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SYDNEY (Reuters) - QBE Insurance Group will move its European base from London to the continent because of uncertainty in accessing the European market after Brexit, the chairman of Australia's largest international insurer said on Wednesday.
"We need to prepare our business for this reality, and we are doing so on the assumption the existing access arrangements enjoyed by UK domiciled insurers to the other 27 European Union countries will not be preserved," Marston Becker told shareholders at QBE's annual general meeting in Sydney.
A QBE spokesman said no announcement had been made as to where the company planned to relocate and declined to comment further.
The Sydney-based insurer employs over 14,500 people worldwide, including around 1,950 across 16 European countries. Its European division based in London accounted for more than $4 billion in gross written premiums in 2016.
Britain's decision to trigger article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty starting the country's formal two-year countdown to leave the European Union has caused political and economic uncertainty, with the financial services industry expected to be one of the heaviest hit. Several global banks and other financial services groups have indicated they may leave or curtail operations in Britain.
Becker warned that while the impact of Brexit on the British economy was not clear, the company's move would impact its QBE Insurance Europe Limited business, QBE Reinsurance and its Lloyd's business operations.
"We are well-advanced with our plans and negotiations for the establishment of a new location for our EU business, he said. "We expect to have a solution in place for 2018 renewals."
Becker, whose company launched a three-year A$1 billion ($750.6 million) share buy-back initiative in February, said global conditions for the insurance industry seemed more favourable with regards to investment returns in the coming year, as central banks move away from low interest rates and monetary stimulus packages.
However, he warned that anti-globalisation and other political upheavals were becoming more of a factor in industry decisions.
Reporting by Benjamin Weir; Editing by Jane Wardell and Muralikumar Anantharaman