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A unit of Willis Group Holdings (WSH - Analyst Report) – Willis North America has launched a private insurance exchange, The Willis Advantage to enhance its health and welfare operations.

The exchange aims at addressing the underlying costs of healthcare. With the help of The Willis Advantage, organizations will be able to design and execute private exchange solutions as per the client requirements.

Concurrently, in order to achieve an organization’s goals and optimize its benefits, the Human Capital Practice consultants of Willis in association with the clients will develop a multi-year private exchange strategy. This strategy and the private exchange offering is designed keeping in mind the exclusive requirements of each employer.

The new exchange platform is beneficial in that it assists employers to curb costs efficiently and predict future benefits. Simultaneously, the employees are benefited through an access to an extensive range of benefit options enhanced with clear decision-support tools. This helps the employees to obtain a proper knowledge about their choices and take responsibility for their benefits.

The Willis Advantage is also beneficial in terms of health outcomes as it encourages a healthy lifestyle and wellness among its beneficiaries through its health management program.

By 2017, around 5%– 20% of mid-market firms are expected to opt for private exchanges thus leading to a huge demand for private exchange platforms. The firms would also require objective consulting while assessing private exchange options. Moreover, not much of the underlying healthcare costs have been addressed by the existing private exchange solutions. The Willis Advantage provides a comprehensive solution to all such problems.

In the first quarter of 2013, revenues in the North American segment of Willis increased 4.6% year over year to $365 million, thereby generating 35% of the total revenues in the quarter. We expect the launch of the new exchange to increase the customer base of the unit thereby enhancing revenues further.

In Jan 2013, Mercer, a subsidiary of another industry major, Marsh & McLennan Companies Inc. (MMC - Analyst Report), launched a private benefits exchange platform, Mercer Marketplace. The Mercer Marketplace helps employers to control benefit costs and employees with a wide variety of choices, flexibility and service.

Willis currently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Among others in the industry, Validus Holdings Ltd. (VR - Snapshot Report) carries a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) whereas Arthur J Gallagher & Co. (AJG - Snapshot Report) carries a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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