045 Professionalism in Surveying with Peter Bolton King

Peter Bolton King (FRICS FNAEA FIRMP) is a freelance trainer and consultant. Until September 2020, he was the Global Director of Professionalism and Ethics at the RICS.

Peter started work in 1973 with Locke & England. After qualifying as a Chartered Surveyor, he became the firm’s youngest ever partner.

He served as the CEO of the National Federation of Property Professionals in the UK from 2003 to 2012, a post he held before joining the RICS.

He was also part of the RICS’ Regulation of Property Agents (RoPA) team.

Becoming a Chartered Surveyor ‘The Old Way’

When Peter Bolton King startied his career in the property industry, the path to getting a qualification and entering the profession was much different than it is today. Peter emphasises these differences but also some of the benefits of getting the Chartered status ‘the old way.’

“Younger people don’t quite understand that in those days there weren’t corporate estate agents. The vast majority were old style general practice firms of Chartered Surveyors. Therefore, if you wanted to rise up the ranks within a firm, you had to become a Chartered Surveyor. It was many years later that non Chartered Surveyors estate agents were up and running. In those days, you either went to a limited number of universities who offered courses that would get you into becoming a chartered surveyor, or you did what I did, which was to study in the evenings and on the weekends on what was called a correspondence course. As part of that, I also went to some evening classes in Birmingham, and once a year I traveled to London to sit in the RICS’ annual exams, which you either passed or failed.”  

“I still believe that the benefits of working while you’re studying,” Peter continues, “are being able to put down on paper in my final exam some examples of things that I’d come across in work. Being able to do that made it easier than trying to just remember theoretical things that you’ve read or heard about. I regret that that way of doing it isn’t available for a lot of people these days.”

Professionalism and Ethics in the Surveying Industry

After spending 10 years as the CEO of the National Federation of Property Professionals, Peter was invited to join the RICS and first lead the global residential , which then turned into working on professional standards. We wanted to learn what professionalism means for Peter.   

“I don’t think it’s just about following the rules, because the rules are often just purely principles based, and you have to know how to apply them. There has been quite a lot of research in this, and a few years ago RICS engaged Ipsos MORI to interview a lot of professionals, non professionals, the public government and loads of different people about what they thought it meant to be a professional. At the end of the day, a lot of high level words came out – integrity, honour and trust.”

“The biggest threat to professionalism is commercialism,” Peter continues. “Getting that balance right is really difficult, and again, life experience comes into it. However, young professionals who are at the start of their career often say to me how it’s incredibly difficult to stand up to the client and being prepared to say “I’m sorry, but are you asking me to act in an unprofessional way?” What do they do – do they walk away from that job? How do they square that with their boss? I’ve walked away from jobs before because people, in effect, have been asking me to discriminate or break the law. But it’s not an easy thing to do.”

Professional Standards in the Global Context

As the CEO of NFoPP and Global Director of Professionalism and Ethics at the RICS, Peter had an opportunity to travel the world and learn about cultural differences in the attitude towards the surveying profession.

“I’ve been able to experience a number of different ways of working in a number of different cultures. One of the interesting things that I’ve found is that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, professionalism means the same thing, but it might come across in different ways. That’s one of the things you have to learn, that it’s not necessarily, because that’s the way we do it in the Western Hemisphere, that it’s always the right way to do it. But the issues, the problems, whether it be conflicts of interest, whether it be integrity, those issues are generally almost the same. One of the challenges I’ve had is that these high level principles like ethical behaviour, integrity, trust mean different things in different countries. What you should never do, and what any of us will fail, is to go around the world and suggest for a moment the way we do it is the best way.”

Regulation of Property Agents (RoPA)

Although he is no longer with the RICS and he works as an independent trainer and consultant, Peter was heavily involved with RoPA on setting up standards for minimum qualifications for property agents.  

“I’m not the only one who has been saying it is a crazy situation that when you are dealing with people’s biggest asset, that there is nothing to stop anybody setting themselves up, regardless of their qualifications, or lack of them, or experience. The government came to the decision that that was not right, that agents, and we’re talking about sales agents, lettings agents, block managing agents should have to meet minimum competency standards, and should be better regulated. Lord Best was chairing the working group and a paper, which came out in 2019, recommended that yes, every person involved in the sales, lettings or block management business should have minimum qualifications, and they set out what perhaps the minimum qualification should be. The second thing was that there is a plethora of standards out there at the moment, and there should be a single one, whether it be called a standard or a code or whatever. It would also be silly to start from scratch, since there is some good stuff out there at the moment, therefore it was more a question of bringing everything together and updating it. The third very important thing was that there should be an independent regulator in charge of the sector, who would own that code, and presumably would also have the power to remove a license from somebody who had been given it.”

“When will RoPA come in? Thanks to COVID not nearly as quickly as I had hoped. I think that it’s going to be several years, there’s still a lot of water to go under the bridge, people still have lots of questions about whether they should be grandfathered and what’s this standard gonna look like, what’s the regulator gonna do, who’s gonna pay for the regulator, etc. I might be fully retired before it comes in, but at least it’s going in the right direction and the government recognises that there are some issues out there that need addressing,” Peter concludes.

What We Cover:

  • The benefits of qualifying as a Chartered Surveyor parallel to working in the industry
  • What resilience training for young professionals means
  • Professionalism and ethics in the surveying industry
  • Differences in professional standards and ethics across cultures
  • The work of RoPA and upgrading regulations

Connect with Peter Bolton King: