Swiss Life shuts up shop in UK with loss of 200 jobs

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Swiss Life, Switzerland's largest life insurer, said yesterday it would stop writing new individual life insurance policies in Britain, leading to 200 job losses.

The move came after the beleaguered Zurich-based insurer was unable to find a buyer for all of its UK business as a going concern, which specialises in writing critical illness cover and income protection for companies and for individuals.

Swiss Life said it would now put the part of the business which sells policies to individuals into run-off. The decision is likely to lead to about 200 job losses around the UK out of its total workforce in the country of 700.

A spokesperson for Swiss Life said it had decided to put the individual insurance division into run-off because "there was no attractive price for the whole business".

There was speculation that Swiss Re, the mammoth reinsurance company, was preparing to snap up Swiss Life's business in Britain. Swiss Re is thought still to be interested in buying the company's business which caters for companies, and may also want to pick up the individual arm once it is in run-off.

Swiss Life, which plunged to a record loss in 2002, had made it clear it wanted at least the equivalent of the net asset value for the two businesses, which at the end of last year was £230m.

It signalled yesterday it would want a potential bidder to offer an additional £30m or £40m, because Swiss Life itself will bear the redundancy and other costs associated with putting a business into run-off.

The group, which was forced to raise 1.2bn Swiss francs in a rescue rights issue last year, put its UK insurance arm up for sale in September. It has been in the UK since 1967 and has its UK headquarters in Sevenoaks, Kent.

Swiss Life is increasingly aggressively paring its business portfolio, having sold trust company and asset manager STG and minority stakes in Credit Agricole and Swiss investment firm Tuxedo so far this year. The insurer is also expected to sell its Spanish operations as well as its Swiss unit La Suisse later in 2003, in addition to ending its presence in the Italian market.