This historic merger will change the global insurance brokering market,” said James Battersby, the Chief Broking Officer for Central & Eastern Europe, Middle East & Africa (CEEMEA) at Willis Towers Watson. The company has both a long name, and a long story. In fact it all began in 1828, when British merchant Henry Willis began selling imported goods on commission in the United Kingdom at the Baltic Exchange in London. Remember the Titanic? Willis Towers Watson, known back then as Willis Faber & Co., was the broker of the ill-fated ship, and fully paid the £1 million (around £95million in today’s terms) claim that resulted within thirty days. To make a long story short, in 2016, Willis and Towers Watson successfully completed their merger. Willis had also just acquired the remaining two-thirds shares of Gras Savoye, the leading French insurance broker, which has been operating in Georgia since 2011.
“The merger is an absolute game-changer, and very exciting. It will have a big impact in the United States, the United Kingdom and parts of Western Europe, because those are areas where all three companies have strong bases and large staffs, and where we also have a large corporate client base,” noted Battersby. “But it’s also a huge step forward in terms of our operations and network across the world, including Central and Eastern Europe, where we can now bring far more solutions in people and risk to our clients and prospects,” he added.
“Since the three companies were brought together, there has been an ongoing process of integration and rebranding. Georgia enjoyed a lot of success under the widely-respected Gras Savoye brand, but is now moving forward under the Willis Towers Watson brand, and it’s a really important step. Our global clients will now recognize our services in Georgia more easily, and Georgian clients will see that our work here is part of a truly global operation,” Battersby continued.
For Willis Towers Watson, Georgia is a small country where the company sees a potential for developing all aspects of its business that relate to people and risk. That includes the insurance and reinsurance brokering businesses, the human capital/ health and benefits business, actuarial services and HR consulting.
“The role and value of an insurance broker is less understood in this country. But whatever your country, everyone understands client service and we aim to ensure that our clients receive the best terms and conditions that the market has to offer. When you have your own ‘Titanic’ moment, we aim to ensure that your claim is paid in full. Whether that’s your physical assets, buildings, or your human assets – we can help. That’s your traditional insurance broker, but we are looking to be able to provide a far broader service to those clients that want it,” said Battersby.
Encouraged by the successful operations of Gras Savoye in Georgia, the company is determined to stay here and grow.
“The local team has done a fantastic job in overcoming challenges. Not only do I hope are we able to continue to demonstrate the value that we bring to our clients, but we also have the strength and knowledge and reputation to lead the local market,” Battersby noted, pointing out that one of the issues with Georgia is that “seemingly anyone can register as a broker and start a business. That creates a reputational risk for a renowned brand like Willis Towers Watson.”
Willis Towers Watson has always been at the forefront of everything, including technology, which is what made it the leading broker in both developing and developed markets. In 1953, the company was among the first actuarial consulting firms to make use of computers. Today, actuarial and financial modeling software play a major role in the work of Willis Towers Watson. In addition to standard insurance services, the company also offers risk management and tailor-made solutions for its clients. Another advantage of Willis Towers Watson is its consultancy work, as Towers Watson has been the leading global company in offering HR advisory services, as well as actuarial advice to pension funds, asset management companies and insurance companies.
“The 21st century poses new threats, and Willis Towers Watson helps clients remain resilient as they face them,” says Battersby, whose confidence never wavers while talking about Willis Towers Watson. It is little wonder he’s so certain about the worldwide success of the firm, as Battersby is one of the company’s 39, 000 employees creating a history of shared values. In small Georgia, this grand mission is granted to Keta Pavlenishvili, the youngest country manager Willis Towers Watson has in over 120 countries in which it operates in. Pavlenishvili was only 23 when she became the managing director at Gras Savoye Georgia two and a half years ago. In an interview with Pavlenishvili, Forbes Georgia found out a little bit more.
What difference will the Willis Towers Watson merger make for Georgia?
The big news is that Georgia now has Willis Towers Watson, a company with 188 years of global experience. Willis was a risk management and insurance intermediary company while Towers Watson was a leading human resources consultancy that helped organizations improve performance through effective people, risk and financial management. Gras Savoye has always been more focused on local risks. So the merger of these three big companies, making now one big family of Willis Towers Watson, will offer our existing and potential clients a full complement of services no matter what the demand. We are becoming stronger with more support from our group, giving us the opportunity to use their whole expertise, and letting us develop any product that we already have globally or access any field that might be interesting for our clients. This offers great advantages to our local clients, while on the other hand, with our local representation, big foreign brands now have a friend in Georgia. When a large company signs a deal with Willis Towers Watson’s head office, it still needs to work within the Georgian framework and that is what we are here for.
As the managing director of Willis Towers Watson in Georgia, you have supported name rebranding. Why did you say no to continuing operations under the Gras Savoye brand name?
We are very proud of our five-year history of operating in Georgia as Gras Savoye, and we achieved a great deal during that time. However, the range and scale of our business has now changed. We have a lot to offer in the spheres of people and risk, and we felt that changing the brand would better reflect that. With more than 400 offices in over 120 countries, Willis Towers Watson has big development plans globally, and we are part of this. Moreover, we think that having such a big name on the Georgian market is also beneficial for the economy of our country. Foreign investors are always interested in which global names are already represented in our country. That is why we have decided to rebrand as soon as we could. But I would like to emphasize that we are only where we are today because of the strength of Gras Savoye Georgia and its five years of successful operations.
Why should a company hire a broker?
This is a question we often get asked as the brokerage market is not so developed in Georgia. Everyone is interested as to why they should hire a broker when they could talk to insurance companies directly. In developed countries, it is hard to find a company that works without a broker. The reason for that is that a true broker brings a number of advantages. First of all, a broker is an expert in the insurance field, as they deal only with insurance, so the broker will receive all possible coverage and comparisons for the client. Based on products offered at various insurance companies, we compose the best options for our clients by creating customer-tailored products. The main idea is that a broker asks the client about their personal circumstances, makes a risk assessment and finds the right policy for their specific needs. One of the biggest advantages is our easy procedures –Willis Towers Watson offers its clients procedures that make it easier to follow-up and to communicate with insurers. The clients do not struggle with thinking about how to deal with insurance companies. They just communicate their issue to the broker and the broker communicates it as it as required. The greatest advantage of hiring a broker is having a third party defending clients’ interests during the insurance period. However, the relationship does not end with the broker once the policy is purchased. On the contrary, the relationship grows from there, as the broker provides services after the sale. Moreover, it’s not only the clients – insurers also like to work with brokers. General they receive refined information and the exact request, which provides insurers an opportunity to provide better terms and better prices.
As for Willis Towers Watson in Georgia, as the leading global insurance broking group, we have a unique advantage: extensive international experience, a large network of international reinsurers, and devoted employees who care about their clients and support them on all occasions. All of this combines to make us unique.
How would you assess the company’s development over the last five years under the Gras Savoye brand, and how ambitious are the future plans of Willis Towers Watson?
Taking into consideration the early development phase that Georgia’s insurance market is currently in, I say that we’ve done a good job as a broker. The company turned profitable the very first year and grew by 20-30% annually. At first we had around 30 corporate clients. We have since managed to increase that number to about 80. In the second year of operation, the company launched an international health insurance product through which we’ve gained 100 individual clients. Through the years, Gras Savoye has positioned itself on the local market as the company that is always there for the client. Thus, the main target for us has always been to keep our existing clients satisfied and to take good care of them. So our renewal rate is quite high, which is satisfying.
Under the Willis Towers Watson brand, I am sure our office will continue the success story started by Gras Savoye.
Brokerage and consultation is actually a relationship of trust, so it is very important to always meet the clients’ needs, and this is why we favor responsiveness and flexibility. In order to facilitate our clients’ opportunities, the company is continually adjusting its services. For us, our main mission is providing a strong and reliable partnership with both the client and insurer, which will be strengthened by being part of the Willis Towers Watson family. Our main values as a group include client focus, team work, integrity, respect and excellence. These are our top priorities.