Not every company is sitting on its hands until the economy improves. Insurance giant Aon is taking on a significant amount of short-term debt to acquire Hewitt Consulting for $4.9 billion and spend on its brand to exploit new opportunities.
The Hewitt deal will help Aon get a firm foothold in human resources and benefits outsourcing, significantly increasing Aon's market share in this area and positioning the company to take on rival insurance broker and consulting big Marsh and McLennan. The move also gives Aon a more balanced mix of insurance brokerage and consulting revenue.
The revenue mix would shift to about 60 percent brokerage and 40 percent consulting for the combined firm, versus about 83 percent/17 percent for Aon alone during 2009, Moody's Investors Service noted in a report.
The transaction will also help boost profit beginning in 2011 and help the company save $355 million by 2013, mostly in back office areas.
For customers, it will be a more consolidated market with fewer players and potentially higher prices.
Aon is also expanding its brand through a new sponsorship deal to have its logo on soccer shirts of Manchester United's players. Launched this week in Chicago, the hometown of Aon, the new shirts will replace the former ones with the logo from American International Group (AIG). The four-year deal is worth GBP80 million, or $119.8 million.
But like other US companies, Aon is still trying to dodge economic difficulties. The company has been cutting costs through layoffs and restructuring plans in the past few years, especially in Europe.
The Hewitt transaction will more than double Aon's debt load in the short term to close to $5 billion and reduce its financial flexibility. It won't be a surprise if more layoffs are also announced as a result of the Hewitt acquisitions.
"Large mergers often lead to headcount reductions, transitions to new business systems and other restructuring initiatives that can disrupt workforce productivity and client service," Moody's noted. Aon has already faced such challenges in recent years with the acquisition in 2008 of Benfield Group in the UK.