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Thoresen leaves ABI to join government-backed trust

Otto ThoresenFormer Aegon boss Otto Thoresen is leaving the Association of British Insurers (ABI) to become chairman of the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST).

The Scot, who has been director-general of the ABI since leaving Edinburgh-based Aegon UK in April 2011, will take over at the government-backed auto-enrolment scheme in February. His deputy at the ABI, Huw Evans, will succed him.

His announcement comes just two days ahead of a gathering of pensions industry delegates in Scotland and ahead of next April’s pensions reforms which he has criticised.

He told the National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF) annual conference last month that the industry was not geared up to allow scheme members to get at their money whenever they choose as the government plans.

“The way pension systems have been built up to now means the reality of what people will face next year and the expectation are miles apart,” he told the organisation’s 300 members who represent 90 percent of the UK insurance market. NAPF’s Scottish conference takes place on Thursday at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh.

Thoresen has also been a critic of the City watchdog when he told MPs that trust between industry, government and the Financial Conduct Authority was damaged by its disastrous handling of a probe into old life-insurance policies.

He said he was “not looking for heads to roll” over the affair, following calls from some in the industry for the leader of the FCA, Martin Wheatley, to step down.

Thoresen, born in Buckie in north east Scotland, graduated in 1978 from Aberdeen University with a first class honours degree in mathematics & statistics and joined Scottish Equitable where he trained as an actuary. He is a Fellow of the Faculty of Actuaries and spent two years studying management development at INSEAD.

From 1988, he held a series of senior marketing roles at Abbey Life, Royal Insurance and as a managing director at Royal Life International, before returning to Scottish Equitable (then owned by AEGON) in 1994, becoming its finance director in 2000 before succeeding David Henderson at the helm.

He has been one of the industry’s leading figures advising government and regulators on consumer issues. In 2007, he led a review for HM Treasury on financial advice which was published in 2008 with its recommendations accepted by the Government. He is also Chairman of the Personal Finance Education Group (pfeg), which is the UK’s leading finance education organisation, a special adviser to Citizens Advice Edinburgh Board and a member of the Board of Step Change, the debt charity.

Thoresen replaces Lawrence Churchill as chair of Nest.

ABI chairman Paul Evans thanked Thoresen and said Evans was the unanimous choice of the board.

Evans said: “In the current environment of high levels of regulatory and legislative change across the insurance sector, the need for an effective trade body is greater than ever – there is huge value to be gained from collaborative efforts on key policy issues.

“My experience of working with ABI members on issues as varied as Flood Re, pension reform and the ageing society has shown me the power and potential of what we can achieve as an industry when we work together.

“Otto and I have worked very closely over the last few years and I am looking forward to accelerating the momentum we have established”.

Thoresen said: “It has been a privilege to lead the ABI during a critical point in its evolution. While it will be a personal wrench to leave the organisation, the opportunity to chair the trustee board of Nest at a key stage in the delivery of pension reform was an opportunity I couldn’t pass by. The role also gives me the scope to develop some of my other interests, in the third sector and elsewhere.”

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