Zurich highlights scope for deals as it stays mum on Liberty talks

Insurer in discussions to buy Liberty’s business in Ireland, Spain and Portugal

Zurich Insurance Group executives declined to comment on Thursday on the company’s talks to acquire Liberty Mutual’s businesses in Ireland, Spain and Portugal as it reported full-year results.

However, group chief financial officer George Quinn highlighted Zurich’s financial scope to do deals that “make sense” on a call with reporters.

“We’ve a very strong balance sheet, so that allows us to look at opportunities that might make sense for us. If they make sense, we’ve got the capacity to pursue them. I’ve nothing to say on any specific opportunity at this stage,” he said.

The Irish Times reported on Wednesday that Zurich is in discussions to buy Liberty Mutual’s businesses in Ireland, Spain and Portugal in a deal that may be worth more than €1 billion.


It would catapult Zurich into the position as the second-largest motor and general insurance provider in the Republic, behind Axa. It is not clear, however, whether the discussions are exclusive.

The Zurich group’s financial results release on Thursday gave little insight into the performance of its general insurance and life assurance businesses in the Republic, as the reported Irish figures were driven by premiums paid by customers across Europe for policies written by Dublin-based subsidiaries.

The Swiss group’s business operating profit rose 12 per cent last year to $6.45 billion (€6.05 billion), the highest since 2007, it said on Thursday. Mr Quinn noted that the company’s financial targets out to 2025, including a goal of compound organic earnings per share growth of 8 per cent, explicitly do not include any effects of acquisitions.

The Swiss insurance giant has about a 10 per cent share of the domestic Irish general insurance market, while Liberty’s slice is estimated by industry sources to be about 6 per cent.

Boston-based Liberty Mutual entered the Irish market in 2011 by taking over the main businesses of Quinn Insurance, which had fallen into administration a year earlier after a large hole was discovered in its balance sheet. Zurich was among the shortlisted bidders that had circled Quinn Insurance at the time.

Liberty’s Irish operation was subsumed into Madrid-based Liberty Seguros in 2018, leaving it as a branch of the Spanish company.

Bloomberg reported last November that Liberty was exploring the sale of the unit for more than €1 billion, and that it was working with Bank of America to find a buyer.

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan is Markets Correspondent of The Irish Times