes, broker contingency fees have been a staple in the industry for a long time.

But the bottom line is: If fraud has been perpetrated, it should be uncovered and it should be stopped. Fraud is fraud, whether individual consumers are filing false claims with carriers, chiropractors are charging for services never rendered, or brokers and insurers are rigging bids to fabricate the illusion of competition to corporate clientele.

What's more, the Spitzer probe is forcing the industry to address another, perhaps even thornier, ethical issue: the line between working in the best interest of the customer and working to maximize sales.

"Agents, brokers and consultants for years have talked about serving the best interest of the client-that they are consultants, not sales people," notes Chuck Johnston, director of industry markets at Callidus Software, a San Jose, Calif..-based enterprise incentive management system vendor. "And there's an element of truth to that-but it's not black and white. It's a gray situation."

Indeed, it is gray. Too gray. So let's ask ourselves: Do we as corporations have a right to influence the marketplace by paying people more than our competitors so they'll favor selling our products? If we do, do we as consumers have a right to know when people who sell us products and services are receiving incentives to sway us in a particular direction? While we're thinking about it: What do we mean by a free, competitive marketplace anyway? Does "free" mean "anything goes-as long as you can get away with it?" Or does it mean we all have a fair chance?

The vast majority of people I meet in this industry are fair and honest people. They want to buy and sell products in a market that's not skewed by under-the-table tactics, and they want to serve their customers well.

Spitzer is trying to root out "bad apples"-companies that allow or encourage fraudulent activity for their own gain. But he's also forcing all of us-as members of the financial services industry and as consumers of it-to pay more attention to the free market principles we say we value. And that's good for the industry.

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