Otto Thoresen will be looking to steady the ship at the Association of British Insurers after the chief executive of Aegon’s UK arm was named director-general.

Kerrie Kelly, his predecessor at the UK’s leading trade association for insurance, investment and savings, left abruptly last summer after barely six months in the post, while last month Jonathan Davis, its new chief investment affairs lobbyist, quit before he even took up his role.

Mr Thoresen, who is the first industry executive to take over the top operational role at the ABI, denied there was a big issue over the direction or purpose of the body, which has been led on an interim basis by Maggie Craig, director for life and savings. “You can certainly overemphasise some of the turmoil of recent months,” he told the Financial Times. “It has been getting on very well under Maggie’s leadership.”

After six years running Aegon’s UK business, the former Scottish Equitable, Mr Thoresen said he had put in his own application for the ABI role when it became free because he felt he could bring skills and experience to the job.

“In recent years I’ve had involvement in a number of ways around broader issues in the industry,” he said. “I can bring to the ABI the benefits of my commercial experience and my experience of political and regulatory circles.”

In 2007-08 Mr Thoresen led a government review on financial access and advice for ordinary consumers – called the Thoresen Review – which recommended that a telephone, internet and face-to-face generic advice service should be set up with funding from government and the financial services industry.

He was involved at an early stage with the Financial Services Authority when it began the retail distribution review over how independent financial advisers should be paid for their role in selling insurance and savings products to consumers. He has also been involved with pensions reform.

Tim Breedon, chairman of the ABI and chief executive of Legal & General, thanked Ms Craig for her work and said: “Otto combines significant industry experience with a passion for improving the industry’s service to its customers and its reputation.”

While Mr Thoresen played down recent instability at the ABI, whose members control a combined £1,600bn in assets and own 13 per cent of the UK stock market, some insiders have complained that last year was extremely tough and that the body had lost some of its direction and purpose under Stephen Haddrill, who stepped down as director-general at the end of 2009.

He left to run the Financial Reporting Council and was followed after a couple of months by Peter Montagnon, who had been director of investment affairs – the job Mr Davis abandoned last month. “I will have to take soundings from the members, but I had quite a lot to do with Stephen when he was director-general and the way he did it was good,” Mr Thoresen said. “The ABI should have its own clear voice.”

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