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For the first time in several years, not one of the companies that made up the Top 10 brokers a year ago has been acquired in the intervening months.

That is not to say, however, that there weren't rumors of pending deals, or that those companies weren't busy buying other brokers in 1997 and into 1998.

Business Insurance's 27th annual ranking of the world's largest brokers finds all but one of 1997's Top 10 contenders still on the list. New to this year's ranking is Forbes Group Ltd., a Johannesburg, South Africa-based broker. Forbes' 1997 buyout of Nelson Hurst Ltd. brought it to the No. 9 spot based on brokerage revenues of $249.1 million in 1997.

Missing from the ranking is Heath Group P.L.C., which was No. 8 in 1997. Heath's revenues declined slightly last year to an estimated $231.5 million, while competitors' revenue growth raised the bar.

Another broker that narrowly missed the top 10 was USI Insurance Services Corp., which posted a 46% jump in revenues to $236.1 million, thanks largely to its aggressive acquisition strategy.

Acquisitions also were behind Aon Corp.'s doubling of brokerage revenues to an estimated $4.03 billion. Aon's 1997 acquisitions included Jauch & Huebener KGaA, Minet Group and Sodarcan Inc.

Despite that hefty revenue growth, Aon remains No. 2 behind Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc., which posted a 43.4% increase in brokerage revenues to $4.4 billion. M&M also made several acquisitions last year, including four former members of the now-defunct UNISON brokerage network.

M&M and Aon alone accounted for nearly two-thirds, or 65%, of the brokerage revenues generated by the entire Top 10. The 10 brokers combined reported $13.03 billion in brokerage revenues in 1997.

Business Insurance changed its reporting structure this year to better compare the results of brokerage services, apart from unrelated operations owned by some brokers. Last year, for example, the $5.46 billion in gross revenues reported by M&M included $1.08 billion generated by investment management subsidiary Putnam Investments Inc.

For BI's rankings, brokerage revenues are defined as gross revenues generated by insurance brokerage, consulting and related services. Total corporate revenues reflect the brokerage business plus any income from underwriting, investment management services or businesses unrelated to risk management or employee benefits.

For brokers based outside the United States, BI converts revenues to U.S. dollars using average annual exchange rates. A chart of revenue growth for the Top 10 in the brokers' home currencies appears on page 4.

This year's report on commercial insurance brokers includes a directory listing 192 brokers -- including the Top 10 -- that reported a total of $16.69 billion in brokerage revenues in 1997, up 31.9% from 1996. The directory of agents and brokers begins on page 44.

BI's 27th annual Agent/Broker Profiles report, which begins on page 3, also includes:

* Charts on the 100 largest brokers U.S. business (page 3), the 20 largest retail brokers in the United States (page 10) and a ranking of the Top 10 by revenue per employee (page 6).

* An overview of current trends in the global commercial insurance brokerage business (page 3).

* A report on compensation for the chief executives of the major publicly held U.S. brokers (page 16).

* In-depth profiles of the world's 10 largest brokers (pages 20-44).