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Aon, WTW merger will reduce competition: ACCC

The ACCC has flagged concerns over Aon's proposed merger with Willis Towers Watson (WTW), throwing a spanner in the works for the two companies.

The ACCC said Aon and WTW are two of the three largest providers of commercial risk, reinsurance and employee benefits broking and advisory services globally, including in Australia.

The ACCC is concerned the proposed merger will significantly lessen competition in the supply of those services locally.

"We are concerned that the combination of Aon and WTW will remove a significant competitive constraint from the markets for commercial risk broking to large customers or those with more complex and/or high-value insurance premiums; reinsurance broking; and employee benefits broking in Australia" ACCC commissioner Stephen Ridgeway said.

The regulator said the proposed merger may lead to price increases or reduced service levels for large, complex or high-value commercial insurance customers.

Additionally, it said it may also limit the insurance coverage and pricing smaller brokers are able to obtain for their customers.

The ACCC is now considering whether the effects of the proposed merger are especially pronounced in certain commercial insurance risk classes or industry specialities such as financial and professional, cyber, marine insurance and insurance for construction projects.

It also said it was concerned about the impact of the proposed merger on the supply of reinsurance broking and advisory services, particularly for the supply of reinsurance which covers all current and future policies written by the primary insurer for particular risks.

"Reinsurance is vital for the Australian economy as it enables insurers to continue to write new insurance policies," Ridgeway said.

"The ACCC is concerned that the proposed merger will reduce insurers' choice of reinsurance brokers in an already concentrated market. This could lead to price increases or reduced service levels for customers, including the ability to access sufficient reinsurance capacity."

The proposed merger will reduce the three major providers of employee benefits broking and consultancy services in Australia to two, especially for customers that require global coordination of these services, the ACCC said.

It may also increase the risk of coordinated effects in the markets where Aon and WTW compete, it added.

"Reducing the number of brokers in these already concentrated markets, increases the potential for the remaining brokers to align their pricing and strategies," Ridgeway said.

Shareholders approved the merger back in August last year after an extraordinary general meeting and at the special meeting of WTW shareholders which was ordered by the High Court of Ireland.

The merger was proposed in March 2020 with an agreement to merge operations in an all-stock transaction with an implied combined equity value of about $121 billion (US$80 billion).

Under the deal, the two entities will combine under the Aon name and focus on the core areas of risk, retirement, and health. The headquarters of the combined business will be Aon's existing London headquarters.

Read more: ACCCAonWTWWillis Towers WatsonStephen Ridgeway
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