The ABI's new head of general insurance, Nick Starling, is setting out to make sure government listens to the industry. He reveals his plan of attack to Andrew Holt

' Nick Starling is ready for action. The new director of general insurance at the ABI has had his feet under his desk for just over a week but he is already talking about kicking down doors to get the ABI's message across.

"There are lots of doors I want to kick down. I come armed with plenty of contacts in government and I will be on those doors: number 10, the Cabinet Office, the Department of Transport, and Defra," says a determined Starling.

He cites many years' experience at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), for example as policy director, as providing a good learning curve. "At HSE I was used to kicking down doors to get listened to. I had to say to government: 'The approach we are taking will help you.' And this is what the insurance industry is like."

Starling recognises that the government likes to engage on its own terms so it is important to be able to offer something when pressing the ABI's interests.

"If you can put forward issues which win on the commercial side and win on the public policy side that is the great scenario.

"But sometimes you have to hit pretty hard on doors and say: 'Talk to us, listen to us, we are the people you need to communicate with.' I got very used to that and I expect that to continue at the ABI."

Risk business
He has also set himself the task of getting around the industry, to find out at first hand about the important issues. "Not just to see the chief executives, but those people running insurance and handling claims, and see what the issues are."

Starling has made a list of issues to confront and investigate: the compensation culture, risk aversion, long-term liabilities and health issues, employers' liability, road safety and bigger issues such as climate change.

He has a more pragmatic approach to the FSA's regulatory agenda. "We didn't think these regulations were necessary. But the government decided to go ahead," he confesses.

"So we are now committed to making them work, in a risk-based, non-bureaucratic way. And I think the vast majority of companies who already comply with GISC regulation will have no problem."

It is the 'R-word' - risk - that drives him. The origins of this come from his experience at HSE, where he says he faced people saying: 'I can't do that, it's too dangerous'.

"We spent all the time turning the argument around and saying: 'No, it is all about risk management that enables you to do things you wouldn't otherwise be able to do'."

Such an approach provides him with inspiration. "It is such a buzz working in areas that affect everyone. I am much more attracted to other people's lives, we are all customers of insurance, we all need it."

He says he is also setting himself the challenge of making sure that general insurance is more widely known and appreciated. "It is important we set the news agenda," he says.

When he is at home he has the big test of trying to keep an eye on his two teenage daughters, one 15, the other 17. "I am involved in a certain amount of taxi driving," he sighs.

He also sings in a church choir in north London and is a very keen cook. "I am not one of these male cooks who only ever serves up highly exotic things on Saturday evening. I like doing plain ordinary cooking where you take good ingredients and do them well." That could be his recipe for success at the ABI. IT