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New York: Broker Contingent Commissions Likely In Early 2010

By Lavonne Kuykendall Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES The New York Insurance Department has taken a major step toward lifting a ban on some insurer-paid commissions for the three biggest insurance brokers, which could boost their earnings. The insurance department's so-called Producer Compensation Transparency regulation would allow brokers to take insurer-paid commissions that are based on profitability or volume, if they follow procedures for disclosing the payments to their policyholder customers. As a last step toward making the proposed rule part of New York's regulation, the insurance department published the regulation Dec. 2, which means it will likely go into effect 45 days later, in mid-January. State attorney generals are considered likely to follow the regulation to allow brokers to take the commissions. Matthew Gaul, special counsel at the insurance department, said the office has gone through an extensive comment and revision process for nearly 18 months and that the required 45-day period for public comment is likely the last step before the regulation is adopted, perhaps with some minor changes. "We plan to move quickly once we have the authority," he said Wednesday. He said that some broker groups have voiced opposition to the regulation, on the grounds that it will be difficult to implement, but other broker groups have come to accept it, though are requesting some minor changes. Keith F. Walsh, an analyst with Citigroup, called the likely change a "reversing of Spitzer's regulatory regime," referring to former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, whose investigation into insurer-paid commissions led to the ban, which applied only to the largest commercial insurance brokers. Walsh estimated that a return of the commissions could boost earnings per share by as much as 10% for Aon Corp. (AON), Marsh & McLennan Cos. (MMC) and Willis Group Holdings Ltd. (WSH). Willis Group Chief Executive Joseph Plumeri has said the broker will not accept the so-called contingent commissions, which are based on the amount of business a broker brings in or the profitability of the business. Plumeri has said the commissions set up a conflict of interest for brokers, who serve as advocates for their policyholder customers. Shares of Aon recently traded down 0.4% to $37.74, Marsh traded up 0.1% to $21.56, and Willis traded down 0.2% to $26.76. -By Lavonne Kuykendall, Dow Jones Newswires; (312) 750 4141; lavonne.kuykendall@dowjones.com

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