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Musical Chairs For Top Swiss Finance Bosses

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

12 November 2002

It was musical chairs for top Swiss financial executives this weekend, as Swiss Re's respected chief executive Walter Kielholtz jumped ship in favour of the top job at troubled bank Credit Suisse, and Swiss Life chairman Andres Leuenberger followed chief executive Roland Chlapowski out of the door, saying he would resign next year.

Meanwhile, justice officials said that a district court in Zurich had decided to probe Swiss Life on suspicion of misconduct over major profits restatements, and the existence of a secretive investment fund for top managers, whose discovery contributed to Chlapowski's and Leuenberger's departures.

Kielholz's appointment at Credit Suisse had been announced in August, when the company said he would replace Lukas Mühlemann, Credit Suisse's discredited chairman, at the end of the year; but Swiss Re had insisted that Mr Kielholz, 51, would be able to continue as Swiss Re's chief executive whilst serving as non-executive chairman of Credit Suisse.

John Coomber, 53, a British-born actuary who joined Swiss Re in 1973, will take over as chief executive of the world's second biggest reinsurer on January 1, and John Fitzpatrick, 46, the group's American chief financial officer, will replace Mr Coomber as head of Swiss Re's fast-growing life and health insurance division.

Swiss Re has attempted to calm investors' fears by appointing Mr Kielholz as Swiss Re's vice chairman, with "special responsibilities related to the group's strategic direction setting, top management development and the interfacing with the executive board".

None of the new appointees is falling into a bed of roses, with each of the three companies mired in loss, if nothing worse. Swiss Re reported its first ever loss, of US$114m, last year, while Swiss Life owned up to a half year loss of US$393m, and Credit Suisse is expected to announce a third quarter loss of SFr2bn.

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