Outsiders will replace embattled leaders, says Elliot Lane

In the space of a few hours on Thursday last week, two announcements were made public. Though separate, the news that two senior figures in the insurance industry were preparing to stand down from their posts seemed to personify a sea change in the industry.

First, ABI director general Mary Francis said she would stand down in March 2005 after, by then, six years in the job. The Financial Times described her as "the woman who turned the trade association...into one of the country's most formidable advocates of shareholder power".

Mighty praise indeed. The problem is that to those in the general insurance market, this description does not seem to ring true.

It is fair to say that her tenure saw the demise of some major insurers, in particular Independent Insurance and Equitable Life. The press and the industry are often told that most of the ABI's best work is behind closed doors. This presumably resulted from Francis's role in lobbying government and keeping ministers briefed.

But the political appetite does not seem to be there for a long-tail fund for employers' liability or for squeezing more money for flood defence spending. So the industry felt Francis would not fight its corner when pushed on the ropes.

Speaking to Insurance Times last week, she said that her greatest achievements were the publication of the ABI's climate change report, which "stirred global interest", and making the government understand that rising liability claims is not just greedy insurers - it's the lawyers too.

Francis was an embattled leader especially when facing the Treasury select committee where she was the public face of an industry being accused of greed and corruption.

Francis admitted that "the Treasury is there to give all financial services a rough ride". So it is understandable that she wants to leave that part of the job behind to focus on non-executive roles.

The second bit of news was that Aon chief executive and president Pat Ryan will also step down. He, like Francis, is another embattled senior figure - shareholder power was very much his undoing. Since 1998 Aon's share price has steadily dropped from around $48 to its lowest point at the end of 2002 ($19) and has now edged back to just under $30.

Ryan has spent the past two years bolstering Aon's position, but it has had its difficulties, especially here in the UK.

These two events seem to show that it is tough at the top. But, tellingly, both the ABI and Aon are not looking internally for new candidates. This proves that new blood is needed at the top of our industry.