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THE ASSOCIATION of British Insurers (ABI) is losing a lame duck and gaining an old warhorse. In comes new chairman Sandy Leitch, chief executive of British American Financial Services (BAFS), and renowned in the industry as a tough operator. Out goes Roger Taylor, the former head of Sun Alliance who lost his company role following the Royal SunAlliance merger, prompting some cynics to dub him a "lame duck chairman".

The ABI's top job is usually rotated around the eight largest companies. Mr Leitch will take over at the ABI's AGM on 8 July, and says his priority is to make "the British insurance industry the best in the world". Commendable sentiments. The ABI's 450 corporate members, after all, represent over 200,000 employees and manage a total of pounds 640bn.

Odd then that Mr Leitch has spent the last 18 months since ousting George Greener from BAFS (who in turn had arrived from Mars) in leading BAFS towards a "merger" with Zurich, to form Zurich Financial Services Group - headquartered in Zurich. That looks more like selling out to the Swiss to me.

Anyway, Mr Leitch will hold the ABI position for one year, and will not be paid a penny for it. I suppose this makes him a "thin cat". Mark Boleat, full-time director-general of the ABI, will certainly have his work cut out keeping up with the energetic chairman.

Mr Leitch says his priorities at the ABI are to "regain the confidence of the consumer after the pensions mis-selling scandal and demonstrate that recompense is being made".

So how will he balance the onerous workload at BAFS with his numerous responsibilities at the ABI, I ask him? "I work long and hard," he replies.

Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be an interesting year.

WE'RE used to hearing about UBS people baling out of the London operation following the SBC merger. Now UBS's top man in Germany has defected to rival Credit Suisse First Boston.

In a rather un-continental, almost indecently Anglo-Saxon-style head hunting operation, Dr Gerhard Heinrich, presently chairman of UBS (Germany), has been poached to become chairman of CSFB's German operations from 1 August. Dr Heinrich will also be a deputy chairman of CSFB Europe and a member of the CSFB European Executive Board.

A spokesman for CSFB says that Dr Heinrich is "regarded as a hard hitter in Germany. The appointment signals that CSFB is serious about Germany and will be doing things there."

JOHN Rudgard, the grand old man of cider who retired from Bulmers last month after 33 years with the company, has joined Jennings Brothers, the Cumbrian brewer and pub operator, as a non-executive director.

The apple-cheeked Mr Rudgard spent his last 10 years at Bulmers as chief executive, and made way in April for Michael Hughes, who arrived from Guinness.

Mr Rudgard left Bulmers at a low point in its fortunes. The maker of Britain's leading cider brand, Strongbow, issued a profits warning on Christmas sales, prompted by cheap lager imports from the Continent.

Aged 58, married with four children, Mr Rudgard always had a hankering for the pub trade, and even pondered whether Bulmers should buy some pubs or a small brewer, although it never did.

Trevor Greening, chief executive of Jennings, laughs at the suggestion that Mr Rudgard's appointment presages Jennings going into cider making.

"Certainly not, no no ... cider making is a highly specialised business," he chortles.

Jennings was founded in 1828 and is now based in Cockermouth, the home of William Wordsworth. The company is listed on AIM, made pounds 2m profits last year and owns 117 pubs. But it won't be making any cider.

CASTING my eye over the latest economic analysis from BT Alex.Brown's Ian Amstad, I read: "One more wobble for the loonie?"

Somewhat bemused, I persevere: "Although the Canadian dollar remains undervalued on PPP arguments one could paint a bearish scenario for the currency and it is vulnerable to another speculative attack. This is partly because of the Bank of Canada's perceived ambivalence toward the loonie..."

Mr Amstad is quick to reassure me of his mental health. "Loonie is the local nickname for the Canadian currency. Some people also call it the 'canuck buck'."

STILL on the subject of dealer-speak, we've had the Goldilocks economy - "not too hot, not too cold,"- now Barton Briggs of Morgan Stanley brings us "Alice in Amerwonderland".

For the third year in a row, he writes in a note this week, real returns for American equities approached 30 per cent. Over the last two centuries American equities have delivered a real return of 7 per cent per annum.

Mr Briggs then warns: "Lewis Carroll once said Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were exercises in pure fantasy. The mutual fund investors who think the future will be like the recent past are similarly afflicted."

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