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THE UNRELENTING CONSOLIDATION of property/casualty insurance brokers over the past year has erased not only many venerable names from the business but also felled a 25-year tradition: The Business Insurance Top 20 Brokers.
Now, there is the BI Top 10.
The round of megamergers that began last year has altered the landscape of the insurance brokerage industry and will have repercussions for some time to come. Not only will buyers see changes as a result of the deals wrought by Aon Corp. and Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc., but also as a result of the many smaller deals as other brokers jockey to position themselves in this new landscape.
In recognition of the consolidation and the dramatic gulf between the world's largest brokers and those in the second tier, BI, after 25 years of ranking the 20 largest brokers has chosen to rank only the Top 10.
Five of last year's top 20 are no more, and the difference in size between the top 10 and the next 10 is enormous, making comparisons nearly absurd. And, as a practical matter, we had little confidence that we could accurately identify which firms internationally would round out another top 20.
Closer to home, we feel more confident and are proud to present our Top 100 brokers of U.S. business. We freely admit there still are a few brokers in the United States that would qualify for our list but choose not to participate in our annual survey. We hope to welcome them in the years to come.
That is, if they still exist.
Right up to our deadline for this issue, deals continued to be made among the largest brokers in the industry.
Aon last month announced it would buy Sodarcan Inc. Willis Corroon P.L.C. earlier this month agreed to acquire a one-third stake in Gras Savoye S.A. Acordia last week announced plans for a management buyout of the broker from its health insurer parent. And Forbes Group Ltd. late last week offered to buy Nelson Hurst P.L.C., which when completed could position it as the world's eighth-largest broker.
These many changes are exciting to witness, not unlike waiting at the finish line of a marathon to see who emerges from the crowded pack and has the stamina to complete the grueling race.
For the buyers of brokerage services, the deals create some uncertainty. Will these larger brokers really deliver the enhanced services they promise? Or will service become more and more impersonal as the brokers strive to wring costs out of their operations to deliver more to their shareholders? Will these megabrokers wield more power over the marketplace to the benefit of their customers, or will they lord over their customers, who have fewer choices?
The successful brokers, of course, will be those that do indeed seek to enhance services to their customers, that assist risk managers in breaking new ground in how they manage and finance the risks facing their organizations. The successful brokers will develop innovative solutions and approaches to help buyers meet their goals. The shift by commercial insurance buyers to alternative risk financing strategies means that simply being the biggest and having the most clout with insurance markets will not be enough.
Indeed, while we have chosen to rank and profile the world's 10 largest brokers, the successful brokers will not necessarily be the largest. In many cases, smaller brokers will differentiate themselves by their expertise in a given niche, or they may be more nimble at adapting to new technologies or ideas.
And, of course, with more time and more deal-making, even those firms could grow to rank among the largest someday.
But for now, it seems fitting to say:
Goodbye, Alexander & Alexander. Goodbye, Johnson & Higgins. Goodbye, Minet. Goodbye, Bain Hogg. Goodbye, CECAR.
Goodbye, Top 20.