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Fierce pricing pressures resulted in Swiss Re’s premium income falling more than 10 per cent in the first quarter of 2017, while profits were hit by $350m in claims from Cyclone Debbie in Australia.

Gross written premiums at the Swiss reinsurer declined to $10.2bn in the three months to March – a fall of 10.5 per cent compared with the same period a year earlier. In constant exchange rates, the decline would have been 8.8 per cent.

Christian Mumenthaler, chief executive, said: “We have responded decisively to the continued pricing pressure across the industry by not accepting unprofitable business, and our top line clearly shows that.”

Gross premiums written by Swiss Re’s main “property and casualty” division fell by 17.6 per cent to $5.8bn.

Profits at global reinsurers such as Swiss Re – which act as backstops for the insurance industry – have declined in recent years as low interest rates have eroded investment returns, financial markets have offered alternative sources of risk protection, and a relative absence of large-scale natural catastrophes has led to falling insurance prices.

Swiss Re reported net income of $656m in the first quarter, compared with $1.2bn in the same period a year earlier. The decline was largely the result of Cyclone Debbie, which hit Austrialia in March and caused total insured losses of about $1.3bn.

Mr Mumenthaler said: “Events like Cyclone Debbie do take a toll on our short-term performance, but more than anything, they take a toll on people’s lives, destroy infrastructure and weaken economies. At the same time, natural catastrophes like this one underscore the purpose of the insurance industry overall.”

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