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Zurich Insurance said to plan sale of S. Africa, Morocco units

Zurich’s planned exit in the Middle East is part of efforts to lower costs in relation to premium income. (AP Photo)
Zurich’s planned exit in the Middle East is part of efforts to lower costs in relation to premium income. (AP Photo)

(Bloomberg) -- Zurich Insurance Group AG has started a process to sell its units in South Africa and Morocco as it works toward turning around its money-losing insurance operations, according to people familiar with the matter.

Zurich is working with financial advisers on the sale of the units, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. No agreements have been reached, and the insurer may also decide against a sale, the people said.

Zurich is undergoing a strategic review to reshape its general insurance business after getting hit with unexpectedly high claims. The company abandoned a high-profile takeover bid for RSA Insurance Group Plc and is revamping its top management, bringing in new Chief Executive Officer Mario Greco.

The company is evaluating whether it’s “best placed” to own the business in South Africa, and it’s too early to comment on the result of those deliberations, a spokeswoman for Zurich said. She declined to comment on a potential sale of the company’s Moroccan business. In South Africa, Zurich provides short-term insurance across corporate, commercial and domestic markets, according to its website.

The company said in November that it will exit the general insurance business in the Middle East because of “limited potential” for profitable growth. The company said it will keep its life insurance unit in the region, which won’t be affected.

Kristof Terryn, who heads general insurance for Zurich, said in an interview last week that the company has put retail and small business customers in the Middle East into a run off. That means the company won’t underwrite new policies for the unit and will shut it down once the last premiums have been collected.

Zurich’s planned exit in the Middle East is part of efforts to lower costs in relation to premium income, an industry measure known as the combined ratio. Terryn expects the ratio to improve in the second half after stripping out disaster-related losses.

“It is hard to say where the combined ratio will be. We had some adverse experience in the fourth quarter and this will bleed through into 2016,” Terryn said.

When including disaster losses, the measure stood at 103.6% at the end of the year. A ratio greater than 100 means the unit is paying more in claims and costs than it is collecting in premiums.

--With assistance from Aaron Kirchfeld.

Related: Zurich Insurance ready to shrink to cut claims, risk chief says

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