So Towers Watson is merging with Willis. My first reaction as someone who works with medium and small employers is, “Who cares?”

Why? Because these are two behemoths (that were actually three big agencies not that long ago) that have been focused for years in the upper stratosphere of clients (who value brand name over services) and that make a small fraction of their revenue off of benefit work. In short, they’re not us. But it does make me think about how change is confronting the folks who are both our competitors and my friends.

Also see: “Willis Group, Towers Watson agree to $18 billion merger.”

Truth is, there are mergers, acquisitions and other combinations happening every day lately among agencies. While they don’t make the news because there’s no SEC filing requirements or billions of dollars involved, they impact their clients in very real ways. Our clients are personal relationships, not purely business — we know their family and they know ours. We’ve seen their struggles and they’ve seen our evolution from commissions and spreadsheets to value-based service providers as a reflection of both economic and regulatory changes. The Affordable Care Act has changed what they need from us, and they’ve seen us provide more than they thought we could.

The real world

The business reasons behind a Towers Watson and Willis merger pale in comparison to the real world. Our shareholders aren’t pushing this and neither are their clients. For us, our business demands change and therefore are forcing benefits agencies from Roanoke, Va., to Richmond, Calif., to look at the future in an entirely different way. We can either embrace it or die.

We don’t throw millions of dollars at private exchanges that are seen as assets to be leveraged in a merger deal, or plaster our names on tall buildings or sports stadiums. Instead, we partner with companies that help increase our value to our clients, and sponsor Little League teams as a part of our community investment. We know our work is meaningful for the family of four that never had health insurance, and now sleeps easier at night. We’re happy about the opportunity to help the restaurant owner not fear penalties and the unknown, and find a solution that remains affordable.

Also see: “The top 50 large-group employee benefit brokers in the U.S.”

My first reaction to this news is the same as my last reaction: Let’s stop celebrating the financial merger of two faceless giants, and focus instead on the real work that agents, brokers and consultants are doing every day to make a difference. Our value is not in bonds and stock-swaps, but in solving problems and making lives better, one call, one client at a time.

Smith is vice president, health & welfare benefits, at Ebenconcepts in Fayetteville, N.C. Reach him at

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