Ramani Ayer, 62, who led Hartford Financial Services Group for 12 years as chief executive said he will retire from his CEO and chairman positions by the end of the year after a tumultuous two years where the firm has been hard hit by the current economic downturn and financial crisis.

The company said today in a statement that Ayer informed its board about his plans and will begin an immediate, external search for a replacement.

Ayers said that after making important decisions about Hartford’s path going forward “it is the right time for me to make my plans for retirement and for the Board to begin the search for my successor.”

Last month, Ayer said that after an in-depth evaluation of the company’s business model and strategy, the company would return to its strengths as a U.S. centric insurance company, moving forward with both its property and casualty and life insurance businesses.

The Hartford was more affected by the market volatility than some of our peers, he said at the time.

The company is seeking a $3.4 billion investment from the federal government’s TARP financial bailout program to strengthen its capital and financial flexibility. The company reported a net loss of $1.2 billion in its latest quarterly report.

Shares of Hartford Financial Services rose 1.6 percent today to $15.12. After steady gains throughout this decade until late 2006, the stock began a decline from a peak above $100.

“Working closely with the Board, Ramani was instrumental in helping the company navigate the extraordinarily challenging financial environment of the past two years, and we are confident that the company is well positioned to compete in the future, said Paul G. Kirk Jr., the company's longest serving independent director in a released statement.

Ayer had been with the company for 36 years. He served in a variety of senior executive level positions within the company’s property and casualty unit before being named its president and chief operating officer in 1991.