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Barry O'Dwyer, President of the ABI Keynote Address to ABI Annual Conference 2022

Barry O'DwyerThank you and welcome everyone.

It is an honour to be opening the ABI’s Annual Conference today, welcoming over 450 delegates here in Bishopsgate and doing so as the ABI’s first-ever President.

Sadly, the ABI’s Climate Change Working Group vetoed my request for my own version of Air Force One and I have not yet had cause to ask for a special forces protection team, but it is an immense privilege nonetheless.

With representatives from across the insurance and long-term savings sector, government, regulators, media, charities and more, I am really excited for today’s wide-ranging discussions.

I am particularly delighted to be back in-person with so many of you once again, following last year’s fully virtual conference. 

One of the few positives to emerge from the pandemic has been the increased capacity and capability to engage remotely. And so I would also like to welcome everyone that is joining us online.

In my time with you today, I want to do two things:

  • First, I want to take a moment to look back and offer some reflections on the last 12 months.
  • Second, I want to look ahead and talk about the three main reasons why I feel optimistic for our industry and the ABI in 2022 and beyond.

It would, of course be remiss of me not to mention the past week's three storms. A highly visible example of how we work hard to support our customers, providing a vital safety net, and it was interesting to see the footage of customers over the weekend who suffered damage during the storms and the peace of mind that our industry was able to provide to these customers when needed. 


So first, some reflections. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to leave the pandemic behind us going into 2021. Most of us began the year working almost exclusively from home, while restrictions in some form or another continued to impact our professional and personal lives. We faced continued Covid-19 related challenges as a sector throughout 2021.

No industry wants to begin its year faced with a supreme court judgment, but I was pleased that our GI member firms supported the process every step of the way. We welcomed the clarity that the judgment provided, meaning insurers could move swiftly to managing the claims process.

Aside from business interruption, other Covid-19 challenges remained, requiring close collaboration with government to ensure insurers delivered much needed support for consumers and SMEs.

  • We worked around the clock with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy on the trade credit support scheme to keep supply chains flowing and businesses running.
  • We collaborated with the Department for Health and Social Care on a Government-backed indemnity scheme that continues to provide support for care homes and designated settings to relieve pressure on the NHS.
  • And we put into place sensible steps to ensure a lasting legacy for our sector’s customer pledges to keep customers protected, during a time when reassurance and protection against risk felt more acute than ever.
  • Donations from the Covid-19 Support Fund also continued to make their mark, positively impacting the lives of over half a million people in communities up and down the UK. The funding made available by the sector has provided a vital lifeline for many of our charity partners, enabling them to continue their vital work in key areas of social need, and I’m delighted that we will be hearing more from Mind, a brilliant charity who benefitted from a £3.5m million donation, later today.

Of course, Covid-19 wasn’t the only issue facing the ABI and its members over the last year. I also want to reflect on the substantial advances the sector has made in other areas to support its customers and society.

  • We made pivotal progress in defining our sector’s role in the fight against climate change to build a more sustainable future, culminating in the historic COP26 Summit in Glasgow last November.
  • The Government, for those of you who were there yesterday evening to hear John Glen's announcement, has set out its plans to reform Solvency II, including a sustantial reduction in the risk margin, which will unloock far greater investment into jobs, infrastructure and green finacne to drive the UK's post-pandemic recovery.
  • We launched a mental health training platform to support intermediaries engaging with customers to improve the customer experience for all those with a history of mental ill-health.
  • We have a clear road to pensions dashboards, to help our customers manage their savings and plan for the future.
  • Over 30 ABI members signed up to our Making Flexible Work campaign, committing to increase flexible working in all its forms to make our industry an attractive place to work for everyone, at all stages of their lives and careers.
  • We secured confirmation for motorists travelling to the EU that green cards wouldn’t be needed, to prevent our customers facing problems when travelling abroad.

And I could go on. These examples alone will deliver tangible benefits for consumers and employees in our sector, but despite these successes – and the enormous contribution we are making to secure Britain’s economic future following the pandemic - we know that, as a sector, we haven’t always got things right and there are things we know we must continue to improve.

Let us be clear: we will always strive to do better.

Looking ahead

Which leads me onto my thoughts for 2022 and beyond. I am eight months into my role as president of the ABI, and coming into 2022, I felt very optimistic about the progress we have made, the opportunities we must grasp, and the areas where we can make a difference.

I feel positive because of three main themes, change, collaboration and committment. The three ‘Cs’. 


I’m positive because of the new chapter the ABI is entering. We have made three significant changes to refocus our efforts on delivering good consumer outcomes.

We have reformed the ABI Board to bring in independent voices. We are delighted to have Baroness Nicky Morgan and Baroness Dianne Hayter as our first Independent Chair and Independent Non-Executive Director respectively. Introducing outside voices at the highest level of discussion and decision-making at the ABI is a pivotal step to bringing fresh perspectives, independent challenge and continuing to strengthen our governance.

We have introduced a new Board-level committee at the ABI, focused solely on consumers and delivering good consumer outcomes – whether for business, or for individuals and their families. The new Consumer Committee has already had two positive meetings, chaired by Nicky Morgan, and we are excited to keep you updated on its work in the coming months.

The ABI’s purpose is to provide ‘strength through association’ and that has never felt more relevant. There are multiple opportunities to work together, with the aim of delivering the best outcomes possible for our most important stakeholders - our customers.

The ABI has a new Director General, and I am delighted that Hannah Gurga has joined the organisation. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Hannah over the past few months. I am extremely confident in her ability and ambition to deliver positive change and to lead us to a new phase of the ABI’s development. I would also like to take a moment to thank Huw Evans for everything he did for the ABI and the industry, and for getting us to where we are today. We all benefited from Huw’s thoughtfulness, guidance and leadership.


Turning now to collaboration. The ABI’s purpose is to provide ‘strength through association’ and that has never felt more relevant.

There are multiple opportunities to work together, with the aim of delivering the best outcomes possible for our most important stakeholders - our customers.

Every one of us in this room today has our part to play.

  • Last year’s Climate Change Roadmap was a first for any insurance industry across the world. But with so many pieces to this complex puzzle, our collective effort will be critical to its successful delivery.
  • Collaboration is also crucial to enable our sector to invest up to £95bn in the economy and green infrastructure, which could be released as a result of reforming Solvency II.
  • We must work in partnership with the government on the key role that insurers and long-term savings providers have in helping people to prepare for retirement and later life care.
  • And on the vital issue of diversity and inclusion, we all have action to take within our individual organisations, but we must also work together to push for strong action that delivers tangible improvements in our sector. To give just one example, today the ABI is committing to double the number of apprenticeships across our sector to 2,500 by 2025.


My day job is as CEO of one of the UK’s largest mutuals, I am passionate about businesses having a strong social purpose.

The insurance and long-term savings industry is jam-packed with purpose. Our products are all about helping people, and our fundamental purpose is to be there for our customers when they need us the most.

But we must also demonstrate our purpose through the actions that we take, and effective collaboration is central to this:

  • We sympathise strongly with those leaseholders who feel trapped in buildings with unsafe cladding, and we are 100% committed to working with Government to be part of the solution.
  • We must continue to work with the regulator to assess the impacts of GI pricing reforms and to support customers.
  • And we must improve customer trust. In the aftermath of the pandemic, now is the time to come together as an industry to redouble our efforts.

We sympathise strongly with those leaseholders who feel trapped in buildings with unsafe cladding, and we are 100% committed to working with Government to be part of the solution.


Which leads me to my final theme of commitment. Our industry provides the confidence for millions to realise their potential. Whether it is peoples’ health, their homes or even their lives – our sector is often an invisible force for good.  Our customers will always be at the forefront of what we do, and to reinforce this, the ABI is committing to further actions that will deliver tangible improvements for consumers.

Because the most important ‘c’ of all is the consumer.

The reforms I have outlined - our new governance structure and our new consumer committee - will ensure consumers are even more firmly at the heart of everything we do at the ABI. Today we have announced a partnership with Plain Numbers to help people who struggle with numeracy to better understand customer communications, recognising thaat there is an inherant complexity to our communciations with our customers, and that they need our help.

The ABI is also pleased to be supporting a cross-party group of parliamentarians in exploring how to improve peoples’ financial resilience following the pandemic. This work is particularly important given the recent cost of living increases, which are causing real difficulties for many consumers.

We know that change is needed, and we are taking action. When I stand here in a year’s time, I don’t expect we will have solved everything, but I do expect us to have made tangible progress. The extent of this progress will be determined by those 3 Cs: Change, Collaboration, Commitment

Thank you all again for joining us for what promises to be an insightful and thought-provoking day.


Last updated 22/02/2022