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Winterthur chief says European insurers face consolidation

European insurers face mergers and acquisitions in coming years as national laws are loosened and customers use the internet to buy insurance, the head of Credit Suisse Group's Winterthur insurance unit said. The „large number of insurance companies that you still observe in many markets” in Europe „will massively shrink in coming years,” Winterthur CEO Leonhard Fischer said at a business lunch in Zurich. Competition is increasing as the European Union removes barriers that keep companies selling insurance across borders, Fischer said. Insurers also face challenges from technology, such as the internet, which is changing the way companies sell and manage insurance, he said. „Europe will be at the forefront of the international deregulation of the insurance industry,” said Fischer, who has headed Winterthur since 2003. Credit Suisse, Switzerland's second-largest bank after UBS AG, in June agreed to sell its Winterthur unit to Axa SA, Europe's No. 2 insurer, for € 7.9 billion ($10.1 billion). Axa has said it expects „significant efficiency opportunities” in Germany where its purchase of Winterthur will create that country's fifth-biggest insurer, with total gross premium income of more than € 10 billion generated last year. (Bloomberg)