Global broker makes play for regional broker

Willis UK is looking to acquire regional brokers, beginning with one of its Willis Commercial Network members, according to sources.

Sources said the company was close to announcing a deal to acquire Cumbria-based Jeffries Group, one of the largest independent brokers in the North West, with premium income of around £25m. "It's one of their biggest brokers," a source said. The source added that the move represented a change in strategy for Willis, which moved away from owning regional brokers several years ago.

A Willis spokesman said the company did not comment on acquisitions.

But the spokesman added: "The Willis Commercial Network is in great shape and has significant expansion plans and Willis is always interested in buying network members as and when they may come available."

He said that in the event that a network member was sold to Willis, it would cease to be a member on the Willis Commercial Network and would become part of Willis UK.

Aside from insurance broking, Jeffries Group also comprises risk managment and financial planning divisions. It joined the Willis Commercial Network in 1999.

Willis Commercial Network has 60 members. It announced plans late last year to recruit members in Scotland as part of a plan to increase its membership to 100. These would generate premium income in excess of £500m over the next few years.

The move follows this week's listing on the Alternative Investment Market by the Broker Network to raise funds so that it can acquire the businesses of its network members who wish to sell.

So far in 2004, the Broker Network has acquired the businesses of four retiring members and is in talks with eight others.