Howell resigned from Assicurazioni Generali in late July, having only joined the company from Prudential in April 2015.
He will report to Zurich’s group chief executive Greco, who left Generali in February to take up the reins of the Swiss insurance giant.
Howell, a US citizen, will join Zurich on 1 September and be based in Hong Kong working closely with Stuart Spencer, who had held the Asia Pacific chief executive role on an interim basis.
Greco said: “Jack’s extensive experience coupled with his leadership capabilities make him the ideal person to strengthen our position in Asia Pacific, where we see exciting potential to develop our business.”
The appointment was announced on the same day that Zurich reported that its net income attributable to shareholders (NIAS) for the first six months of 2016 had fallen 22% over the same period last year to $1.6bn (£1.2bn, €1.4bn).
In the second quarter NIAS was down 12% to $739m from $840m in Q2 2015.
Overall, Zurich’s profits slipped 2% to $2.19bn for the six months to 30 June, which the company attributed to a lower level of realised capital gains, restructuring charges related to the group’s turnaround plans and a higher effective tax rate.
Profits from general insurance, the company’s main division, rose 3% to $1.2bn in U.S. dollar terms despite a higher level of catastrophe and weather-related events.
“Reinvigorated underwriting discipline in general insurance has resulted in an improved attritional loss ratio,” said Greco.
Despite the overall results, Greco said he was happy with the progress the company had made in its underlying performance, especially in the second quarter.
“Our efficiency programme is beginning to deliver results and we have taken steps to strengthen our geographic footprint by enhancing our position in the US, Malaysia and Australia while exiting several positions where we saw limited potential,” he said in a statement.