of Swiss composite insurer Zurich Financial Services (Zurich),
James J Schiro, its CEO, has become the 13th recipient of the
Insurance Leader of the Year award presented by the New York-based
St John’s University’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and
Actuarial Sciences. Speaking at the award ceremony, the school’s
executive director, Ellen Thrower, explained that the award
recognises outstanding individuals whose leadership in insurance
sets them apart from their peers. “This year’s distinguished
honoree, Jim Schiro, truly exemplifies the kind of leadership this
award was created to recognise,” said Thrower.
In his acceptance speech, Schiro challenged the insurance
industry to transform its processes and procedures to become more
customer-focused. “The insurance industry’s business model has
remained stagnant for a very, very long time, while the world
around us was changing immensely,” said Schiro.
He continued that it is vitally important to the future of the
insurance industry that it re-examines its customers, products and
distribution models to ensure that it remains relevant to the
communities it serves. “We can’t be trying to sell the same
products and services to people that we sold to their parents and
grandparents,” said Schiro.
Stressing the belief that the quality of the industry’s people will
determine its success, Schiro challenged the audience of more than
1,400 insurance industry executives to improve recruitment, talent
management and other human resource practices, thereby positioning
the industry as an employer of choice. “Considering the impact we
have on peoples’ lives and the well-being of communities, it is
imperative that we attract and retain the best and brightest
today’s labour markets have to offer,” said Schiro.
Scholarship programme announced
At the ceremony, Schiro announced that Zurich has established the
Zurich Scholars Fund. The $300,000 scholarship programme will cover
all costs associated with three Chinese students attending a
one-year programme at the school for each of the next three years.
“This scholarship programme is intended to prepare high-potential
Chinese students and professionals for future leadership in the
insurance and risk management industry,” said Schiro.
Schiro joined Zurich as its COO in March 2002 and was appointed as
its CEO in May of the same year. Before joining Zurich, Schiro was
CEO of professional services group PricewaterhouseCoopers. His
appointment came at a time when Zurich was reporting dismal
results, including a net loss of $387 million on gross written
premium (GWP) income of $29.8 billion in the year to December 2001.
The loss climbed to $3.4 billion in 2002.
Under his leadership, Zurich embarked on a wide-scale restructuring
that included a rights issue in October 2002 that raised an
additional CHF3.744 billion (then about $2.5 billion) in share
capital, cutting costs aggressively and repositioning Zurich as a
global insurance-based financial services provider.
Zurich’s recovery has been impressive and by 2003 it had returned
to profit, reporting net income of $2.1 billion on GWP income of
$36.3. Return on equity in 2003 was 12.5 percent.
Results have continued to improve markedly and in the first nine
months of 2007 Zurich reported a net profit of $4.2 billion, up 25
percent compared with the first nine months of 2006. GWP income
increased by 4 percent to $42.7 billion – $27.3 billion from
general insurance business and $15.4 billion from life business.
Annualised return on equity was 21.4 percent, up from 19 percent in
At the time of the release of the 2007 nine-month results, Schiro
announced that Zurich had extended and increased its operational
efficiency targets from a total of $2 billion in after-tax
improvements over the three years 2007 to 2009, to $ 3.1 billion
over the four years 2007 to 2010.