Hundreds to be axed at the Gherkin as Swiss Re cuts 2,000 jobs

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The Independent Online

The world's largest reinsurer, Swiss Re, unveiled plans to axe 2,000 jobs yesterday, hundreds of which are set to be lost from its iconic London offices in Sir Norman Foster's gherkin.

The latest round of cuts, which will be made over the next four months, comes only weeks after the company axed 250 of its senior managers. An announcement from the group yesterday gave no explanation for the cuts, other than claiming that they would "capture ... efficiency gains" and secure the company's competitiveness.

However, a spokesman later added: "This move is part of the integration of GE Insurance Solutions into the Swiss Re group. Beyond that, we have not announced any additional restructuring measures." Swiss Re bought GE's insurance operations for $6.8bn (£3.7bn) towards the end of last year.

The group saidmost of the cuts outside London would be at offices in Zurich, Kansas City, Armonk near New York and Munich. It added that the jobs would be cut via a combination of compulsory redundancies and natural attrition. "Swiss Re is committed to providing all employees affected with appropriate separation packages including professional career support," it said.

Swiss Re employs more than 11,500 staff worldwide, of whom2,500 were acquired through the GE deal. The company says the lay-offs are part of its strategy to achieve cost-savings of at least $300m a year by the end of 2007.

The cuts are the latest in a swath of job losses announced among a handful of the world's largest financial institutions in recent weeks. Last week, Zurich Financial, another major European insurance group, said it was cutting around 1,000 jobs from its German unit - more than one in six of its entire workforce.

Last month, Allianz, Europe's largest insurer, revealed plans to slash around 7,500 jobs, including 5,000 from its German operations.

The French insurer AXA is expected to be the next to announce job cuts, after buying rival Winterthur from Credit Suisse for €7.9bn (£5.5bn) last month.

Shares in Swiss Re fell 0.6 per cent on yesterday's news, closing down 50 centimes on the Zurich stock exchange at Sfr86.25 (£38.10) a share, giving the company a market value of Sfr32.3bn.

Earlier this week, the company had its credit rating lowered from A++ to A- - by Fitch Ratings, over concerns about its ability to generate sufficient return on capital. The agency said yesterday its acquisition of GE's insurance operations had magnified these concerns.