Huppi quits as Zurich Financial chief after string of profit alerts

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The Independent Online

Zurich Financial Services, Europe's number three insurer, pleased its shareholders yesterday with news that Rolf Hüppi, the chairman and chief executive, would scale back his responsibilities and move to be chairman only.

Mr Hüppi has angered investors with a series of profit warnings and disappointing financial results. In December he said the group was heading for a £276m loss, against expectations of a £1.2bn profit, putting himself under renewed pressure to abandon his dual-role position.

Shares in ZFS, which vacated the London stock market in 2000 and remain quoted in Zurich, rallied on news of Mr Hüppi's change of role. They later closed down 1 per cent after the Swiss insurance regulator voiced concern over the health of ZFS's finances following the falls in global equity markets in the wake of 11 September. ZFS shares have fallen 60 per cent over the last year.

"This is good news ... but it is only half of what investors wanted," said Charles Coyne, an analyst at WestLB Panmure. "They wanted Hüppi to go altogether."

A new chief executive has yet to be appointed, although Mr Hüppi is to remain chief executive until the "middle" of this year. The company also appointed David Wasserman as the new head of its asset management operations, replacing Steven Gluckstern in the wake of the divestment of ZFS's Scudder business to Deutsche Bank. Mr Gluckstern, who had been in the position only 16 months, wanted "to pursue other interests outside the group".

The moves follow several other recent senior management changes. Constantine Iordanou, formerly head of ZFS's US business and perceived as an heir apparent to Mr Hüppi, left in December. Two new chief operating officers for business development and finance take up their positions next month.

Mr Hüppi, 58, joined ZFS in 1963 and was appointed to the board 20 years later. He has been chief executive since 1991 and chairman since 1995. He oversaw an expansion drive that included the purchases of British American Tobacco's financial services operations and Scudder Investments, but which left the balance sheet stretched. Last year, ZFS sought to bolster its financial strength by raising $5bn from disposals.

Credit Suisse is now the only Swiss financial services group to retain the joint role of chief executive and chairman.