Aon plc Earnings Call Nuggets: Healthcare Exchanges and Interest Expense

Aon plc (NYSE:AON) recently reported its second quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Healthcare Exchanges

Adam Klauber – William Blair: It sounds like you’re getting good momentum on the Company, healthcare exchanges. I realize selling season probably isn’t over yet, but could you I guess give us some idea if you had two clients last year or how many clients or what the range of potential clients you could have this year? And if you had 100,000 lives – just any ranges would be helpful.

Gregory C. Case – President and CEO: Yes, I’m happy to do that, Adam. As you would expect we’re going to always protect our clients and this will come out over time, maybe clearer over time. But this has just been, for us an extraordinary selling season. We have been very excited about it. We had three clients by the way last year on 100,000-plus lives, recognizing one was Aon, but two others Sears and Darden are public information and are known. One exceptionally well and I feel very good about it. This year, we are going to have a significant number of new clients, very significant, multiples of new participants, new logos. You are also going to see a real mix across industries as well as we are going forward and looking at, and also more carriers who are now participating in the overall exchange. So for us, it just really been a very positive enrollment cycle this time, and we have a pipeline that’s actually even more substantial for the coming year. For the investment, from our standpoint, it has really picked up and we are quite excited about it. The last thing I would just say on this is, it’s really the employee experience that’s really driving us. As we’ve tracked and watched how employees have engaged in the exchange over the last cycle, it’s really been a powerful tool to talk to future companies thinking about this because not only are they able to actually control costs more effectively now and manage their healthcare cost situation more effectively, they are also able to provide an enhanced experience for their employee, which is obviously quite important as well. So, you’ll see this evolve over the coming months, but it has just been an exceptionally strong cycle for us and we are quite excited about this.

Adam Klauber – William Blair: With the employer mandate being pushed off, did that push off some of the decisions of potential clients?

Gregory C. Case – President and CEO: It really hasn’t had that much impact. Overall, if anything, it raises the (indiscernible) clients want more insight and advice in terms of, sort of, how to deal with the evolving healthcare world. As we said before, the Affordable Care Act fundamentally doesn’t address employee health and doesn’t address unit cost of healthcare. And what the exchanges do is give companies the chance to sort of at least get a handle on how to think about that more effectively for their company. So for us, it hasn’t had a huge impact. And as I said before, it had just been a very robust season and we expect it to continue over the next season as well…

Adam Klauber – William Blair: Just finally on the topic, you signed a joint venture with eHealth, if I understand that correctly to help with potentially temporary or lower paid employees and also potentially early retirees. Do you think that, that joint venture will have visibility at the end of this year or is that more of a long-term type venture?

Gregory C. Case – President and CEO: It’s going to come in over the long term. Just another example of – one of the things we want to try to do is really try to communicate the opportunities on how to think about this very important choice, at the company level and at the employee level and eHealth helps us do that. It’s a great solution for clients, but also for individuals as they think about trying to evaluate a very complex space.


Interest Expense

Brian Meredith – UBS: A couple of questions. First, a quick one here, Christa, just curious why will interest expense go back up, since you reduced your debt?

Christa Davies – EVP and CFO: There was a one-time item in the quarter and it’s also just the timing of our debt, in terms of when we brought the new debt on, which happened during the quarter. So, as you get to run rate numbers, it will increase.

Brian Meredith – UBS: Then, Greg, I wonder if you could talk about what you think the impact right now on organic revenue growth is from the weak European economy, let’s assume we can go back to some kind of a normalized 3% nominal GDP. How would that impact your organic growth in the international, as well as the HR Solutions business?

Gregory C. Case – President and CEO: Firstly, you saw, Brian, in the end, (indiscernible) it is uneven, it has been a challenge. But it really is – Europe was really, not Europe but, say a series of individual countries with individual situations and we’ve got very positive and we’ve got very strong franchises in each of those. As you saw, we had 3% growth on the retail side in Europe – international this quarter as well. Roughly 20% of our revenues overall as you think about it, there is obviously upside as the economy strengthens over time. But we’ve been able to actually weather the storm quite well, and we anticipate continuing to be able to do it, to the extent it exists and continues. At its core, clients need what we’re providing. They need to understand how to measure and mitigate risks. They need to understand how to deal with these important issues around their people on retention – on retirements, pensions and healthcare. So, all these issues remained fundamental. And for us, it’s –we believe we’ve got real growth opportunities that are both domestically and around the globe.

Brian Meredith – UBS: But you did say in your opening comments that the weaker economy is actually having an issue on organic growth?

Gregory C. Case – President and CEO: You’re absolutely right, and it is. As you know from us before, we’re not going to use that as an excuse. We’re going to grow organically irrespective of that. In that to the extent they become any kind of a tailwind and we haven’t seen it in a while, obviously adds substantial positive economic impact on us. But in the meantime, clients have needs, we’re going to address them and we’re going to grow organically irrespective of the economic situation.

Brian Meredith – UBS: Just quickly, lastly, could you break out your comments or give a little more detail on the health care exchanges and kind of break it up between how the retirement exchange is going versus the corporate exchange?

Gregory C. Case – President and CEO: Both have actually progressed well. The retirement exchange navigators have been in place a little bit longer. Strong programs, series of investments there. Really love the platform and really getting strong reception from companies around the world. The newer one brought on the corporate exchange, the first-ever multi-carrier fully insured exchange with three companies last cycle. Now we have many, many of this cycle, as I said before, both going very, very well. Again, we love the value proposition for companies and for their individual employees. We think it’s going to have a lot of power going forward. We just want to build it in a very incremental straightforward way that lets us really build a sustainable business long term, and this year has really been a great step forward to that.

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