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Zurich Australia 'not for sale'

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Zurich Insurance Group has apparently abandoned a plan to sell its Australian general insurance assets.

A German insurance publication reported late last week that the global group’s CEO Mario Greco has made it clear the company will keep its Australian general insurance business.

As reported in an Breaking News earlier today, the German magazine Versicherungswirtschaft-heute [Insurance Business Today] quotes Mr Greco saying Zurich “intends to stay in the Australian property and casualty insurance business”.

Zurich Australia has consistently declined to discuss the matter with media, branding it “market speculation”.

Nevertheless, the projected sale of the business has been the subject of considerable media attention, with major US publication Business Insurance reporting in September that a sale of the Australian general insurance “non-core” assets was being considered as Zurich Group “seeks to streamline its portfolio”.

It said Zurich was working with an adviser on the potential divestment.

The Australian newspaper has run several reports over the past few months speculating on likely buyers. In January it quoted “sources close to the auction” saying the sale process would be completed within a month, with the business expected to fetch $400-$600 million.

Suncorp, QBE, Chubb and Allianz were named as likely bidders.

It’s understood the Cover-More travel insurance business, which Zurich acquired for $741 million in 2017 – was not included in the proposed sale.

The thriving life and investments division was not mentioned in any sale speculation, with Zurich having acquired ANZ Bank’s life insurance businesses for $2.85 billion in 2019.

The Australian general insurance business recorded a $124 million underwriting loss in 2020, following a $4 million underwriting loss in 2019. It posted a pre-tax loss of $78 million in 2020 compared to a profit of $87 million in 2019.

However, Zurich Group earlier this month reported its property & casualty arm’s profit last year showed a 50% growth in operating profit and a 4.1 percentage points fall in its combined ratio to 94.3% – its lowest level since 2006.

All regions were reported as contributors to growth, including Australia, which Zurich said benefitted from a partial recovery in travel insurance and better performance from commercial insurance.