Zurich Insurance looks into allegations

Zurich Insurance Group chairman Josef Ackermann resigned on Thursday Keystone

Zurich Insurance Group said on Friday that it would investigate whether excessive pressure was put on the company’s finance chief, Pierre Wauthier, ahead of his apparent suicide.

This content was published on August 30, 2013 - 11:27
swissinfo.ch and agencies

Europe’s third-largest insurer has been deeply shaken by Wauthier’s death on Monday and by the subsequent resignation of its chairman, former Deutsche Bank chief Josef Ackermann, three days later.

Ackermann said that he had been profoundly affected by his colleague’s death and that Wauthier’s family believed that he shared some of the responsibility. The chairman, who joined the company last year, asserted that the allegations were unfounded. He said he was quitting to avoid damaging Zurich's reputation.

The insurance group’s acting chairman, Tom de Swaan, said in a conference call with investors and analysts that Wauthier, who had been with the insurer for 17 years, had left a suicide note in which he had referred to Ackermann.

“We are aware of its content, and it’s correct that it’s related to the relationship between Pierre Wauthier and Joe Ackermann,” de Swaan was quoted on Reuters as saying.

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

Stability

De Swaan said he was not aware of any inappropriate behaviour by Zurich’s board members. He said the board was aware of the need to strengthen the management team – a top priority – and that the focus was the continued stability of the company.

He did not give any more details of the contents of the note. Swiss media had reported on Friday that Wauthier had written that he felt under pressure, including about the presentation of the second-quarter results. In addition, both the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper and the Associated Press reported that Ackermann and Wauthier disagreed over how the company's financial performance should be reported to investors.

The company has expressed its sadness and shock at Wauthier’s death. It said that Ackermann’s decision to resign had been his own. It added that there was no link between Zurich Insurance's financial performance and Waulthier's death.

Zurich Insurance reported that it was struggling to meet its targets and posted an 18 per cent drop in quarterly profits just two weeks before the chief financial officer died.

Ackermann's departure comes after several other top managers left the company, which employs about 60,000 people in more than 170 countries.

Wauthier, who held both French and British passports, was found dead at his home near Zug on August 26. Born in 1960, he began his career at KPMG in 1982. He worked for two years at the French foreign ministry and joined J.P.Morgan in 1985, where he stayed until moving to Zurich Insurance in 1996.
 
He was appointed CFO in September 2011 after previous roles as group treasurer and head of centrally managed businesses at the Swiss insurer. 

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