Are there virtual ethics in the e-economy? Bonar Irving thinks so, and the head of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Alberta is using the Internet to reach out to both corporations and consumers to convince them that the BBB — and its model of corporate responsibility — is an integral part of the new economy.
Irving, who last week replaced retiring BBB president and CEO Norm Haines, is quick to admit the backbone of the bureau’s 3,600 membership is largely traditional bricks-and-mortar companies. But that’s about to change, under the leadership of the new forward-looking boss.
“I don’t think the new economy is so new anymore,” he notes. “I think we need to move ahead and get into that area.
“One of the things I’m excited about is moving the BBB more to where people are seeking information. That’s the Internet . . . so we really have to be there.”
Irving’s own background is solidly grounded in the business community, despite starting his career as an elementary teacher following university.
He was taking evening and summer courses in accounting, as well as doing some work for H&R Block, when the income tax firm made him a job offer in the early ’70s.
It was the start of a 25-year career with the company, which eventually brought the Lethbridge native to the level of senior vice-president and general manager for the company nationwide.
The father of four grown children retired this past April, and when he heard about the BBB position, “it tweaked my interest.”
“At H&R block, we built our relationship with our customers on trust and ethics. It is something I had strong feelings about . . . it just seemed like a really good fit.”
The 46-year-old bureau offers several services, including helping mediate disputes between consumers and merchants, and offering information on member and non-member companies.
The Calgary office and its staff of 24 handled an estimated 140,000 inquiries and complaints last year alone.
The bureau also works with Alberta Justice, co-ordinating 117 mediators who review ongoing court cases to discover if mediation would be a better alternative for the feuding parties.
Irving credits Haines for helping boost the bureau’s own membership figures and profile during his 15 years of service.
And he has his own sights firmly set on implementing some of the initiatives started by his predecessor — including doubling membership levels over the next five years.
“It is ambitious,” he admits, “but I think as we move into the new (economy), we will find members who are going to want to belong.”
The bureau is now preparing to provide online “reliability reports” of companies on its Web site (www.southernalbertabbb.ab.ca), a service now available only by phone.
There’s also a plan to adopt an advertising review process to check for inconsistency in advertising claims.
The BBB is also planning to eventually introduce a trust mark, or a BBB seal of approval, which member companies can use on their own Web sites to demonstrate their commitment to the bureau’s code of ethics for online commerce.
“I think it’s important that people recognize that if they see the BBB seal, they can be confident there are business ethics being practiced in that company, whether it’s business to business or B2C,” Irving says.
“As we make membership available to the new economy, I think they will also recognize the value in having people understand what belonging to the bureau means and the value it has to be able to say you’re a member of the BBB.”
Irving is planning to lead the bureau into the new millennium, and estimates his new career in positioning the bureau to tackle the challenges of the e-commerce economy will last between three and five years.
“Then,” winks Irving, an avid member of Priddis Greens Golf and Country Club, “I will be able to golf.”