US DoJ files civil antitrust lawsuit to block Aon’s acquisition of WTW

Aon’s proposed $35bn purchase of Willis Towers Watson is being challenged by US antitrust regulators, who say the proposed merger would eliminate competition and lead to higher prices and reduced innovation for customers in the US.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said the move demonstrated the DoJ’s commitment to stopping “harmful consolation”.

“American companies and consumers rely on competition between Aon and Willis Towers Watson to lower prices for crucial services, such as health and retirement benefits consulting. Allowing Aon and Willis Towers Watson to merge would reduce that vital competition and leave American customers with fewer choices, higher prices, and lower quality services,” he said.

If permitted to merge, the complaint alleged the two could “use their increased leverage to raise prices and reduce the quality of products relied on by thousands of American businesses - and their customers, employees, and retirees”.

Both of the London-based brokers contested the action, which they said reflected “a lack of understanding of our business, the clients we serve and the marketplaces in which we operate”.

In a joint statement, the two said that the proposed combination would in fact accelerate innovation on behalf of clients creating more choice in an already dynamic and competitive marketplace: “While this proposed combination was not developed with the pandemic in mind, the impact of the pandemic underscores the need to address similar systemic risks including cyber threats, climate change and the growing health and wealth gap which our combined firm will more capably address.”

With about $11bn in revenue last year, Aon has around 50,000 staff in 120 countries, including 100 offices in the US, while WTW, with $9bn in revenue, has 45,000 staff in 80 countries, including 80 in the US.

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