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Willis aims to stem rush of talent to the exits, after 22% leap in attrition

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Willis Towers Watson is looking to “hire smarter” amid wider efforts to halt a drain of talent, after the broker saw its attrition rate leap 22% in the past year during uncertainty over the Aon deal.

“Our voluntary attrition rate over the last 12 months has been 13.4%, up from 11% in 2020,” Adam Garrard, Willis’s head of risk and broking, said during the company’s investor day presentation on Thursday. The rate is most pronounced in North America.

A number of former Willis people in leadership roles have signed on with competitors. Marsh McLennan CEO Dan Glaser said during a recent conference call that the company had hired multiple staffers from Willis, including many after the Aon deal collapsed.

“Our hiring from Willis post the announcement [of the merger] is three times higher, on a net basis than it was in the 15 months prior to the announcement,” Glaser told investors.

“The aborted combination was undoubtedly and predictably a setback,” Garrard said of the year-long wait between the announcement of the $30bn mega-merger and the breakdown of talks with the US Department of Justice that led to the deal’s collapse.

“The prolonged period of uncertainty tested the most loyal of colleagues,” he added.

Some of the departing staff moved to Aon, including its global head of broking, Joe Peiser, and the former Miami-based facultative operations chief Luke Reeve-Tucker and his staff of six.

Garrard said the company has a well-funded bonus pool and “will reward the colleagues who have stayed the course,” despite earlier reports that it nixed its post-merger retention bonuses after the deal collapsed.

The company also has a financial and non-financial retention strategy for key risk and broking staff, he said. “The colleagues I speak to want to stay at WTW and are optimistic and excited about the future and what we can achieve together.”

Willis wants to add leadership and client-facing talent across its business lines, Garrard said.

“The last year has also given us a chance to rethink our talent requirements so that we can hire smarter,” he told investors. That means not every person who departed will be replaced.

That said, the broking side of the business alone has already hired back 100 people since the Aon merger fell through.

Among the most high-profile rehires was Andrew Krasner, who was lured back as CFO. Krasner, who served as M&A chief at Willis for years, had jumped ship to join AssuredPartners in the same role.

“We are seeing external talent re-engaging now that there is clarity on our future,” Garrard said.

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