While insurance companies continue to settle with regulators regarding allegations of anti-competitive practices such as bid rigging and price fixing, three large brokerage houses have seen restrictions eased on their ability to receive certain kinds of incentive commissions.
Marsh & McLennan Cos., Aon Corp., and Willis Group Holdings all within the last three weeks reached agreements with the New York attorney general and other insurance regulators and officials that allow them to receive contingent commissions from insurers in certain circumstances.
Contingent commissions are usually based on the amount of business brokers bring to an insurer. Last year the three brokerage firms all agreed to give up these kinds of commissions in settlements reached after investigations by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and other officials into allegations of bid-rigging and price-fixing. Spitzer was highly critical of practices in which brokers received contingent commissions for steering business to specific insurers—practices Spitzer believes may not have been in the best interest of the brokers’ clients.
Under the agreements modifying the contingent commission ban, the brokerage companies will be allowed to receive contingent commissions when they are acting as an agent for an insurance company rather than on behalf of themselves.
Joe Plumeri, Willis Group chairman and CEO, said in a press release he was pleased with the amendment to the settlement agreement. “It also reaffirms our commitment to full transparency—such that there are no questions as to who we represent.”
Some insurance associations, such as the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, have criticized the “continued assault” on what they consider to be time-honored sales incentive practices, even while most companies caught up in the investigations of alleged anti-competitive practices settled pending lawsuits. Liberty Mutual recently declined to settle its suit filed by Spitzer and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, and denied all allegations of wrongdoing regarding commission payments and reinsurance brokering, stating that the company's conduct in both areas was appropriate and lawful.