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Zurich Insurance rocked by CFO’s suicide

Zurich Insurance rocked by CFO’s suicide

Chairman steps down as finance chief names him in suicide note

The CFO of Zurich Insurance, Pierre Wauthier, who committed suicide last week, wrote about his relationship with chairman, Josef Ackermann, in a suicide note, the company confirmed on Friday.

Wauthier was found dead at his lakefront home late on Monday 25 August. His death has rocked the Swiss insurer, as Ackermann, the former boss of Deutsche Bank, subsequently stepped down as chairman on Thursday on learning about the details of the suicide note.

Zurich Insurance has vowed to investigate whether Wauthier had been put under undue pressure before his death and announced the elevation of vice chairman Tom de Swaan to interim chairman. The Wauthier was held in high regard by his colleagues having been at the firm since 1996, before rising to the position of CFO in 2011.

In a conference call to analysts, 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."

While Wauthier's family has so far declined to comment, Ackermann issued a statement in which he said: "I have reasons to believe that the family is of the opinion that I should take my share of responsibility, as unfounded as any allegations might be. As a consequence, I see the possibility of a continued successful board leadership to the benefit of Zurich called into question."

The unexpected death of the CFO and the chairman's resignation has exasperated management turmoil at one of the world's largest insurers. Recently, its head of life insurance Kevin Hogan left to join AIG while former general insurance head Mario Greco quit last year for Italian insurer Generali.

In response, de Swaan said, "The board is well aware of the need to strengthen the management team, and I consider this to be our top priority. Our focus is on ensuring the continued stability of the company."

Zurich Insurance recently posted a 17 percent drop in first half net profit for 2013. According to Thomson Reuters, the insurer's share price has slipped by 11 percent in the past six months.

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