Mr Went warned of the damage being caused by growing cynicism towards the financial services industry in Ireland.
The IL&P boss, speaking at a meeting of the Leinster Society of Chartered Accountants in Dublin yesterday, argued that the political and media response to these problems - and the wider response to the profits being secured by financial institutions - had combined to create a “caricature of the industry”.
Mr Went cited reports in the US media referring to the IFSC as the ‘wild west’ of the financial services world, and questioned whether the bank-bashing in Ireland contributed to a warped international view.
Citing the importance of the financial services industry, Mr Went said 52,000 people are employed in the sector, with €3.8 billion spent annually on wages and services, €1.5bn paid in taxes each year, and shares in financial institutions played a key role in the pensions of 850,000 people.
In an uncharacteristic move by an Irish banker, Mr Went took exception - in public - to the comments of rival Friends First.
Friends First economist Jim Power’s had said that the Government’s PRSA pension initiative “hadn’t worked”.
Mr Went said that while they may not be working for Friends First, they were working for Irish Life.
“Last year we recorded a 42% increase in pension sales and our success in cracking the PRSA market was a key factor in that performance.
“We’ve cracked that market because we’ve invested long hours and worked really hard at it. And because we invest the time and money necessary to work closely with individual customers to make the sales.
“PRSAs obviously don’t suit everyone. And on the basis of Jim’s remarks, you can be sure they don’t suit some of the companies you’d be expecting to go out and sell them,” he said.
He added that if firms like Friends First want the Government to take pensions seriously, “you’d expect them to take them more seriously themselves and spend less time sniping and more time out selling”.