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New Hannover Re CEO could open up new profit sources, says outgoing chief

Hannover Re's incoming CEO, Jean-Jacques Henchoz, could open up the company to new sources of profit when he arrives in May 2019, current CEO Ulrich Wallin said.

Speaking to analysts at Hannover Re's investor day Oct. 18, Wallin said that because of his different views and experiences, Henchoz "would probably be able to bring concepts to bear that allow us to go into profit pools we are currently not in," particularly in business that is more "service-intensive."

Henchoz is joining Hannover Re from rival top-five global reinsurer Swiss Re AG, where he is CEO of reinsurance for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Wallin said Henchoz will inherit a business that has bigger reserving buffers than when he took the helm from Wilhelm Zeller in 2009. The company built up reserves from profits between 2009 and 2015, Wallin said, giving Henchoz "a better starting point than we had in 2009 because there are just more buffers on the balance sheet."

He also said Henchoz will take over at a time when there is more profit potential in the life and health business than during Wallin's tenure. Life and health profitability has been dragged down in recent years by losses from a block of U.S. mortality business, originally from ING, that Hannover Re bought from Scottish Re in 2009. Wallin has previously said the problems should largely be fixed in 2018, allowing the business to go on relatively unencumbered from 2019.

Wallin added: "I'm convinced that the team that we have at Hannover Re, which is a very seasoned and strong team, together with the new CEO, will continue the success story of Hannover Re."

But elsewhere in his presentation, Wallin noted that the reinsurance market is getting tougher, as companies can no longer rely on big catastrophe losses to trigger large rises in prices for reinsurance cover and boost profits. He cited broker Guy Carpenter's global catastrophe rate-on-line index, which showed big increases in prices after heavy catastrophe losses in 2005, but "hardly any movement" after the series of 2017 disasters.

"We feel that in a market where you cannot rely on the cycles, it is very important that you outperform the average of your peers," Wallin said. "For us, it is is important that we keep that distance [from] our peers."

Hannover Re reported a return on equity after tax of 13.2% in the first half of 2018, compared with 9% for the top 10 global reinsurers.

Wallin also vowed that, having beaten its target of 6.5% annual value creation, measured by increases in book value and accumulated paid dividends, for the past 10 years, the company would "continue this outperformance." But he added that it would not be easy, as the market conditions over the past decade were "quite favorable" and the company faced "more pressure on [profit] margin than we have seen in the past 10 years."

He added: "We have to even more pointedly benefit from our competitive advantages than we were able to do in the last 10 years."