Zurich Plans General Insurance Revamp as Provisions Hit Profit

  • Company books $275 million in losses over Chinese explosions
  • Zurich says it will exit part of U.S. transportation business

Zurich Insurance Group AG said it plans to cut jobs and exit some businesses in a reorganization of its general insurance unit and set aside $367 million to cover mainly North American auto and construction liabilities.

Net income fell 79 percent from a year earlier to $207 million, Switzerland’s biggest insurance company said in a statement on Thursday. General insurance posted an operating loss of $183 million in the quarter. Zurich said it will provide more information in February on its plans for a projected $3 billion in excess capital.

Zurich said it has taken its first steps to improve the profitability of its general insurance unit, including job cuts and an exit from part of the U.S. transportation business. It is also considering adding more reinsurance coverage for the unit and may withdraw from a number of under-performing portfolios.

“A comprehensive review of the business has led to an action plan to improve performance,” Chief Executive Officer Martin Senn said about general insurance in the statement. “This includes the reshaping of the management team, re-underwriting and exit of underperforming portfolios and additional measures to improve efficiency.”

The measures include about 200 job cuts in the general insurance unit, with reductions in Switzerland, the U.S., Ireland and the U.K. taking place this year, Kristof Terryn, head of general insurance and global life, said in a call with reporters. The company will exit two business lines including the North American trucking unit, he said.

“The question now is can they deliver these improvements and when will they convince investors," Andy Broadfield, a Barclays Plc analyst with an equal weight rating on the stock, said in a note. “We think tangible evidence of delivery will be needed."

The shares rose as much as 2.8 percent and traded at 267.3 francs as of 10:33 a.m. in Zurich. The stock has fallen 15 percent this year, compared with a 14 percent gain in the Stoxx Europe 600 Insurance index.

Group profit declined after the company booked $275 million in losses from the mid-August explosions in the Chinese city of Tianjin. Third-quarter net income beat analyst estimates of $195 million.

Zurich in September abandoned its proposed bid for Britain’s RSA Insurance Group Plc after forecasting losses at its general insurance business because of Tianjin and increased reserves for U.S. auto liabilities. It put the non-life unit under the direction of Terryn and said it would conduct a review of its profitability.

After the RSA bid was dropped, analysts said they expect the company to pay out the money to investors.

Senn said the company won’t change its dividend policy for the current year in the wake of the loss at the general-insurance unit. Zurich has the highest dividend yield among major Swiss stocks and estimates compiled by Bloomberg put the payout for this year at 17 francs, the same as it has been since 2010.

Zurich will change the way it prices business and evaluate which risks it wants to take on its books, he said. “We expect to see a significant improvement in profitability in 2016,” he said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE