DAILY NEWS Nov 30, 2012 3:39 PM - 0 comments

Willis Group expands into employee benefits in Canada with Avalon acquisition

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By: Greg Meckbach, Associate Editor

Willis Group Holdings' New York City-based North American unit announced Thursday it has agreed to acquire the assets of Montreal-based Avalon Actuarial Inc.


The terms of the deal were not disclosed but Willis stated in a press release it expects the transaction to close in the fourth quarter.

London-based Willis Group has 200 employees in Canada in offices in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. It also owns Montreal-based Willis Corroon Aerospace of Canada Ltd., a risk services broker offering services to airlines, airports, manufacturers, refuellers, ground handlers, air navigation service providers and maintenance, repair and overhaul firms.

Avalon Actuarial, whose services include employee benefits consulting, group insurance, retirement and pension plans, will continue to serve clients from its Toronto and Montreal offices, Willis said, adding Avalon's 45 employees and leadership team will join Willis.

Related story: Willis reports net income in Q3 2012 down over same quarter last year

"All Avalon employees will be staying," said Rick Hynes, president and CEO of Willis Canada. "We don't anticipate any change in the employee count."

In its press release, Willis announced new roles for three Montreal-based Avalon executives.

"Following the transaction, Avalon's Jean-Robert Elie will serve as Executive Vice President and Canadian Human Capital Practice Leader; Christine Panet-Raymond will serve as Executive Vice President, non-traditional covers; and Claude Emond will serve as a Consultant to Willis."

Related story: Willis Group announces new CEO, deputy CEO

All three will report to Hynes, who said in an interview that Willis will continue to use the Avalon brand name until Willis officials "decide otherwise."

"Avalon has a very solid brand," Hynes said. "There's no need to change it as this point."

Worldwide, Willis has about 17,000 employees in 400 offices in nearly 120 countries. It offers a broad range of services, including property and casualty, environmental, cyber, professional indemnity, executive risks, corporate governance and risk management.

"We have pretty much the same product offering in Canada that we have in the United States," Hynes said. "The piece that was missing was the human capital practice, or as we call it in Canada, the employee benefits and this acquisition in Canada will provide us with that practice group."

For the entire Willis Group, revenues in 2011 were US$3.45 billion while revenues for the first nine months of this year were US$2.591 billion. The firm is currently led by chairman and chief executive officer Joe Plumeri. In October, the firm announced that as of Jan. 7, Plumeri will be replaced by Dominic Casserley, a senior partner with McKinsey and Company.

Founded in England in 1828, Willis traces its roots in Canada to 1909.

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