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Willis Towers Watson revenue ticks up as it looks to post-merger future

Future outlook

Willis Towers Watson PLC reported 2.8% growth in 2018 fourth-quarter revenue as it largely completed the integration of its units following the merger that created the firm in 2016.

Going forward, the firm will focus more on cross-sell opportunities between the brokerage operations of the former Willis Group Holdings PLC and the consulting operations of the former Towers Watson & Co., Willis Towers Watson’s top executive said in a conference call discussing the results Wednesday.

In addition, Willis Towers Watson will look to make more acquisitions of all sizes going forward, he said.

Willis Towers Watson reported revenue of $2.1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2018, excluding the effect of new accounting rules from the Financial Accounting Standards Board that affect when certain revenues are recognized in financial results. Like other large brokerages, Willis Towers Watson adopted the new rules in the first quarter of 2018 and has provided revenue figures that exclude the effect of the change to provide better comparison with 2017 results, in addition to providing figures that reflect the new rules.

Corporate risk and broking, its largest unit, reported revenue of $812 million for the fourth quarter of 2018, a 2.4% increase over the prior year period. Organic growth in the quarter — which excludes the effect of foreign exchange changes, acquisitions and the revenue rule change — was 5%, according to the earnings statement. Net income for the fourth quarter was $169 million, down 31% from the same period in 2017, which included one-time benefits of federal tax changes.

For the full year, Willis Towers Watson reported revenue of $8.50 billion, a 5% increase over 2017 in both actual and organic growth, and the insurance brokerage segment reported $2.90 billion in revenue, up 5.4%, and organic growth of 4%. Net income for 2018 was $775 million, a 36.4% increase over the prior year.

The fourth quarter of 2018 also “marked the end” of the integration of the $18 billion merger of Willis and Towers Watson, CEO John Haley said on the conference call.

Looking forward, the firm will seek cross-selling opportunities between the consulting and insurance broking operations, he said.

Already, “going to the market with our integrated proposition has led to us penetrating, in particular the (corporate risk and broking) market, in companies we traditionally have not worked for. Just in the fourth quarter, in the November/December timeframe, we had a couple of large organizations that we won the CRB work for … and it couldn’t have occurred without the CRB and some other parts of the organization working together,” Mr. Haley said.

In addition, with the integration completed, Willis Towers Watson will look to make more acquisitions, he said. “Historically, both Willis and Towers Watson were active in looking at acquisitions and growing that way … we feel that we are in a really good operating place right now and we can go back to our historical look at acquisitions.”

Future acquisitions will likely include companies that provide additional expertise and capabilities, “but we’d be open to lots of different-sized deals,” Mr. Haley said.


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