Credit insurer Atradius plans to cut 500 jobs to save £81m

Company seeks to recoup losses after huge rise in claims from suppliers to failed businesses
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The Independent Online

Atradius, the world's second largest trade credit insurer, is slashing 500 jobs across the company, while scaling back some overseas operations.

Some of the losses will be borne at the company's British headquarters in Cardiff, where around 600 staff are employed. The group also employs a further 3,400 people at sites across the world.

Staff are still being advised as to whether their jobs will be lost as part of the cost-cutting programme instigated by management.

The firm, which is part owned by Swiss Re and Deutsche Bank, is also closing smaller operations in Australia, although this will result in minimal job cuts.

Atradius's measures are intended to save around €90m (£81m). Earlier in the year, the insurer posted the biggest loss in its history as the cost of paying claims to those customers hit by the recession rocketed.

Credit insurers protect suppliers against losses if their customers fail to pay bills. The withdrawal of cover against a company is seen as a sign of major distress.

Atradius lost €193m during 2008 compared to a profit of €163m the previous year. Its chief executive, Isidoro Unda, said of the cuts: "Our plans will put us in a stronger position to service our customers and supply the market with the credit management resources they need to grow and to trade profitably around the world.

"We need to reinforce the role that credit insurers play in helping drive the global economy."

A spokesman for Euler Hermes, Atradius's biggest rival in the sector, said that the company had so far resisted making "significant job cuts", although he was unable to give a precise figure.

Atradius, which along with Euler Hermes and Coface account for 80 per cent of the UK market, has been the subject of considerable criticism from some angered at their role in the collapse of high-street retailers such as Woolworths.

Creditor insurers are bracing themselves for a potentially difficult autumn and winter period with a surge in insolvencies among British companies seen as likely to some observers. "We know it's coming," said one credit insurer. "The amount of money being deferred by the taxman at the moment is staggering and is only putting off the inevitable.

"Britain's economy will be on the end of a large number of insolvencies in the autumn. The current figures just mask the problem."

However, the Association of British Insurers said just last week that claims made on credit insurance policies written by its members had marginally fallen for the first time in a year.

But the total value of claims still increased in the second quarter of the year, reaching £81m.