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Willis reports slightly higher Q4 revenue, surge in hiring

Carl Hess

Willis Towers Watson PLC on Tuesday reported fourth-quarter revenue of $2.71 billion — up just 1% overall, and 4% on an organic basis, from the final quarter of 2020 — as revenue in its corporate risk and broking business was hit by staff departures earlier in the year.

The brokerage expects to deliver mid-single-digit organic revenue growth in 2022.

Meanwhile, hiring is at its highest level in recent history and staff departures continue to decrease, Willis’ top executive said on an earnings call with analysts.

“Willis hired more people in the second half of 2021 than it hired in the entire year in 2020 and the elevated attrition levels we saw in 2021 are behind us,” CEO Carl Hess said.

Willis had lost a steady stream of staff after the announcement in March 2020 that Aon PLC had agreed to acquire the brokerage. Aon terminated the $30 billion deal on July 26, 2021, in the face of regulatory scrutiny.

Fourth-quarter net income totaled $2.4 billion, up 405% from $476 million in the year-earlier period, Willis said in its earnings statement. Willis reported a gain of $2.3 billion in connection with the sale of its Willis Re reinsurance business, which was substantially completed on Dec. 1, Mr. Hess said.

“Overall, our results aligned with our expectations, but they do not reflect the near- and long-term potential of this company to drive organic growth and margin expansion,” said Mr. Hess, who succeeded John Haley as CEO on Jan. 1.

Willis’ corporate risk and broking segment reported fourth-quarter revenue of $882 million, down 1% from the prior-year period, and up 1% on an organic basis.

North America led the segment with organic revenue growth of 4%, including gains recorded in connection with book-of-business sales and settlements related to prior producer departures that occurred earlier in 2021, Mr. Hess said.

International revenue increased 10%,  with strong performance in mergers and acquisitions in Asia and Australasia and natural resources in eastern Europe. Latin America also contributed to growth with new-business wins in Brazil and Central America, Mr. Hess said.

Great Britain revenue declined 5% due to lost business and the delayed impact of disruption from earlier in 2021.

Revenue in Western Europe declined 5% due to the departure of senior staff prior to the termination of the Aon deal, which continued to pressure the business in certain geographies.

“Although earlier staff departures have hindered our growth for several quarters, we are seeing some positive momentum. New client wins include one of the largest commercial and retail banks in the region,” Mr. Hess said of Western Europe.

In Willis’ other operating segments, human capital and benefits reported fourth-quarter revenue of $884 million, up 3% on an organic basis; benefits delivery and administration grew 5% on an organic basis to $729 million; and investment, risk and reinsurance reported revenue of $199 million, a 32% increase on an organic basis.

For the full year 2021, revenue totaled $9.00 billion, an increase of 4% over 2020, and an increase of 6% on an organic basis.

Corporate risk and broking reported full-year revenue of $3.18 billion, an increase of 7% over 2020, with organic revenue growth of 5%.

Net income for the full year was $4.22 billion, up 324% from $996 million in 2020.  

Willis recorded restructuring costs of $26 million for 2021 as it consolidated real estate following the restructuring program announced in September.





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