In a panel debate at the Protection Review held at the Cafe Royal in London last week, Kirwan said the ABI has a powerful story to tell about changing society but the message was not getting through.
He said: “We have got a very positive message to tell about the difference we make as a whole and the difference we bring to the economy.”
“In the past, we have not been very good at getting that out. Now I think part of that has got a lot to do with the environment we have been in.
“We have been in an environment where people have not been listening. The reason that they have not been listening is because they have not believed that the products that we have been selling are working.”
But Direct Life and Pensions managing director Richard Verdin disagreed and called on Kirwan to list examples of positive messages. He said: “You might have the right environment but are you really going to change the consumer perception of our market?”
In response, Kirwan relayed statistics outlining the £800m paid in critical-illness insurance claims in the last year.
Kirwan also faced criticism for the ABI’s support of PPI. Lifesearch head of protection strategy Kevin Carr said: “How can you publicly defend PPI and expect to be taken seriously at the same time?”
Kirwan said: “The ABI has acknowledged that there are issues with PPI. It wants to work with the Competition Commission and it wants a workable solution to make sure that people who are taking PPI out understand that it is optional, and they can shop around.”