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View from the top: Greg Case, Aon P.L.C.

View from the top: Greg Case, Aon P.L.C.


Long one of the largest insurance brokerage firms in the world, Aon P.L.C. redomiciled to the United Kingdom from the United States in 2012. While it still maintains significant operations in Chicago, its former head office, it has since established its global headquarters in the heart of London’s financial district. President and CEO Greg Case recently spoke with Business Insurance Editor Gavin Souter about how the move has affected Aon’s operations and his outlook for the risk management and brokerage sectors. Edited excerpts follow.

Q: It’s been four years since Aon moved its headquarters to London. How has that changed the way you operate?

A: We had very high expectations when we moved our headquarters to London, and those high expectations have been exceeded. Our move has always been about supporting our strategy in every way and really helping evolve more effectively as a global firm so we can serve our clients more effectively around the world, and London has been critical to that evolution. It’s strengthened our international business, it’s strengthened our relationship with the London market and Lloyd’s, and it’s helped us recruit and retain what we believe is the best team in the business. It’s been positive for our clients, it’s been positive for our colleagues, and we think it’s been positive for our market partners.

Q: In recent years, Aon has been at the forefront of establishing London market facilities. How has that affected the process of insurance placements?

A: We have a very holistic placement strategy that is based on client need, and when clients come to us they typically have three top priorities: They always talk about “reducing the volatility of my risk,” the next is “strengthening my balance sheet” and then “help me identify a superior counterparty.”

In turn, we ask three placement questions against those client priorities: One, is the coverage in the marketplace adequate? Second, how do we best ensure claims responsiveness? Third, are we maximizing value for price?

In each case, we come up with a unique answer that best fits client needs, and increasingly we are using data and analytics to answer those questions. That analysis allows us to provide insights to market partners and get them comfortable enough to pre-underwrite and agree to a portion of our clients’ risks so clients benefit from superior terms, pricing, coverage. And it creates efficiencies for our market partners as well, because they can more easily match their appetite with client demand and at a lower cost to them.

Q: Does that marginalize the smaller players, though?

A: We come back to how do we deliver client value and great opportunities for all of our market partners to participate and add value in content. (The facilities) provide avenues for them to do that over time, and you will see more and more of that.

Q: Does the recent Brexit vote have a bigger effect on you than on other large brokers that aren’t based in London?

A: We look at Brexit through the eyes of our clients, and we are spending a lot of time with them on implications from a risk standpoint, a retirement standpoint, a health and benefits standpoint. It has less impact on Aon. We are a very global firm. It has more impact on our clients, and that’s where we are spending time as it relates to Brexit.

Q: You have a lot of resources in London. Will you have to transfer some of those resources to Continental Europe?

A: We don’t look at it that way at all. We are a very large global networked firm, so we have capability all around the world.

Q: Given the soft market, where do you see opportunities for growth?

A: We start with the voice of the client, and based on those discussions we see lots of growth potential. Our clients, all around the world, are telling us that they are facing more volatility than ever before. We hear time and time again about pure economics — they are feeling a lot of impact of slower global growth, higher global debt, lower interest rates — and this limits their financial flexibility and limits the margin of error for them.  Straight-up demographics also have a tremendous impact here because our clients are coming to terms with slower population growth, longer lifespans, increasing urbanization. And then you come to geopolitics and globalization, which creates winners and losers. There are tons of new opportunities in the developing world, but lots of fear in the developed countries. And our clients want to know what that means for trade, what that means for supply chain.

And technology magnifies these three trends. The real world implications of technological change are that our clients end up facing a lot more competitive pressure than ever before, and we are seeing more of these risks interconnected than ever before and that brings us back to an increased level of risk. Arguably, it's never been a better time to be in the risk management business. The question is how do we as an industry come together and partner more effectively to innovate on behalf of our clients.

To create growth in this environment, there are two dimensions. One is, we can create new, more efficient risk transfer solutions to existing risk so that clients that self-insure today are more likely to transfer risk tomorrow.

The second area is where we can turn our attention to emerging risks that are driving significant amounts of volatility. Cyber is a great example, there’s probably approximately $1.8 billion written on cyber risks today but that’s against $400 billion in reported losses.

Q: Looking forward, what do you think are going to be the main concerns over the next five to 10 years?

A: We really believe that we have entered the era of the risk manager. Increasingly, we see them playing an integrated role, and that integrated role is going to be critical because many of the emerging risks attack companies across so many parts of their business. The opportunity for risk managers is to pull together an integrated view that brings together isolated efforts within a company.