Standing Tall

A much publicized stand on contingent commissions and a major landmark renamed after the company distinguish Willis among global players

Using the measures of revenue and staff, the Willis Group is the smallest of the “big three” global brokerages, but that doesn’t mean it is less capable of delivering results for its large commercial clients, says Kevin McMurray, executive vice president of Willis Canada Inc.

Willis Tower The iconic Sears Tower in Chicago was renamed the Willis Tower last July.

“While we may not be as big as some of the other global players here on the ground, we like to think that we cast a large shadow, in that we can bring to bear the same resources and expertise, and in some cases better resources and expertise, than they can.”

Willis Canada has 250 employees across offices in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal. The company has carved out niches serving financial institutions for professional liability coverage, technology and telecommunication companies and has a thriving practice in the area of major retail stores.

To drive its client advocacy model home to customers and staff, Willis has focused much of its marketing and branding initiatives and messaging around the model. Foremost among these is the Willis Cause, a five-point mission statement (“we thoroughly understand our clients’ needs and their industries; we develop solutions with the best markets, pricing and terms; we relentlessly deliver quality client service; we get claims paid quickly; and we do it all with integrity”) that appears in the email signature of every Willis employee. Coupled with the Willis Cause is what McMurray calls the principle of “glocal”; that is, delivering global services on a local basis.

Contingents Stance

More than any industry vertical the company serves or business philosophy it espouses, the issue that Willis has lately exploited most successfully to distinguish itself from its main competitors is the company’s stance on contingent commissions. McMurray points out that Willis volunteered to stop accepting contingent commissions even before the “Spitzer ban” prohibiting the big three from accepting them was implemented in 2005. The issue resurfaced again this year when the ban was overturned in February.

“We feel so strongly about this issue that we’ve set up a website called Clients Before Contingents to help educate insurance buyers on what contingents are and why they create clear conflicts of interest in the retail broking world,” says McMurray. “Brokers can’t accept bonuses from carriers for increasing premium volume and profitability and still serve the best interests of their clients.” The website ( was launched this past April at the RIMS conference in Boston and has received over 10,000 hits so far.


Another unique initiative that McMurray describes is the Willis Quality Index (WQI), a benchmarking tool the company uses to rate carriers on both qualitative and quantitative measures of service and performance. “We can help our clients evaluate insurers and the services they offer by doing that. We’re the only ones doing it in our industry,” he says.

Willis gained major attention in another way last year, one that goes far beyond the insurance industry. Last July, the iconic Sears Tower in downtown Chicago, the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, was renamed the Willis Tower in a ceremony attended by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and other government and business leaders.

“Every member of the Willis family is honoured to be associated with such an architectural icon and privileged to call this prestigious business address our new Midwest Region headquarters,” said Willis chairman and CEO Joe Plumeri.

© Copyright 2010 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the September 2010 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.

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