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Getting it right

The recent break up of Bacon and Woodrow and the merger of its practices into two far larger organisations, necessitating its withdrawal from Woodrow Milliman, left me feeling melancholy.
As a member of the Woodrow Milliman board and a one-time employee of Bacon and Woodrow, these events hit close to home. It prompted me to reflect on the pros and cons of the ‘network’ versus ‘corporate’ structure for consulting on employee benefits. As someone who has worked both sides of the street, these reflections were based on personal experience.
In the end, my navel gazing confirmed what I already knew – that goals of quality, independence and client responsiveness are best met by our current structure. Here’s why:
A ‘network’ approach gives us the professional and corporate freedom to respond quickly to the needs of the local marketplace. That’s because our firms are owned (wholly or primarily) by their active partners and are unencumbered by corporate structure.
Member firms are leading organisations within their own countries, offering quality service tailored to local needs. We don’t dispatch someone from head office to open a new territory. Instead, we recruit established and successful firms.
A core emphasis on employee benefits has enabled us to avoid the dilution that comes from trying to be all things to all people. (Having said that, I should add that the interests of many of our firms extend beyond employee benefits. Some partners specialise in consulting to financial institutions, while a growing number consult to health care providers. These services may not be best delivered by the ‘network’ structure because of market concentration.)
The challenge, as always, is persuading clients requiring assistance in multiple, cross-border locations that our structure offers the advantage of local expertise combined with strong international (often personal) relationships unfettered by bureaucracy.
Bacon and Woodrow has moved on and will be missed. But Woodrow Milliman, having transformed itself into Milliman Global, is a vibrant and innovative organisation:
o The Directors immediately appointed a new Executive Director.
o Effective January 1, the organisation assumed the name Milliman Global.
o Recognising the need for a strong UK presence, we are currently in discussions with potential new partners.
o We have also identified additional partners in Europe and South America.
o Preparations for our May board meeting in San Diego – which will be attended by representatives of all participating firms – are well under way, as are preparations for an international partners meeting in Amsterdam this November.
Not only are we moving ahead, but I believe we are going forward with renewed confidence that the needs of our employee benefit clients are best served by our existing structure.
David Howe is an actuary and partner with Canadian-based Eckler Partners Ltd. and Executive Director of Milliman Global. Prior to joining Eckler, he was a Director of William Mercer.

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