LONDON— Willis Towers Watson has around $5 billion of capital which could used for acquisitions, its president and incoming chief executive said on Thursday, as the insurance broker prepares for a future as a standalone company.
Aon Plc, the world’s second-largest insurance broker, called off a $30 billion merger with Willis, the world’s third-largest, in July under regulatory pressure.
Had the deal been approved, it would have created the world’s largest insurance broker.
Willis’ shares jumped nearly 5% to a near-three-month high on Thursday as the firm told investors it planned to return at least $4 billion to shareholders through share buybacks by the fiscal year-end 2022.
“People were looking for a direction and we’ve been able to provide not just a direction but an inspiring direction,” Carl Hess told Reuters by telephone, adding that after buybacks and dividend payments, “we’ve got $5-plus billion to either repurchase shares or invest in the business. Investment could be inorganic or organic – we’re not going to be doing M&A for M&A’s sake.”
Willis is going ahead with plans originally agreed during the Aon merger talks to sell its reinsurance business to rival Gallagher for an initial consideration of $3.25 billion.
Activist investor TCI, founded by British billionaire Chris Hohn, is seeking to build up a stake in the London-based firm, according to media reports.
Current Willis Chief Executive John Haley, who is retiring this year, would not confirm the reports.
“We get interest from investors all the time wanting to talk with us, either to kick the tires before they are doing an investment or if they’ve started to invest, trying to understand a little bit more about the business,” he said.
“We have conversations with pretty much anybody that wants to talk to us… we don’t disclose them.”
British insurers Prudential and Aviva have come under pressure from activist investors in the past 18 months to simplify their businesses and cut costs.
(Reporting by Carolyn Cohn; Editing by Dan Grebler)
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