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Speech by Huw Evans at ABI Annual Dinner

Andy, many thanks. I have been very fortunate as ABI director general to work with two outstanding chairs so far - Andy and his predecessor, Paul Evans who I’m delighted is also here tonight. This is a job that has plenty of stressful moments but one of the best things about it is undoubtedly the industry leaders the team and I get to work with and their ability - despite fierce commercial rivalries - to work collaboratively to make a difference.

As Andy said, at the conference tomorrow we will be covering a wide waterfront of issues with some outstanding contributors to lend their insights underpinned, as ever by our great partnership with KPMG. Tonight I wanted to touch on three critical areas that affect all parts of this industry, that impact all types of customer, retail and commercial, and that are at the heart of what the ABI is working on.

The first is Brexit and what follows it. The process of departing the EU and forging a new path is inevitably complicated and challenging for all concerned, whatever our view on the desirability of the outcome. But if I can be blunt for a moment, there is one challenge that is still staring us in the face- the urgent need for a transitional agreement to take us beyond March 2019. Before Christmas, by that point having argued for such an agreement for over 15 months - like many others in this room - I was encouraged by the preliminary deal which looked to finalise the terms of a standstill transition by March this year. Since then, we seem to have gone backwards with, at times, our own Government seeking to over complicate a deal by putting extra demands on the table such as extra restrictions on EU citizens. The time for hard bargaining is surely over the terms of the final deal, not the interim period, especially when an early agreement is needed to help businesses and regulators manage the huge changes involved and is so important for clarity with customers on issues such as the EHIC and travel insurance and Motor and fleet insurance and green cards. So my message to the Government and MPs tonight is simple; ‘please, get on with it’. A transitional agreement only reached at the 11th hour as part of horse trading over the final agreement will be of no value to businesses that have had to implement contingency plans by then instead. We need a straightforward transitional and we need it now.

Exactly what follows Brexit is rightly a matter for democratically elected politicians to decide. But I hope in the debate ahead about financial services and future access to the EU that policymakers remember that 2/3rds of insurance & long-term savings jobs are outside London. Whatever the outcome, if we want to retain our place as a world-leading centre of insurance & long-term saving, as the biggest market in Europe, and with London as the international insurance capital of the World, we need to start thinking hard now about how we maximise growth, embrace innovation and attract the best talent and highest quality capital. This is a job for us all; market participants, regulators, politicians and partners. The position we enjoy today is because previous generations seized opportunities and refused to be bound by old certainties. All of us need to find the courage to do the same and have a substantive debate about the choices ahead.

For our sector, substantially improving our Diversity & Inclusion remains a major challenge. This is not just a question of having an appropriate workforce for modern 21st century Britain. It is about the huge changes which digitalisation, globalisation, climate change, the ageing society and fast-changing consumer behaviours bring to our sector and the customers we serve. We need the best possible talent attracted to and retained in our industry and that has to mean being serious about all forms of diversity and inclusion at every level in our businesses. And there are some things we can all do.

I strongly encourage member firms that have not done so to sign up to HM Treasury’s Women in Finance charter and make your own commitments which are appropriate for your firm. As leaders of the industry, you can send your own powerful signals about Black, Ethnic Minority and LBGT+ inclusion by sponsoring networks within your firm or declaring yourself an ‘ally’. You can be a mentor for a junior colleague from an under-represented background. Mentoring or not, we all need to spend more time talking to Millennials about why so few want to join our sector and why, when they do, so many of them leave. And we all have the opportunity, in ways big and small to help employees, especially women, return to work if they wish, balance work and family while progressing (not just standing still) in their career and ensure the upper echelons of our workplaces are not vulnerable to groupthink. I am proud of how hard this industry has worked at this challenge over the last few years but there is so much more we need to do if we are to survive and thrive.

This brings me to my final point, the need for us to continue to ‘lean in’ - to once again borrow Sheryl Sandberg’s phrase - to the ongoing need to improve our reputation and build greater confidence in what we do. Very little of this agenda is easy, nearly all of it is worth persevering with. It can take the form of hammering out best practice guides and industry standards that enable us to be held to account. It can be engaging in public policy and regulatory debates in a measured and constructive way that minimises vested interest lobbying in favour of balanced outcomes that are sustainable and demonstrably in customers’ interest. It can be big set piece projects like Flood Re and the Pension Dashboard prototype. It can be constantly working to improve language and systems that baffle customers. It can be working harder on financial inclusion to bring in more people and businesses who need the help our products provide. And it can be the constant reassurance to customers that claims will be paid, that long-term savings are protected and that we are a sector of committed citizens who want to do the right thing by society and the economy as well as by our respective businesses.

This may all sound a bit motherhood and apple pie. It’s not - it’s actually very difficult to do these things and do them properly. History is full of reminders that an illustrious past does not guarantee a bright future. Indeed a proud heritage can obscure the path ahead and make it more difficult to act radically enough to be prepared for the future. We have seen that in recent weeks where institutional reputations in other sectors have come crashing down very quickly indeed. I am confident we can avoid this fate. But we cannot ease up in either our work rate or our ambitions.

We can however, pause to partake in a good dinner to sustain us on the challenging road ahead.

Last updated 27/02/2018