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Top insurance brokers, No. 1: Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc.

Top insurance brokers, No. 1: Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc.

2017 brokerage revenue: $14.04 billion

Percent increase (decrease): 6.1%

Steady as she goes has been the major theme for Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc. in recent years.

The New York-based brokerage’s 2017 gross and brokerage revenues increased by 6.2% and 6.1%, respectively, with brokerage revenue of $14.04 billion keeping it at the top of Business Insurance’s broker rankings in 2018.

The brokerage achieved “good organic growth in various parts of the world” with its Victor managing general agency — recently rebranded from the Schinnerer Group — and private equity and M&A services division performing well, said John Doyle, president and CEO of Marsh L.L.C., the firm’s main brokerage unit.

The company also “continued to make inorganic investments that contribute to growth,” he said, citing the acquisitions of middlemarket firm J. Smith Lanier & Co. in January 2017 and International Catastrophe Insurance Managers L.L.C., announced in August.

“A solid year all around, decent organic growth, market expansion,” said Meyer Shields, managing director at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. in Baltimore.

“I would expect a consistent focus on small, relative to Marsh & McLennan,” M&A activity, he added. “I don’t expect anything transformational, and we probably will see a fair amount of international M&A just to take advantage of markets where there is growing insurance penetration in the broader economy.”

The headline for 2017 was the catastrophe events that “dominated the conversation” in the second half of the year, Mr. Doyle said.

“A challenging year on the underwriting side because of the cat events, for sure,” he said, adding that some clients recovered quickly while others will take another year or two.

Marsh has made major investments in claims and technology that had an impact in aiding this recovery, including the use of drones to quickly assess damage and work with insurers to help relieve their clients’ financial pressures, Mr. Doyle said.

Cyber risk was the other major industry headline as the NotPetya malware and other incidents “changed the conversation with a lot of our clients and drove greater urgency around the insurance conversation,” he said.

In addition, Europe was preparing for the advent of the General Data Protection Regulation, he noted. “Our clients are confronting getting compliant with GDPR at the moment, and that’s created a lot of activity for us in Europe and in the U.K.,” he said.

“A lot happened last year, and I expect that to continue throughout the rest of 2018 and much longer,” he said.

In April, Marsh and other partners launched the first commercial blockchain solution for verification of insurance.

Insurtech investment grew in 2017 and likely will continue to grow, with the goals of improving efficiency, reducing transaction costs and improving the client experience, Mr. Doyle said.

“There is also the opportunity for us to use data in a way to match risk and capital in a more efficient way than we have as an industry historically,” he said.

Marsh has “a big balance sheet,” Mr. Doyle said. “We’re not looking to take meaningful investment risk, but where it makes sense to partner or acquire some of these capabilities, we certainly will.”

Mr. Doyle replaced former Marsh CEO Peter Zaffino, who left the brokerage last August to join Brian Duperreault at American International Group Inc. But analysts praised Marsh’s bench strength and said departures were unlikely to result in any major strategy shifts.

“I think Marsh has demonstrated they’ve got a good management team, if not superior,” said Gretchen Roetzer, Chicago-based director of insurance and head of group operations at Fitch Ratings Inc. “There’s inherent risk in this industry with broker teams leaving for other brokers and taking business with them, or litigation risk or reputation risk like what happened with Eliot Spitzer. But they’ve demonstrated in the past they can handle those qualitative risks and bounce back.”

Marsh has recently begun an effort to simplify its organizational structure, resulting in fewer layers of management and aiming for greater consistency across its regional operations, as well as more focus on its three client segments: large risk management clients, the middle market and consumer, Mr. Doyle said during the company’s 2018 first-quarter earnings conference call, according to a transcript.

In April, Fitch upgraded some of Marsh & McLennan’s ratings because of its continued strong operating performance and credit metrics, Ms. Roetzer said. “It’s just been a nice, consistent, stable uptick,” she said.





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