The ABI should stop trying to be all things to all insurers

Is it time to split the ABI in two: one for life insurance and another for general insurance? Robert Hiscox, a highly respected insurance veteran who has shown great judgment at the helm of Hiscox, has lashed out at the ABI for being “feeble”. He complains that the ABI is obsessed with corporate governance and life insurance.

Hiscox is not a rogue sniper taking aim at the ABI; he’s only saying what other insurer bosses are thinking in private. There’s a feeling that general insurance is the poor twin of life insurance, which is the bigger industry in terms of overall UK premium spend. The argument goes that two such inherently different trades, with different needs, shouldn’t be bundled together under the auspices of one trade body.

But leaving that argument aside, let’s look at what the ABI could do better. The ABI is okay at being reactive, but it’s not so good at getting on the front foot. We barely heard a peep from the ABI until weeks before Europe’s gender-ban ruling. That’s not good enough.

Then there was the referral fee ban: that was instigated by Jack Straw’s vocal campaign firing up the coalition government into action, rather than anything said by the industry.

To be fair, though, the ABI is getting better, and director-general Otto Thoresen has given some direction to a ship that was left rudderless by Kerrie Kelly’s departure in 2010.

General insurer bosses can help the ABI by seizing the initiative and speaking up on industry issues. AXA chief executive Paul Evans showed how to do it last year when he spoke out against referral fees and declared a voluntary ban.

Life insurance has charismatic Prudential chief executive Tidjane Thiam grabbing public attention. It’s about time general insurance had its own high-profile figure.