Global M&A market – what happens next?
Brokerage giant looks back on 2022 and where 2023 is headed
WTW: Everything you need to know
Corporate headquarters: 51 Lime St, London EC3M 7DQ, United Kingdom
Year established: 1828
Countries/markets served: 140+
2021 revenue (Investment, Risk & Reinsurance): US$199 million
2021 segment operating income (IRR): US$159 million
Key people: Carl Hess (chief executive officer), Andrew Krasner (chief financial officer), Kristy Banas (chief human resources officer), Anne Donovan Bodnar (chief administrative officer)
WTW is a global advisory, broking, and solutions company that provides products and services to clients to help them manage risk, cultivate talent, and optimise benefits, while protecting and strengthening institutions and individuals.
Specific services include benefits delivery and administration, human capital and benefits, investment, risk and reinsurance, as well as corporate risk and broking. The company boasts over 25 industry sector-specific teams operating regionally, if not globally, that assist firms with understanding and managing the variety of risks they face.
Moreover, its corporate risk and broking services span everything from cyber and political risk to kidnap and ransom, and product recall, as well as lines like property, trade credit, and executive risks, among others. Through its WillPLACE platform, placement professionals can take advantage of the firm’s proprietary algorithm to create placement recommendations that reflect the marketplace priorities of their individual clients, such as premium competitiveness, claims handling, policy administration, underwriting, and general service.
WTW’s roots date back to 1828 when Henry Willis kick-started his career as a merchant, selling imported goods at the Baltic Exchange in London. In 1841, Willis applied for membership at Lloyd’s, and began to broker insurance for the very cargoes of commodities he had previously sold on commission. He later got involved in the hull business, and made a name for himself in marine insurance while founding Henry Willis & Company.
The 20th century saw many acquisitions and mergers between actuarial consulting firms, reinsurers, and brokers, including Towers, Perrin, Forster & Crosby and R. Watson & Sons, as each built out their business and presence across continents. Finally, in 2010, Towers Perrin and Watson Wyatt combined to form Towers Watson. In 2016, Willis Group and Towers Watson merged to become Willis Towers Watson.
Some fun facts during this long history include the fact that Willis was the broker for the ill-fated Titanic in 1912, and the hull claim of US$1 million was settled in full within 30 days of the tragedy. Then in 1971, Willis was the broker for the moon buggy used during the American Apollo program’s missions to the moon.
In March 2019, Willis Towers Watson was embroiled in a potential mega-deal that would change the landscape of the global insurance market. On March 05, Aon Plc was considering an offer to buy the rival insurance brokerage in what would’ve been the industry’s largest merger … ever. Shortly after, Aon issued a statement confirming its interest in an all-share business combination with Willis Towers Watson.
“The company emphasizes that, at this point, its evaluation of a potential transaction is at a preliminary stage and there can be no certainty that any transaction will take place nor as to the form or terms on which any transaction might be pursued,” stated the firm. “A further announcement will be made in due course, as appropriate.”
A day later, the deal was off. Aon issued a statement outlining that because Willis Towers Watson is subject to Irish regulatory requirements, the broker had to make a disclosure at “a very early stage in the consideration.” The statement issued on March 06 read:
“Consistent with Aon’s stated focus on return on invested capital the firm regularly evaluates a variety of potential opportunities within and adjacent to its industry. Aon had considered such a possibility with regard to Willis Towers Watson. News of that consideration subsequently became public and Aon was required to issue a statement because Willis Towers Watson is an Irish company and is subject to Irish regulatory requirements. As a result of media speculation, those regulations required Aon to make the disclosure at a very early stage in the consideration of a potential all-share business combination. Aon today confirms that it does not intend to pursue this business combination.
“As a result of this announcement, Aon is bound by the restrictions set out in Rule 2.8 of the Irish Takeover Rules. Aon reserves the right within the next 12 months to set aside this announcement where so permitted under Rule 2.8.”
Had the merger gone through, there would have been serious implications for the broader insurance industry and its clientele.
“A mega deal between two of the three largest brokerages in the world has the potential to impact a variety of constituents in the insurance marketplace. For carriers, brokers are the intermediary force that act as the go-between with the policyholder. As you get more premium controlled by fewer intermediaries, I think this increases the potential to drive up prices for carriers,” said Jonathan Froelich, partner, KPMG Advisory.
“The second potential impact of such a merger would be in the broader commercial marketplace. The bread and butter business of a lot of the mega insurance brokers is in larger commercial risks for global businesses. If you take one of those brokers out of the marketplace by merging it with another, you’re potentially offering less choice to the large global corporations that really need partners with expertise and presence in the world markets – something that isn’t always offered by some of the smaller and medium-sized brokerages. That could potentially have multiple impacts on the broader commercial market.”
In January 2022, chief executive Carl Hess announced Wills Tower Watson’s rebrand to WTW, ending almost 200 years of history for the names of its predecessor businesses.
In a tweet, Hess said the refreshed name and brand “reflect the clarity and actionable solutions we bring to today’s challenges.”
The company has also changed its ticker to WTW after trading under WLTW since 2016.
“Changing our ticker symbol is just one of the ways we are simplifying to increase our agility and effectiveness, as we move forward as a strong and independent WTW,” Hess added.
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