The new man heading the ABI is an ex-civil servant, who promises to take general insurance seriously and to go back to the floor to understand the industry's needs. Elliot Lane reports

When the ABI announced in September last year that its director-general Mary Francis would be standing down from the post in March 2005, there was a mixed response from the industry. Francis' tenure was dominated by the pension crisis and the collapse of Equitable Life. As such her time was spent predominantly on the life insurance sector, which led to criticisms from the general insurance sector that she neglected her responsibilities to their needs.

A number of senior figures in the general insurance sector applied for the position, including ex-IUA chief executive Marie-Louise Rossi, but were rejected. Instead a leading civil servant from the DTI, Stephen Haddrill, claimed the crown and his strong links with government helped him secure the post.

Haddrill says he is fully aware that the job entails lobbying for both the life and general insurance market.

"I take both sectors of the market very seriously. Motor, household and major commercial insurance are just as important to consumers as pensions.

"My first job is to go on regional visits and meet every one of our 398 members. I have been spending time with the staff and one of my key initiatives is to get every one of them to work in a member's business at some stage," he says.

Haddrill himself will 'go back to the floor', working in an insurer's office even manning a phone in a call centre. He is also looking to appoint a new head of research to tackle the major issues surrounding the industry and its effects on consumers.

"I am looking ideally for an economist, with some experience of public policy. If the candidate has a commercial background in the financial service industry, that would be an advantage," he added.

On regulation, he feels that the FSA must offer "a fair deal" and believes that, as he has dealt with the regulator at senior levels while at the DTI, he will be able to lobby effectively on behalf of the industry.

"It is making sure that John Tiner and his team are administering regulation in a proportionate manner," he says.

In the autumn the ABI will publish a paper on the FSA's 'policing the perimeter' programme and how it is affecting the regions. "There is an impatience in the UK to get this regulation through. We must assess the cost to the industry and understand where enforcement is needed and the degree in which it is enforced," says Haddrill.

Flouting deadline
On 14-15 June he will attend meetings in Brussels with the European Commission and expect to talk to MEPs about the scope of the IMD and regulation across Europe. He says he understands the frustration of insurers, and brokers, who have implemented FSA regulation at great cost, but have watched some EU countries either ignore or flout the IMD deadlines.

"However, the good thing about the Commission is that if you present all the evidence then it will base its whole argument around that evidence.

"The caveat to that is that you must present all the facts and be sure of them," he added.

Finding a workable solution to the employers' liability (EL) crisis has been high on the agenda of the industry for the past two years and the inertia from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has left the industry dependent on the ABI.

Haddrill says he is fully aware of the industry's frustration and is prepared to push the ill-fated EL pilot scheme through with or without the unions.

"The DWP has been supportive but it is regretful that the TUC has not taken to the idea. I am going to raise the EL pilot scheme again with the DWP and TUC because I don't believe the TUC should have a veto over this. The unions must play a role. But I'm prepared to go ahead without them if necessary." IT

Haddrill on
Uninsured drivers and the Greenaway report:

"It's a scary thought that one in 20 drivers you pass walking down the street is uninsured. I back much of what has been proposed by Greenaway and the industry, and if crushing cars is the way to stop this, then I support the more extreme measures."

"I will be looking to the government to hold its promises on flood defence spending. Elliot Morley is back in that role which is good news for us."

Restrictions on lobbying: "There are some restrictions I have to abide by. I can talk to MPs and ministers on subjects which we are consulting on, or that involves the ABI. But I cannot go out cold-calling. By September this year all restrictions will be lifted."

On reports that he was lured away from the DTI and a life as a civil servant by the attractive £350,000 salary:

"The Times was very flattering about my prospects of replacing Sir Robin Young as permanent secretary at the DTI. But I cannot deny that the salary did not have a negative impact on my decision to come to the ABI. If that isn't too much of a civil servant's response to the question."

Personal fil
Football team: Life-long supporter of Crystal Palace

Past-times: Sailing and gardening

Married with two teenage sons: "One of my sons has just turned 17 and has bought his first car. I'm hoping this job will help me find him a relatively reasonable price for his motor insurance."