Josef Ackermann tried to shake up Zurich Insurance Group AG. Now, allegations that he was partly responsible for the suicide of the chief financial officer are casting a shadow over his 35-year career.
Pierre Wauthier, who was found dead on Aug. 26 at his home near Zug, Switzerland, mentioned Ackermann in a suicide note. The Swiss native, 65, quit as chairman three days later and called the allegations “unfounded.” Zurich Insurance, facing renewed concerns about its financial health, has since said it’s looking into whether undue pressure was placed on the CFO.
The CFO’s suicide sparked fresh doubts about Zurich Insurance’s financial health after it missed analysts’ profit estimates in three of the past four quarters and announced a surprise write-off in October. That forced Senn to tell analysts on a conference call on Aug. 30 that there’s no link between Wauthier’s death and the company’s business.
The insurer on Aug. 15 reported a drop in second-quarter net income to $789 million from $1.09 billion a year ago and said the target for the general insurance business, its largest, is “challenging.” The profit was below the $823.8 million average estimate of five analysts surveyed by Bloomberg, a second straight miss.
Ackermann was regularly spotted with government leaders and regulators in Athens, Brussels, Berlin, and Basel, where he helped shape talks to bail out German lenders, reduce Greece’s debt, leverage the euro-area’s rescue fund, and influence regulation.
He also led a campaign to soften and postpone tougher capital and liquidity requirements, warning of job losses and economic consequences if banks were forced to curb lending. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision in 2010 agreed to weaken and delay its proposals. The changes included phasing in new rules over a period stretching to 2019.