ZURICH INSURANCE TO INVESTIGATE SUICIDE
c.2013 New York Times News Service
FRANKFURT, Germany — Zurich Insurance said Friday that its board of directors would look into whether undue pressure was put on the company’s chief financial officer before he died in an apparent suicide, an event that led to the resignation of the Zurich chairman, Josef Ackermann, and shook Switzerland’s tidy financial capital.
Top managers of Zurich Insurance sought to reassure skeptical stock analysts that the apparent suicide Monday of Pierre Wauthier, a 53-year-old father of two, did not signal deeper problems at the company, one of the world’s largest insurers.
“I want to make it crystal clear that there is no link between this news and Zurich’s business and financial results,” Martin Senn, the company’s chief executive, said during a brief conference call with analysts Friday.
Despite such assurances, it was obvious from analysts’ questions that Wauthier’s death has shaken confidence in Zurich Insurance’s financial performance. Ackermann’s abrupt resignation Thursday was out of character for a veteran banker who has survived many other crises.
Zurich Insurance has suffered declining profit in recent quarters and high management turnover, prompting questions from Swiss commentators about whether Ackermann, the Swiss businessman who is a former chief executive of Deutsche Bank and one of Europe’s most prominent business leaders, pushed Zurich executives too far.
Senn declined to comment on a report in the Tages-Anzeiger, a Swiss newspaper, that Wauthier left behind a suicide note complaining of pressure from Ackermann, who at Deutsche Bank was known for setting high profit targets that critics said could be achieved only by taking undue risk.
Ackermann acknowledged when he resigned from the part-time supervisory post Thursday that the family of Wauthier blamed him for the death, an accusation he said was unfounded.
Tom de Swann, who is acting as chairman after Ackermann’s resignation, also sought to assure investors that Wauthier did not take his own life because of some kind of financial irregularity or other problem at the insurer.
“The recent developments have nothing to do with the quality of reporting or the accuracy of reporting,” de Swann said during the conference call. “There is no link in any respect to that.”
Wauthier, who had worked at Zurich since 1996 and had been chief financial officer since 2011, was found dead Monday at this home in a suburb of Zug, Switzerland, apparently a suicide, according to the police, who have not released further details about his death.