Eurozone woes weigh on Aviva as long search begins for CEO

Aviva insisted yesterday that it had made a "solid start" to the year, despite the investor fury surrounding the now departed chief executive Andrew Moss. He stepped down last week, recognising that shareholder unhappiness at his pay and the company performance made it difficult for him to continue.

In its trading update for the first quarter the insurer reported a 5 per cent drop in life insurance sales, reflecting rocky conditions in the euromarkets it has made the focus of its growth ambitions.

Perhaps more strikingly, Aviva's new executive deputy chairman, John McFarlane, said it will take the rest of the year to find a replacement for Mr Moss, "as we need to appoint the best person in the world available to us".

Philip Meadowcroft, a shareholder who led complaints at the recent annual meeting, said: "With the Aviva share price down 10 per cent since the disastrously managed AGM just 13 days ago, John McFarlane needs to act with urgency." The shares fell 13.2p to a three-year low of 267.7p yesterday.

Aviva's total worldwide sales for the first three months, including general insurance premiums, were £9.7bn, down 3 per cent. Life and pension sales in recession-struck Italy and Spain were down 23 per cent as consumers there saved and invested less.