Aon CEO: No Crime, No Fine

By Mark E. Ruquet
National Underwriter News
March 7, 2005

Aon's chief executive said he believes there will be no criminal charges filed against executives after the insurance brokerage firm settled with state prosecutors and regulators over allegations of contingent fee abuses.

On Friday, the state attorneys general from New York, Connecticut and Illinois, along with insurance regulators in New York and Illinois, announced a $190 million agreement with Chicago-based insurance broker Aon aimed at settling allegations of fraud and anti-competitive practices involving steering of customers to insurers who had hidden fee arrangements or tie-in reinsurance deals with Aon.

In an investor's conference call Friday, Patrick G. Ryan, chairman and chief executive officer of Aon, said, "We deeply regret that some of our employees violated our code of conduct by not always putting our client's interests first. Such conduct was improper and I apologize for it."

Despite the agreement to pay customers who, according to the New York civil action against Aon, were harmed, Mr. Ryan maintained that investigations have shown "virtually all of our employees" follow the company's code of conduct and have acted properly in their relationships with clients.

The settlement draws to a close all investigations in the three states, Aon said, and it is hoped that since this is a national settlement, it will eventually settle all other outstanding investigations in other states—as many as 20.

Aon did not admit to any wrongdoing or liability in the settlement, Mr. Ryan said. The settlement does not involve any penalty or fine, and like the $850 million settlement reached with Marsh & McLennan Companies over similar allegations, the monies will go to clients who were subject to alleged questionable practices.

Unlike the MMC settlement, the agreement does not allege price-fixing, bid-rigging, solicitation of fictitious quotes or tying of commercial insurance contracts.

Mr. Ryan said no Aon employee has been charged with criminal conduct, and during a question and answer period, he emphatically stated he expected no criminal charges to be filed against any Aon employee.

He said the company would establish new business practices aimed at eliminating conflicts of interest and a compliance committee of the Aon Board of Directors.

The settlement, to be made in three payments through 2007, is expected to be tax deductible, Mr. Ryan continued, and will not result in layoffs.

"I believe that the business reforms emerging from these investigations provide a foundation for a new model that must be embraced by the whole industry," Mr. Ryan said. "We are now moving to an even higher level of transparency, also ensuring that every client transaction is free of even the appearance of conflict of interest. We are absolutely committed to this and will not rest until every one of our clients is clear on the terms of our relationship."

Mr. Ryan went on to say that there remained disagreements between New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office and Aon over "a number" of the allegations and conclusions laid out in civil documents, but a settlement was reached in the interest of putting "this behind us." He said he would not comment on the differences.

"I don't believe these allegations are indicative of common Aon practice," said Mr. Ryan. "Forty-eight thousand employees across the globe work hard every day to meet and exceed the expectations of our clients. I would be remiss if I did not recognize their commitment and their contribution. This has been a difficult process for our industry, Aon and for our employees, and we must now look to the future."

On the issue of tying versus the steering of insurance clients, which the company was accused of, Cameron Findlay, executive vice president and general counsel, explained that tying is an anti-trust violation involving market power and the purchase of product. Steering, which Aon is alleged to have participated in, involves favoring one insurer over another and is not an anti-trust violation.

In answer to another question, Mr. Ryan said Aon is not considering divestiture of Aon Re Global.

Copyright © 2005 by The National Underwriter Company. All rights reserved.


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