Chairman Josef Ackermann, a former chief executive officer at Deutsche Bank, said that the family of Pierre Wauthier, the company's chief financial officer, could hold him partly to blame for Wauthier's apparent suicide on Monday.
Ackermann said he did not believe he was guilty and that he was "deeply shocked," by Wauthier's death. However, he said, he was stepping down to shield the company from any embarrassment, The New York Times reported Thursday.
"I have reasons to believe that the family is of the opinion that I should take my share of responsibility, as unfounded as any allegations might be. As a consequence, I see the possibility of a continued successful board leadership to the benefit of Zurich called into question. To avoid any damage to Zurich's reputation, I have decided to resign from all my board functions with immediate effect," Ackermann said in a statement.
Wauthier was found dead in his home in Zug, Switzerland, on Monday, the Times said.
Ackermann was the head of Germany's largest bank, Deutsche Bank, for 10 years, retiring in 2012.
While Ackermann guided the bank through the financial crisis and the ensuing economic downturn, he proved to be a controversial leader. The bank has been criticized for being under-capitalized. It is also the target of several lawsuits that arose during Ackermann's tenure in charge, the Times said.
The board's vice chairman Tom de Swaan is taking over as interim chairman, the company said.