Insurance Post

Hiscox boss is wrong about breaking up the ABI

Hiscox boss Bronek Masojada has this morning called for the Association of British Insurers to be broken up so that the general insurance sector can independently argue its case with government and the public. He is wrong on several counts.

I have been around long enough to remember the days before the ABI was formed in the late-1980s by the merger of a wide range of trade associations, principally the Life Offices Association and the British Insurance Association, the latter which represented the general insurance market. The reasons were simple. The insurance industry's voice was not being heard by government, other relevant industries or the public, most of whom do not understand the differences between long term insurance and general insurance. Forming the ABI gave the industry a fighting chance of getting its message across and it has largely been a successful exercise on that count despite never achieving a real single voice as Lloyd's and the London Market have always stood outside. This still deprives the insurance industry of the clout that, say, the bankers and travel industry have through their more unified trade associations.

Unusually for Mr Masojada the main thrust of his argument is flawed too. He complains that the recent scandals over the miss-selling of payment protection insurance are a banking problem, not an insurance problem. True, the banks were hugely negligent in the way they sold PPI but you cannot escape from the simple fact that it is a general insurance product, underwritten by general insurers and marketed to the banks by general insurers. Much the same applies to the other class of business that gives rise to a significant proportion of consumer complaints - travel insurance. The complaints are often about the way it has been sold by travel agents but there is no escaping the culpability of the general insurers who underwrite those policies, dictate the premiums, the policy restrictions and agree the absurdly high commissions that create the incentives for miss-selling.

Forming a separate trade association will do nothing to deflect the criticism of this miss-selling away from the insurance industry and nor should it.

I could go on about the many areas where the cross-class work of the ABI bears dividends, such as building up relationships with key ministers and civil servants, representing the UK industry in key international debates about regulation, fighting fraud and so but I am sure others will make those points better and with plenty of evidence at their fingertips.

I can guarantee other trade associations representing sectors competing with, even sometimes in conflict with, the insurance industry will be quietly rubbing their hands in glee this afternoon at the thought of the ABI being broken up.
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