Aon Steered Clear of Insurance Wrongdoing, CEO Ryan Insists

Aon Corp. Chairman and CEO Patrick Ryan is fighting to show his company is free from wrongdoing as New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer expands his investigation into questionable insurance industry practices.

Allegations have not been brought against Aon — the world’s second-biggest insurance brokerage and consulting firm behind Marsh & McLennan Cos. — but Spitzer has subpoenaed records.

“I’m very comfortable with our past behavior,” Ryan, 67, told the Chicago Tribune during an interview.

Spitzer filed a civil lawsuit against Marsh & McLennan on Oct. 14 alleging that brokers took payoffs from insurance companies to steer corporate clients their way rather than searching for the best prices as required.

Ryan said steering did not occur at Aon.

“You can talk to 1,000 Aon brokers and I would defy you to find one who would say they ever placed business,” by steering clients toward insurance companies that paid Aon brokers larger commissions, said Ryan, who is also a director of Tribune Co., which publishes the newspaper. “They just don’t do it and they don’t get paid that way.”

Little is known of Spitzer’s investigation into Aon’s brokerage activities. In his lawsuit against Marsh, Spitzer took issue with contingent fees paid by insurance companies in exchange for steering more business their way. Spitzer called the fees “kickbacks.”

Since then, both Aon and Marsh have given up contingent fees.

In September — two weeks before the Spitzer investigation became public — Ryan said he planned to step down as CEO once a successor is named.

Rumors later surfaced that Ryan was leaving the $10 billion company before legal troubles hit. But Ryan has denied the speculation, noting he will remain on Aon’s board as chairman.

“The fact that I’m staying on as chairman ought to knock that theory out,” he said. “If it had anything to do with Spitzer, I wouldn’t be staying on as chairman.”

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