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Coomber takes over from Kielholz at Swiss Re

New CEO John Coomber has been with Swiss Re for 30 years (Swiss Re)

Swiss Re, the world's second largest reinsurance firm, has appointed 53-year-old Briton John Coomber as its new chief executive officer.

Coomber will take up the position on January 1, replacing Walter Kielholz, who is leaving to become the new chairman of the Credit Suisse Group.

Coomber, who has been with Swiss Re for 30 years, takes over as the company tries to rebound from last year's SFr165 million ($114.35 million) loss.

The loss, which was the first recorded by the company in more than a century, was due to costs from the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Coomber is currently head of Swiss Re's Life and Health Business group and will be replaced by John Fitzpatrick, the company's chief financial officer.

Demanding jobs

Most analysts had expected Kielholz to step down from Swiss Re after questioning how well he could do both demanding jobs at the same time.

"The board is pleased that John Coomber has accepted the new challenge and we are confident he will continue to steer Swiss Re in a direction which ensures the firm's prosperity," commented chairman Peter Forstmoser.

Swiss Re's management philosophy is based on having a strong senior management group and today's appointments reconfirm this team approach," he added.

Strategy and development

Kielholz, who has been CEO at Swiss Re since 1997, is to become vice-chairman of the company's board from January 1.

He will have "special responsibility" for group strategy and top management development.

Commenting on the management changes, the equity research department of Merrill Lynch said that it had taken Monday's announcement positively.

"We respect Mr Kielholz but since his appointment as Credit Suisse chairman had thought it likely he would give up his full-time Swiss Re job," a flash note said.

"Safe hands"

Merrill Lynch analysts said they were "a little surprised" at the appointment of Mr Coomber because they did not think he would want the position.

However, they added they had a high regard for him and saw him as a "safe pair of hands".

Moody's Investment Service on Friday downgraded by one notch the insurance financial strength rating and long-term debt ratings of Swiss Re, which had previously enjoyed a Triple A rating.

The rating agency voiced concerns about the company's earnings prospects and shrinking capital.

The company's first-half profit tumbled by 91 per cent as falling stock markets resulted in investment write-downs of more than $600 million (SFr867.33 million).

Cash reserves

While Moody's believes Swiss Re maintains "robust reserves", it does not rule out adverse claim development in line with others in the industry.

Swiss Re became the world's largest reinsurer of life insurance policies last year after it acquired the life reinsurance business of its main United States rival, Lincoln Re.

swissinfo with agencies

Swiss Re Coomber

John Coomber will take up his post as chief executive officer 30 years to the day since he joined Swiss Re.

Based in London, Coomber has directed the profitable and substantial growth of the life and health business.

Walter Kielholz will become vice-chairman of Swiss Re's board of directors from January 1.

Kielholz will have "special responsibility" in particular relating to strategy, top management development and interfacing with the executive board.

Swiss Re made a loss last year of SFr165 million. First-half net profit this year fell by 90 per cent to SFr118 million, dragged down by the company's exposure to weak equity markets.

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