Zurich suicide's widow vents anger at AGM

 

Associate Business Editor

The family and widow of the late finance chief at Zurich Insurance told shareholders at the company's annual meeting yesterday that they could not accept a report clearing the business and its former chairman Josef Ackermann of any responsibility for his death.

The AGM in Switzerland was attended by the daughter, mother and brother of Pierre Wauthier as well as his widow Fabienne.

Speaking on stage the meeting she said: “We cannot accept your conclusion that his suicide was unaccountable.” Michel Wauthier, his brother, said: “It was not normal pressure at the office that led to his suicide.”

It comes amid intense scrutiny over the pressure exerted on financial services industry workers at all levels and across banking as well as insurance amid a number of high profile deaths.

Mr Wauthier took his own life last August. He left a note behind describing himself as “demoralised” and criticised of what he characterised as a new and aggressive tone at the firm under Mr Ackermann, a former boss of Deutsche Bank and an investment banker by trade.

Mr Wautheir had been an active man: a triathlete and father of two, he had run a half-marathon on his 50th birthday three years ago.

He was generally popular with co-workers, by contrast to Mr Ackermann who former staffers had a much more ambivalent view of. One said of Mr Ackermann “it was like the ego has landed” as the hard charging banker sought to bring some of high octane world of investment banking to the rather cozier, and somewhat stuffy world of Swiss insurance.

Mr Ackermann, who joined Zurich after a tumultuous decade at the head of Deutsche, and Mr Wautheir had worked together for 15 months before the latter's untimely death.

Mr Ackermann stepped down several days later after mr Watheir's death but has always denied that he had any responsibility for what he called a “very tragic event”.

An investigation on behalf of Switzerland's financial regulator Finma by law firm Homburger had found “no indication” that the finance chief was put under undue or inappropriate pressure. Zurich's chairman Tom de Swaan has defended the work saying it had been conducted “carefully and conclusively”.

But in an interview with the Reuters news agency Mrs Wauthier said she was never approached by the law firm, which had previously carried out work for Zurich.

Mrs Wauthier also said in the interview that she wanted the company to reconsider whether the inquiry was complete and to provide an explanation for Mr Ackermann's resignation so soon after her husband's death if he was not accepting any blame.

“We are not going there for money nor revenge,” she added.

A Zurich spokesman Angel Serna, when asked by Reuters for comment on Mrs Wauthier's version of events, told the agency: “We are still saddened by what has happened, and we will never know the reasons for his irreversible decision.”

A call seeking comment yesterday was not returned.

The issue of pressure and workload at all levels across the financial services industry has been high on the agenda in London as a result of a number of high profile deaths in recent months, notably in the banking industry.

The death of an intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch sparked a review into the treatment of junior staff. An inquest later found he died as a result of epilepsy which could have been triggered by fatigue as a result of over work.

However the coroner told the family of the 21-year-old German-born Moritz Erhardt that this was only one possible explanation.

Last month a coroner concluded that retired Deutsche Bank executive William Broeksmit took his own life after he was found hanged in London. His psychologist had said he was “very anxious” about authorities investigating the bank, though the bank said in a statement that he was “not under suspicion of wrongdoing in any matter”.

Another inquest in May, will look at the death of J.P. Morgan staffer Gabriel Magee. He fell from the bank's 33-story tower in London in January, just weeks before a colleague had apparently committed suicide in Hong Kong.

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