Denis Kessler, one of the most influential figures in the global reinsurance industry over the past 20 years, has died at the age of 71.
French reinsurer Scor, where Kessler had spent two decades as chair, paid tribute to him on Friday, saying he had “devoted his entire life to business”.
He was “a man of culture”, it said, as well as “an economist and an iconic figure of the insurance and reinsurance world, and more widely of the French business world”.
Lloyd’s of London chief executive John Neal told the Financial Times that the industry “needs characters and voices that stand up for the best we have to offer and Denis will be forever missed”.
“We are all ‘doffing our berets’ and fondly remembering our time with him,” Neal said.
Kessler chaired the French Federation of Insurance Companies during two periods in the 1990s and through to the 2000s, and was president of the group behind the Rendez-Vous de Septembre, the pre-eminent annual reinsurance event in Monte Carlo.
He had been a board member of several major companies, including a two-decade stint at banking group BNP Paribas, and held a seat on the board at asset manager Invesco since 2002. He was also a member of France’s Economic, Social and Environmental Council from 1993 to 2010.
Kessler was widely lauded in the industry for the turnround of Scor, taking it from the verge of collapse in 2002 to one of Europe’s biggest reinsurers — groups that provide cover to primary insurers.
“People will shake my hand again now,” Kessler joked a couple of years later, after returning it to profit and restoring its dividend.
But the later part of his tenure was marked by a bitter legal fight with Covéa, after the French mutual group launched a hostile takeover bid in 2018.
Covéa’s approach spiralled into a drawn-out fight, involving accusations being thrown on both sides through courts and the press, that was only settled in 2021.
In the same year Kessler gave up the chief executive role after a call from France’s financial regulator to split the two top roles at the group, amid a high-profile governance battle with activist investor CIAM.
Kessler oversaw one last reshuffle earlier this year, when his successor as CEO Laurent Rousseau resigned from the board after inflation and natural catastrophe-related claims soured performance and hit the share price.
Thierry Léger, who replaced Rousseau in the top job, paid tribute to Kessler, saying his “passion for reinsurance was unparalleled, and his ambition to make Scor an industry leader never left him. It has been the driving force behind all his actions at the head of the group over the past 21 years.”
Scor said its vice-chair, Augustin de Romanet, would chair the board until a new chair was appointed.