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Unison uncertainty as brokers merge

The future of the Unison consultancy network is in jeopardy as a result of merger plans between US in-surance giant, Marsh & McLennan - parent company of William Mercer - and Johnson & Higgins (J&H), the core of the Unison employee benefits network.

The Unison network covers insurance broking as well as employee benefits and the fate of both areas remains uncertain.

Commentators believe that the most probable outcome will be the merger of J&H's employee benefit operations with those of Mercer worldwide leaving a rump Unison network. One went so far as to des-cribe the result as the explosion" of Unison.

Mercer's chairman in London, Pe-ter Felton, said that nothing had been decided. "The acquisition hasn't been fully completed yet and until it has I think it is premature to discuss it."

Joël Royers, managing director of Unison Consultants Europe in Brussels also pointed out that the merger had still to be finalised but added: "J&H, the US partner of Unison is now merging with Marsh & McLennan and the other partners of Unison will have to decide on their own strategy."

A spokeswoman for Marsh & Mc-Lennan in New York said: "In either the insurance broking area or the employee benefit area it is too soon to say. Task forces are forming to look into these things. The partner firms which form Unison are currently looking into what is best for their clients."

If the merger goes ahead there is obvious scope for conflicts of interest. In the UK , J&H does not have an employee benefits operation: such work is currently referred to UK Unison partner, Hymans Robertson. However with Mercer's significant UK presence the future of such referrals must be in doubt.

Other Unison offices in countries where Mercer has a presence include PAS Consulting Group in Dublin, Jauch & Hübener Beratungs in Munich, Gras Savoye in Neuilly-sur-Seine near Paris, Bonner and Company in Virum, Denmark and Menage & Jowa Gras Savoye in Groot-Bijgaarden in Belgium.

Watson Wyatt's marketing director, Russell Smith commented that with Marsh & McLennan being a much larger organisation than J&H, the deal was effectively a takeover. He added: "When it comes to joining Mercer and J&H, from where we sit, we wonder how the merger will work as a global unit. One of things we pride ourselves on in Watson Wyatt is that our firm is globally integrated. I think there are definitely issues about how Mercer works as a global organisation. How a merger with J&H is going to help that I really don't know." John Lappin"

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