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Categorized | Insurance

Zurich investigates any pressure on CFO

Posted on August 30, 2013

Zurich Insurance will investigate whether its former finance chief had been put under undue pressure before his death, as it seeks to deal with the aftermath of his apparent suicide.

Conceding that the tragedy had “cast a shadow over Zurich”, Tom de Swaan, the insurer’s acting chairman, said that the board saw it as its “prime responsibility” to look into any tensions surrounding Pierre Wauthier in the run-up to his death.

    “Let me be absolutely clear. The board and management of Zurich take corporate culture and behaviour very seriously. In addition, from my own personal perspective, I am not aware of any behaviour that would be considered inappropriate in a board setting,” Mr de Swaan said.

    Wauthier was found dead at his home in the Swiss canton of Zug on Monday, triggering a series of events which culminated on Thursday in the resignation of Zurich’s chairman, Josef Ackermann.

    Mr de Swaan admitted on Friday that Wauthier had left a letter, and confirmed that it had contained information about his relationship with Mr Ackermann, but declined to provide further information.

    “We were informed that such a letter exists and we are aware of its content. And it’s correct that it’s related to the relationship between Pierre Wauthier and Joe Ackermann,” he said.

    “But it would be inappropriate for me to further elaborate on it. It is a very difficult situation, especially for the family and the friends of Pierre Wauthier, and we all need to respect their privacy during this difficult time.”

    Mr Ackermann said that he felt compelled to resign because he was under pressure from the Wauthier family to take some responsibility for his death.

    A person familiar with the situation said that Wauthier’s widow had been pushing for Mr Ackermann’s departure because she felt that her husband’s death was partly due to the ex-Deutsche Bank boss’s demanding management style.

    This person told the Financial Times that Mr Ackermann and Wauthier had disagreed during preparations for the presentation of the company’s second-quarter results, which were released two weeks before Wauthier’s death.

    However, both Mr de Swaan and Martin Senn, chief executive, were adamant that there was no link between Wauthier’s passing and the way in which Zurich presented its financial figures.

    “With respect to what happened in the last few days, I want to make it crystal clear that there is no link between this news and Zurich’s business and financial performance,” said Mr Senn.

    “We continue to be very profitable and we continue to generate very healthy cash flows. Second, we have a strong and resilient balance sheet, with solvency at the half year comfortably within our target range.”

    Mr Senn said Zurich was keen to appoint a new CFO as soon as possible, but would not compromise on quality in a quest for a quick appointment.

    Mr de Swaan said that the group hoped to have a new chairman in place for next year’s annual general meeting, but would not be drawn on whether he favoured an internal or external candidate.