Zurich Insurance investigating whether undue pressure had led to CFO’s suicide

Reuters, ZURICH

Sat, Aug 31, 2013 - Page 15

Zurich Insurance Group will investigate whether excessive pressure was put on the company’s finance chief ahead of his apparent suicide, the company’s acting chairman said yesterday.

Europe’s third-largest insurer has been thrown into disarray by the death of Pierre Wauthier on Monday and the subsequent resignation of its chairman, former Deutsche Bank boss Josef Ackermann, three days later.

Ackermann said Wauthier’s family believed he shared some responsibility for his death. Ackermann, who joined the company last year, denied the allegation.

Zurich’s acting chairman confirmed in a conference call with investors and analysts that Wauthier, a 17-year veteran of the insurer, had left a suicide note in which he talked about Ackermann.

“We are aware of its content, and it’s correct that it’s related to the relationship between Pierre Wauthier and Joe Ackermann,” Tom de Swaan said.

“The board sees it as its prime responsibility to look into the question as to whether there was undue pressure placed on our CFO,” he said.

De Swaan said he was not aware of any inappropriate behavior among Zurich’s board members.

“The board is well aware of the need to strengthen the management team, and I consider this to be our top priority,” he said. “Our focus is on ensuring the continued stability of the company.”

Zurich Insurance has suffered considerable flux among its ranks in recent years with the departure of its life insurance chief, Kevin Hogan, two weeks ago to join AIG as its head of consumer insurance.

Former general insurance head Mario Greco left a year ago to head Italian insurer Generali.

Zurich Insurance reported a 17 percent slide in net profit in the first half of the year due to low interest rates and large payouts on natural disasters. Two weeks ago it said it would miss certain performance targets.

The company’s shares have fallen nearly 11 percent in the past six months compared with a near 10 percent increase in the European insurance index.