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Marsh & McLennan Companies Inc (NYSE:MMC)
Q3 2021 Earnings Call
Oct 21, 2021, 8:30 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Welcome to Marsh & McLennan's Conference Call. Today's call is being recorded. Third quarter 2021 financial results and supplemental information were issued earlier this morning. They are available on the Company's website at marshmclennan.com.

Please note that remarks made today may include forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties and a variety of factors may cause actual results to differ materially from those contemplated by such statements. For a more detailed discussion of those factors, please refer to our earnings release for this quarter and to our most recent SEC filings, including our most recent Form 10-K, all of which are available on the Marsh McLennan website.

During the call today, we may also discuss certain non-GAAP financial measures. For a reconciliation of these measures to the most closely comparable GAAP measures, please refer to the schedule in today's earnings release.

I'll now turn this over to Dan Glaser, President and CEO of Marsh McLennan.

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Thank you. Good morning and thank you for joining us to discuss our third quarter results reported earlier today. I'm Dan Glaser, President and CEO of Marsh McLennan. Joining me on the call today is Mark McGivney, our CFO; and the CEOs of our businesses, John Doyle of Marsh; Peter Hearn of Guy Carpenter; Martine Ferland of Mercer; and Nick Studer of Oliver Wyman. Also with us this morning is Sarah DeWitt, Head of Investor Relations.

Marsh McLennan had another outstanding quarter. Our third quarter results reflect strong momentum across all of our businesses. Our continued strength represents a combination of the current environment as well as impressive day-to-day execution across the firm. Although there continues to be uncertainty and volatility in the macro economic and geopolitical environment, we are seeing solid demand for our differentiated advice and solutions.

Even as COVID-19 continues to pose risks in many parts of the world, vaccine rollouts are having a positive impact. We are taking advantage of opportunities to add to our deep venture world-class talent. At the core of our business is a focus on our colleagues and we are dedicated to Marsh McLennan being an exciting and dynamic place to work for outstanding people. And we continue to innovate and leverage the collective strengths of our organization to help clients address their most pressing concerns, including climate, diversity and inclusion, the future of work, cyber and digital strategies.

As we have discussed, 2021 represents Marsh McLennan's 150th year, and success over such a long period of time requires constant innovation and investment to deliver sustained growth and profitability. I'd like to discuss just a few recent examples of how we are innovating to develop new unique client solutions.

Nick Studer leads our firmwide climate initiative. We view climate as a significant opportunity, and we are well positioned to help clients with this critical issue. In October, Oliver Wyman launched a Climate Action Navigator, drawing on insights from across the company. This product helps public and private sector leaders plot a path through climate science, identifying emissions at the industry and regional level and quantifying the effects of multiple different carbon reduction technologies and actions. We believe these tools will give business and government leaders vital insights to achieve their long-term climate goals and be a significant enabler of the transition to low carbon climate resilient investment in the corporate sector.

Mercer recently launched Skills-Edge, an innovative platform allowing employers to determine the most important skills for their future and design a talent strategy to assess, acquire, and retain them. Skills-Edge provides quantitative insight into the demand and value of skills and supports both employees and organizations in rapidly reskilling for the future of work.

And just last week under the leadership of John Doyle, we launched our Cyber Risk Analytics Center. This brings together cyber risk data and analytics expertise across our firm and provides clients with a comprehensive assessment of their cyber threats, existing and future controls, and the potential economic impact. We are one enterprise, and these are just a few recent examples of how we bring together a leverage, knowledge and capabilities across the firm to offer comprehensive solutions to our clients and address their most pressing concerns. We are a growth company as demonstrated by our track record. Growth doesn't just happen. It takes consistent vision, alignment, commitment and execution.

Since closing our acquisition of JLT, we've grown our total consolidated revenue by 27%, our adjusted EPS by 34% and our colleague base by 22%. Achieving and sustaining growth requires consistent reinvestment in the business. We always strive to balance delivering results in the short-term while investing for the long-term. In 2021, we generated year-to-date adjusted EPS growth that is higher than any annual period in over three decades while at the same time investing for the future and making a significant press on hiring. We grew our headcount year-to-date by nearly 5,000 or around 7%, mostly organic adds with an emphasis on client-facing roles. We expect this influx of talent will drive growth, add to our capabilities and enhance our ability to serve clients.

Now let me provide an update on current P&C insurance market conditions. Many of the factors that drove the market to harden over the last few years continue, suggesting an inflection to a soft market is unlikely in the near-term. The Marsh Global Insurance Market Index showed price increases of 15% year-over-year consistent with second quarter. This marks the 16th consecutive quarter of rate increases in the commercial P&C insurance marketplace.

Looking at pricing by line. The Marsh market index showed global property insurance was up 9%. Global, financial and professional lines were up 32% driven in part by a near doubling in cyber rates, and global casualty rates were up high single-digits on average.

As a reminder, our index skews to large account business. However, small and middle market insurance rates continue to rise as well. although less than for large complex accounts.

Turning to reinsurance. Measured and moderate rate increases in global property catastrophe reinsurance witnessed in the first half of 2021 could persist throughout the remainder of the year, reflecting adequate capacity offset by elevated global catastrophes, concerns around real and social inflation, and a continuation of large individual risk lawsuits. 2021 marks another year of significant catastrophe losses. Hurricane Ida generated material losses in both the Southeast and Northeast. This is in addition to a record level of flood losses in Europe, flooding in China and the continuation of wildfire losses in many parts of the world. Marsh McLennan remains focused on helping our clients navigate these challenging market conditions and making a difference for them in the moments that matter.

Now let me turn to our terrific third quarter financial performance. We generated adjusted EPS of $1.08, which is up 32% versus a year ago, driven by strong top-line growth and continued low levels of T&E. Total revenue increased 16% versus a year ago and rose 13% on an underlying basis, the second consecutive quarter of record underlying growth in over two decades.

Underlying revenue grew 13% in RIS and 12% in Consulting. Marsh grew 13% in the quarter on an underlying basis and benefited from strong new business and renewal growth. Guy Carpenter grew 15% on an underlying basis in the quarter continuing its string of excellent results. Mercer underlying revenue grew 7% in the quarter, the highest in over a decade. Oliver Wyman grew underlying revenue 25%, the second consecutive quarter in excess of 20%.

Overall, the third quarter saw adjusted operating income growth of 19% and our adjusted operating margin expanded 10 basis points year-over-year. Given our excellent third quarter and year-to-date performance, we are on track for a terrific year. We expect to generate the best underlying revenue and adjusted EPS growth in over two decades and expand margins for the 14th consecutive year. Our entire organization is on its front foot, focused and aligned, and this is evident in our excellent results.

With that let me turn it over to Mark for a more detailed review of our results.

Mark McGivney -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Dan, and good morning. Our results were outstanding with record third quarter revenue, second consecutive quarter of double-digit underlying growth, margin expansion, and significant earnings growth. Highlights from our third quarter performance included a second straight quarter of 13% underlying growth in RIS, with 13% in Marsh and 15% in Guy Carpenter, and a second consecutive quarter of 12% underlying growth in Consulting, with 7% of Mercer and 25% at Oliver Wyman.

Growth in adjusted earnings per share exceeded 30% for the second quarter in a row. Consolidated revenue increased 16% in third quarter, $4.6 billion, reflecting underlying growth of 13%. Operating income in the quarter was $740 million, an increase of 37%. Adjusted operating income increased 19% to $759 million and our adjusted operating margin increased 10 basis points to 18.5%.

GAAP EPS was $1.05 in the quarter and adjusted EPS increased 32% to $1.08. For the first nine months of 2021, underlying revenue growth was 10%. Our adjusted operating income grew 21% to $3.4 billion. Our adjusted operating margin increased 120 basis points and our adjusted EPS increased 28% to $4.82.

Looking at Risk and Insurance Services. Third quarter revenue was $2.7 billion up 17% compared with a year ago or 13% on an underlying basis. Operating income increased 21% to $403 million. Adjusted operating income also increased 21% to $469 million and our adjusted operating margin expanded 20 basis points to 20.4%.

For the first nine months of the year, revenue was $9 billion with underlying growth of 11%. Adjusted operating income for the first nine months of the year increased 20% to $2.5 billion with a margin of 30.3%, up 80 basis points from the same period a year ago.

At Marsh, revenue in the quarter was $2.4 billion of 17% compared with a year ago or 13% on an underlying basis. Growth in the quarter was broad-based driven by nearly 40% new business growth and solid retention. U.S. and Canada delivered another exceptional quarter with underlying revenue growth of 16% and international underlying growth was 9%, Latin America grew 12%, its best growth since the fourth quarter of 2015, Asia-Pacific was up 9% and EMEA was up 8%.

For the first nine months of the year, Marsh's revenue was $7.3 billion with underlying growth of 12%. U.S. and Canada underlying growth was 14% and international was up 9%. Guy Carpenter's third quarter revenue was $314 million, up 15% compared with a year ago on both a GAAP and underlying basis. Growth was broad-based across geographies and specialties. Guy Carpenter has now achieved 7% or higher underlying growth in seven of the last nine quarters. For the first nine months of the year, Guy Carpenter generated $1.7 billion of revenue and 10% underlying growth.

In the Consulting segment, revenue in the quarter was $1.9 billion, up 13% from a year ago or 12% on an underlying basis. Operating income increased 45% to $404 million. Adjusted operating income increased 15% to $350 million. The adjusted operating margin was 18.9% in line with the margin in the third quarter of 2020. Consulting generated revenue of $5.7 billion for the first nine months of 2021, representing underlying growth of 9%. Adjusted operating income for the first nine months of the year increased 25% to $1.1 billion and the adjusted operating margin expanded 180 basis points to 19.6%.

Mercer's revenue was $1.3 billion in the quarter, up 7% on an underlying basis, the highest result in over a decade. Career grew 13% on an underlying basis, reflecting the continuing rebound in the global economy and business confidence. Wealth increased 6% on an underlying basis, reflecting strong growth in investment management and modest growth in defined benefit. Our assets under delegated management grew to nearly $400 billion at the end of the third quarter, up 24% year-over-year benefiting from net new inflows and market gains. Health underlying revenue was -- growth was 4% in the quarter, driven by growth outside the U.S.

Oliver Wyman's revenue in the quarter was $610 million, an increase of 25% on an underlying basis. This represents the second consecutive quarter of more than 20% growth as demand remains strong across most geographies and practices. For the first nine months of the year, revenue at Oliver Wyman was $1.8 billion, an increase of 21% on an underlying basis.

Adjusted corporate expense was $60 million in the third quarter. Foreign exchange had a negligible impact on earnings in Q3. Assuming exchange rates remain at current levels, we expect FX to be a modest headwind in the fourth quarter. Our other net benefit credit was $69 million in the quarter and we expect it will remain at this level in the fourth quarter. Investment income was $13 million in the quarter on a GAAP basis and $12 million on an adjusted basis, and mainly reflects gains on our private equity portfolio.

Interest expense in the third quarter was $107 million compared with $128 million in the third quarter of 2020, reflecting lower debt levels in the period. Based on our current forecast, we expect interest expense in the fourth quarter to be similar to the amount in the third quarter. Our adjusted effective tax rate in the third quarter was 24.4% compared with 26.5% in the third quarter last year.

Our GAAP tax rate was 24.2% in the third quarter, down from 30.3% in the third quarter of 2020 which was impacted by some unusual item. Through the first nine months of the year, our adjusted effective tax rate was 24.4% compared with 24.6% last year. Based on the current environment, we continue to expect an adjusted effective tax rate between 25% and 26% for 2021 excluding discrete items.

Given our year-to-date performance, we are on track for an outstanding year. Looking specifically at the fourth quarter, keep in mind the comparisons become more challenging given the rebound in growth in the fourth quarter of 2020. We also continue to build for the long-term by investing in hiring. While we are excited about the future benefits these investments will deliver, they come with upfront costs we absorb in the short-term. That said, we've consistently demonstrated our ability to deliver exceptional results today while investing for the future and expect we will continue to do so.

Turning to capital management or balance sheet. We ended the quarter with $10.7 billion of total debt. Our next scheduled debt maturity is in January of 2022 when $500 million of senior notes mature. We continue to expect to deploy at least $3.5 billion of capital in 2021, of which at least $3 billion will be deployed across dividends, acquisitions and share repurchases. The ultimate level of share repurchases will depend on how the M&A pipeline develops.

Our cash position at the end of the third quarter was $1.4 billion. Uses of cash in the quarter totaled $665 million and included $272 million for dividends, $93 million for acquisitions and $300 million for share repurchases. For the first nine months, uses of cash totaled $2.6 billion and included $750 million for dividends, $566 million for acquisition, $734 million for share repurchases and $500 million for debt repayment. We had a remarkable third quarter positioning us well to deliver strong growth in both revenue and adjusted earnings in 2021.

And with that, I'm happy to turn it back to Dan.

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Mark. And operator, we are ready to begin Q&A.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Our first question comes from the line of Elyse Greenspan with Wells Fargo.

Elyse Greenspan -- Wells Fargo & Company -- Analyst

Hi, good morning. My first question goes back to the hiring that you guys have done which seems to have continued in the third quarter. I was hoping to get more color on the impact you're seeing to both margin and top-line growth. I think you alluded to some of that's coming through on the expense and margin side from the hiring, but I'm hoping to get a sense of just the potential growth that could come from these hires, given garden leaves as well as potential RFPs on renewals coming in 2022.

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Thank you. Thanks, Elyse. We've been at it for 150 years, so things like garden leaves don't bother us all that much, we're definitely in it for the long haul. As we mentioned in the script, our headcount growth year-to-date is up nearly 5,000 across the firm and the highest percentage growth by far is in Marsh and Guy Carpenter. And of course, the majority of the hiring that we've done is in client-facing roles. And so, we may not be like other firms and that we generally hire to grow capability and talent rather than direct short-term revenue production. But having said that, we are a people business. Our colleagues are our engine of growth and undoubtedly, our increased hiring in 2021 will benefit next year and beyond. Sometimes it takes a bit of time to get all the hires fully integrated into the firm and producing it at levels in terms of their own capacity at an optimal level but we're very comfortable with that.

And then of course, there is a cost factor with that. We're not shy to say, sophisticated talent is expensive, but it's worth it, and that's why we pursue it. And I don't want anyone to worry out there about our long-term expense base by all of this hiring. We know how to run the business. Our comp and ben ratio, if I look at Q3 on a rolling four quarter basis and then go back five years and look at Q3 on a rolling four-quarter basis is virtually identical. So over time, we're building the company, we're doing it through our -- organic and we're doing it through acquisition. Next question.

Elyse Greenspan -- Wells Fargo & Company -- Analyst

Thanks. And then, Dan my follow...

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Go ahead, Elyse.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of -- Our next question comes...

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

No.

Operator

From the line of Jimmy Bhullar with J.P. Morgan.

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, thanks. And Andrew maybe we -- later we go back to Elyse because she did not get a chance to ask her follow-up.

Jimmy Bhullar -- JPMorgan Chase & Co. -- Analyst

Hi, good morning. So I just had a question on pricing, and if you could talk about what's going on in primary commercial as well as reinsurance. And then how much of a push back are you seeing from clients now that they're facing sort of price-on-price -- because the rates have been going up for a while now.

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

It's a very good question, Jimmy and it's a tough market out there. Why don't we start with John and then we'll go to Peter afterwards and we'll address the primary markets and reinsurance. So, John?

John Q. Doyle -- President & Chief Executive Officer, Marsh & Vice Chair, Marsh McLennan

Sure. Good morning, Jimmy. Yeah, as you noted the P&C market conditions remain pretty challenging for our clients. Prices were up about 15% on average in the quarter, which was consistent with the second quarter. The property market was plus 9% versus plus 12% in the second quarter, it was obviously quite an active cat quarter, flood, wind and wildfire-related losses. The secondary barrels are getting a lot of attention from the underwriting community in the market. Casualty was up about 6% although up closer to double-digit globally when you exclude the work comp market, I mean, the United States where things remains pretty competitive. The excess market can remain particularly challenging. Here in the United States, the underwriting community worried about loss cost inflation, social inflation, really as courts reopen from being largely closed during the pandemic.

The financial lines market, I think on average is the most difficult market for the moment for our clients. Although having said, that public D&O pricing, it is still up, but it's up about 10 points versus 15 points in the second quarter and that pricing -- that price increase, that rate of increase is the lowest it's been in the last 10 quarters, so starting to see a little bit of settling in that market.

Without question the market that is most challenging at the moment is the cyber market, where prices were up more than 90% on average driven by material growth in ransomware plans and I'm sure you're familiar with, as well as concerns about systemic events. We got a few events that may be modest compared to what potentially could happen but underwriters remain concerned about that.

I -- you asked about clients and they are certainly frustrated by it for sure and some are retaining more risk. We've been pretty active in creating new captives and there is premium growth in the captives that we manage as well. Some are also electing to retain more risk. And I mean in some cases, of course, the market's forcing some of our clients to retain more risk. So it's client-by-client and exposure-by-exposure. As Dan said we're aggressively working to help our clients navigate the market.

I will add that although on average the price was -- the average increase was the same globally. Most markets did see rate moderation, and United States was -- it was really the one exception when you look at it on a global basis.

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, John. Peter?

Peter Hearn -- President & Chief Executive Officer, Guy Carpenter and Vice Chair, Marsh McLennan

Thank you, Dan. And Jimmy, lot of my comments reflect from a reinsurance perspective what John has said on an insurance perspective. You've got markets that are dealing with real and social inflation, they're dealing with low interest rate environment, and on top of that, we're facing something approaching $100 billion of global catastrophe losses in 2021. So I think it's safe to say the prospect of that will influence property reinsurance pricing at 01/01/ 22.

But you have to look at the market through various lenses, because there is a property market that's been affected by $300 billion plus losses over the last five years of catastrophe losses. If you look to the casualty market, the significant underlying rate lift has stabilized and improved significantly, property -- casualty reinsurance contracts. And so I would say the casualty market has been more stable. As John says and the same is true in reinsurance, if I would suggest -- to suggest, there is one hard element of our market right now, it is cyber. I think reinsurers are looking at cyber capacity the same way they look at property catastrophe capacity where they're going to allocate a certain amount of aggregate and once they hit that aggregate, that's it.

So I'd say, as you know, we don't opine on 01/01 pricing or any significant quarter pricing. We believe the market finds its own equilibrium. And as a result of that, we're preparing our clients based on exposure and experience, but what they might expect at 01/01. But certainly the property market, given the fact this is now the fifth year that reinsurers have had losses, it is going to be challenging.

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Peter. Jimmy, do you have a follow-up?

Jimmy Bhullar -- JPMorgan Chase & Co. -- Analyst

Maybe I'll ask just one on expenses. And obviously in the near-term, I'm assuming T&E is going to stay depressed. But as you think about your expenses longer term, are there things that you're going to change resulting from the pandemic, whether it's a lower real estate footprint or whatever else that you think provides you more of a long-term benefit?

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I mean, when we look at the impact of the pandemic, I think one of the biggest features is that most organizations will of hours size and scale will adapt some sort of hybrid model. I think the days of 9 to 5 or 8 to 6, 5 days a week in the office are our over for most companies, and so that will have an impact. It's a longer-term impact, because in the short-term, you've got your leases established and we want some social distancing in the office and we're not sure how this will develop over time. So we're going to be deliberate and flexible. We're not going to move that quickly on it. I mean we've had a -- efforts over many years to become more efficient in our use of space and we've accomplished that quite a bit and that continues, but that certainly is our view.

We also think that T&E won't come back quickly and may not reach the level of 2019 for quite a while. I know in Marsh McLennan, our view is, yes, we look forward to a day. We're going to visit clients and markets in their location. But we will travel with more purpose, we'll probably travel with less people on various trips and we'll be more deliberate about it. And I think that our clients will have that expectation as well. So that hop on a plane anytime-anywhere culture probably takes quite a long time to come back, if ever. And so the -- both of those things have expense implications for us that will be positive for shareholders in the long-term.

Yeah, I would say the other thing is we are constantly seeking efficiency gain and we're working throughout the firm in order to to drive efficiency gain and to become better at operations. So I want to -- why don't I turn it to John for a second, so we can talk a little bit because about some of our headcount growth was in OPEX in the effort to drive some efficiency within the Marsh operation. And it's in its early stages, but there was a pretty significant increase in headcount in that area. So John, do you want to talk about that a second?

John Q. Doyle -- President & Chief Executive Officer, Marsh & Vice Chair, Marsh McLennan

Sure, Dan. We have the largest ever organic hiring in our history, this year, and we're quite excited about it. Dan touched on the market-facing talent that we brought in a bit earlier. I will say, it starts with the team. We began the year with -- our teams is deep and is strong as it's ever been. We worked really hard to come together with the team at JLT and we worked on purpose and culture and our colleagues are highly engaged and focused.

But one of the things we've been working on is -- been investing aggressively in our client service operations as well. We have a broad program called OPEX, short for operational excellence to improve efficiency, to improve client service outcomes, but also to increase the capacity of our market-facing colleagues as well. So a fair amount of hiring came in service centers around the world. And of course it's not just talent, we -- supporting that talent with investments and technologies we try to automate more and more of our processes.

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, John. Next question please.

Operator

And we have a follow-up question from Elyse Greenspan with Wells Fargo.

Elyse Greenspan -- Wells Fargo & Company -- Analyst

Hi, thanks for taking me back on.

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Welcome back, Elyse.

Elyse Greenspan -- Wells Fargo & Company -- Analyst

You guys reported 10% organic growth so far this year, we'll see how the Q4 shakes out, so puts you within the range of double-digit for the year. Typically you guys talk to a 3% to 5% view, obviously, we've been better this year. You have all this hiring that seems like it will be incremental to revenue next year as well. So could you give us an initial view? I know you guys typically wait till the fourth quarter, but just some initial thoughts that you could share with us when think about the organic growth outlook for 2022?

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Sure, sure. And I'll just start with the idea of the -- the fourth quarter, the topline becomes a little bit more challenging, right, because Marsh grew 4% in the fourth quarter last year, Carpenter grew 5%, OW grew 4% and Mercer was down 3%. So across the piece, little bit tougher, but we've got good momentum in the business and we feel good about this year.

We also feel good about next year and the year after. I mean we have been fundamentally improving the company over the last decade. We are getting stronger in our capabilities, our geographic breadth, our ability to serve. I mean all of those areas have really dramatically improved, and we believe we are in fundamental growth market in the areas of risk, strategy and people. I don't care what organization you are and what size, whether you are a large account or and mid-size account, you have to address those on a strategic basis and it is incredibly relevant to the C-suite of those companies and organizations to address broadly risk strategy and people.

And I think we have enduring competitive advantages as well. I mean, as we were talking before, nothing happens here without our colleagues. I mean, the quality of our organization, the talent that we have, the culture that we have, the broad capabilities, the global footprint are all enduring competitive advantages. We also continue to acquire talent in the market and acquire businesses which improve us and improve our capabilities, in particular in middle market, on the brokerage side. So there is a lot of growth opportunities.

And then just to touch as well on expansion opportunities. I mean we're still weighted into upper middle market and large account, we've gotten better in the mid-middle market, we're going to continue to get better. We're going to continue to broaden into the lower-middle market and small commercial consumer. You'll see us in all of those areas in the future. Now, it's not going to be from one year to the next seeing some just massive change, but this is inevitable, in terms of how we build out our business.

We're leveraging the combined strengths of our organization as one enterprise like never before, in areas of healthy societies, cyber, protection gaps, climate, where all of those areas -- we were going to market and addressing our clients issues with them on a broad basis, not on a narrow basis. And so our opportunities for revenue growth in my view are significant. I won't give you a number right now for 2022, but I think that having not only broken out of the 3% to 5%, but actually tremendously exceeded the 5% level. I think this company can can be a real growth firm and then we'll approve that over time. We like to do and then say rather than the opposite. So I think it will be exciting times at Marsh McLennan. Next question please.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of David Motemaden with Evercore ISI.

David Motemaden -- Evercore Inc. -- Analyst

Hi. Thanks. Good morning. I just had a question on the headcount adds. And so, I was just looking back, you added 500 of new headcount in the fourth quarter of 2020 and then 2,000 in the first half of 2021. I'm just wondering did that have any impact on the organic growth this quarter at all or is that still on the come?

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I think it's negligible. We are seeing some revenue benefit from hiring that we've done at the end of last year and into this year, but most of it's on the comp. So tends to be, you get the expenses right away and you get the revenue a bit later.

David Motemaden -- Evercore Inc. -- Analyst

Got it, thanks. And just a follow-up on that last point, Dan. Just on -- it sounds like really big hiring quarter -- this quarter, 3,000 new headcount, if I sort of take the 5,000 that you said you've hired year-to-date. Is there any rule of thumb, just to think about or maybe any sort of number you can give me just how much that weighed on the operating margins in this quarter specifically?

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I'm not going to get into the expense that we're bearing now as a result. I think -- one of the reasons that we have been pressing on hiring is twofold. One, we are growing very well on the top-line and that was our anticipation and also market opportunity. And so, we are, in our view, an employer of choice in this space and we are pressing our advantage at this moment in time.

The hiring expert is not going to last forever, but ultimately we saw an opportunity in the market through dislocation and and other factors and we really pressed on that level. At the end, our expenses are relatively high compared to historical type of expense growth for us, but our expense growth is essentially driven by sales compensate -- by compensation and benefit, but that is very hard.

Sales compensation due to much higher levels of new business, variable compensation due to much higher levels of profitability and hiring. So comp and ben is driving most of our sales, most of our expense growth in the quarter and will ease itself out, but it's matching well with current levels of revenue growth. So we feel that this was a tremendously opportune time to build capabilities with -- within the firm on an organic basis.

David Motemaden -- Evercore Inc. -- Analyst

Got it. Great. Makes sense. Thank you.

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Next question, please.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Meyer Shields with KBW.

Meyer Shields -- Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Inc. -- Analyst

Great. Thanks. Two quick questions. We saw a sort of a bit of a falloff in organic revenue growth in EMEA and an acceleration in Latin America and was hoping you could talk about what's going on in those individual market.

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Sure, Meyer. John, you want to take that?

John Q. Doyle -- President & Chief Executive Officer, Marsh & Vice Chair, Marsh McLennan

Yeah, Meyer, it's really nothing all that extraordinary that happened in any of the region. Quarter-to-quarter, obviously, you can see some variation. We did have a bit of non-recurring issues and tougher comps in EMEA in the quarter, but they weren't material either. I'm pleased with the growth in both regions and I expect us to continue to perform in both territories going forward.

Meyer Shields -- Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Inc. -- Analyst

Okay, thanks. And then more broadly, obviously, the organic growth is phenomenal. I'm wondering, is there any element of the growth that is specific to like a post-pandemic era that wouldn't recur?

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

It's a good question. We're going to find out over time. I think the one issue to just bear in mind is the awareness around issues is higher, and and I say that because risk awareness is far higher, I think people awareness is far higher. There is whole categories of opportunity in the world for us and others in areas such as ESG, which was not -- which is always considered by companies and organizations, but not nearly to the extent it is today. And so, when you think about -- and just what's going on in the world with regard to climate or D&I, responsible investing etc., these are all new areas of growth for us.

You think about things like climate which was probably not even considered by us 10 years ago and we think it's one of our major growth opportunities as a firm on a going forward basis. And so, I would just say we want to be a leader on ESG and we look at the addressable market as ESG is being enormous and right now, it's kind of the developed world public companies. It's going to be all companies everywhere. And so from that standpoint, the addressable market is going to be quite large and we will be a significant player in it.

Meyer Shields -- Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Inc. -- Analyst

Great. Thank you very much.

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Next question, please.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Mike Zaremski with Wolfe Research.

Michael Zaremski -- Wolfe Research, LLC -- Analyst

Hey, great. Good morning. I guess a follow-up to Meyer's question maybe Elyse's too. So as you're talking about -- you've been talking a while about broadening Marsh's capabilities, new categories which are exciting. I-just curious if this kind of changes your views on M&A into new areas or technologies over time, or is it really just kind of what we should be thinking this kind of sandboxes, M&A sandboxes you're in currently?

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Our M&A sandbox is very broad. May be our M&A that we've actually executed on is narrower than what we actually look at, but the sandbox is quite broad. And I think you'd be surprised at some of the adjacencies in areas we look at. I mean we -- I think, as I was mentioning earlier, the areas of risk, strategy and people have all kinds of elements to them that would enable us to continue to build capabilities with acquiring firms.

We like firms that have recurring revenue. We like firms that are advisory based with transactions. It doesn't mean that all of our acquisitions will fit that criteria, well, that's a lot of them. And then we also like firms, where we can see the business benefit, the financial benefit to us. Even if it's a bit out there we can see it. And some of the things we look at frankly, in the amount of liquidity and money that's being generated in the world and available, we just look at it and we just -- we can't -- we like the company and it's interesting, but boy, we don't have 30 years to figure out whether it worked or not.

And so we're a disciplined acquirer and we want to acquire things that not only build our capabilities but also help us financially as well, even if only on an incremental basis. So I would say we have a very broad sandbox, but our level of execution has been relatively narrow over the last five or 10 years and that probably continues on that basis. We look at a lot of things and we execute on things that we're really committed to.

Michael Zaremski -- Wolfe Research, LLC -- Analyst

Okay. Great. I guess my follow-up and not to harp on it too much but because excellent -- your results were excellent. But it sounds like you're saying that some of the margins were impacted by new hires. Is that the main influence? Are there other items we should be thinking about? And I guess just this hiring's part, should we expect it to continue in the near term, and so, we should be kind of thinking about that as we project margin, and then maybe I guess the -- that when hiring slows, you have maybe easier comps in other years.

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. I mean I will -- first of all,, I wouldn't fret about the margins in the quarter. Ultimately we've said many times, you have to look about margin expansion over longer stretches of time. We have improved our margins for 14 consecutive years and the results are really remarkable from a basis point improvement. Our margin is up 120 bps year-to-date and that's on top of 120 bps in 2020 and 110 bps in 2019. So there is nothing wrong with our margins and I would expect that our margins next year are going to be better than they are this year.

And so that's the way we operate the business, but it's an outcome. We don't sit around the table figuring out how we're going to drive margin. What we do is we figure out how we're going to drive underlying growth and earnings, that's the focus of the current -- of the firm. And the outcome of margin expansion is how we run the firm, where we think, not every quarter but certainly every year, revenue growth needs to exceed expense growth, and that's what we do when we -- and we've done it consistently. And so we're thrilled about where we are.

When I mentioned earlier, is that a lot of the expense growth right now is being driven by by compensation around sales and around increased profitability and so that's a really good place to be in, and our earnings growth is very strong, remarkably strong. And so, I hope that answers your question. Next question, please.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Brian Meredith with UBS.

Brian Meredith -- UBS Group AG -- Analyst

Hey, thanks. Couple of questions. First, just curious, free cash flow down year-over-year. Is that simply just due to the hires that you're having right now, and should we expect to see free cash flow that start some good growth with earnings here for us in 2022?

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Brian. I'm going to hand off to Mark for that.

Mark McGivney -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Brian. Actually, we're really happy with the free cash flow year-to-date. I think we have to be careful. There is a lot that can happen and cause volatility in a quarter with a cash flow statement, even across the year. But free cash flow growth for us has been a great story over a long period of time. If you go back over a decade, we generated double-digit growth in free cash flow. And we're up -- if you look year-to-date this year, we're up 5% and that's on top of 56% growth in free cash flow last year. So I think any growth above a big stair-step up last year is pretty good. So I think overall our cash generation this year is strong and that's what's enabling us to deploy so much capital.

Brian Meredith -- UBS Group AG -- Analyst

Great, that's really helpful. And then second question, more just a broad-based question here. Inflation has been obviously a hot topic just across the markets. Just give us your perspective on kind of what's going on with inflation right now and particularly as it relates to some of the kind of commercial lines as insurance market. Are you seeing any inflationary pressures when you said to handle claims for clients and stuff or not at this point?

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. No, why don't I take that and then I'll hand to John and Martine to just say, are you seeing inflation in any way in the conversations with clients and and and what we're hearing from markets. I mean historically we've done some work and we've tend to -- we tend to do as a company better in inflationary period. I mean elements of our revenue base react to inflation, such as higher insured values and we've proven that we can manage our expense base. And so sometimes the revenue runs a little bit because of inflation and we're still managing our expense base. So when we look back to inflationary periods over the last 25 years, we've tended to outperform and do pretty well.

And overall, I'll just mention on the economic environment, not just inflation. I mean there's a lot of positive features about the economic environment, particularly in the United States. I mean, sales are up, consumer spending is up, business confidence is positive, but there are a lot of potential risks and inflation is probably the biggest one of them, but you also have the supply chain issues that we've all been reading about, the return to office that we're all going to be navigating over the coming months, concerns around COVID variant.

So it is a tremendously difficult time to look forward say four quarters or so, and get a real beat on what the economic performance is, although I do know that most GDP forecast for next year in that kind of 4% to 5% range. So not bad. But starting with John. What are you hearing from markets and clients around inflation and then we'll go to Martine.

John Q. Doyle -- President & Chief Executive Officer, Marsh & Vice Chair, Marsh McLennan

Dan, certainly area of concerns are multiple levels. Maybe I'll start on the -- just on the claims side for a second. And Peter mentioned earlier that more than $100 billion with the cat losses. Of course we're typically accustomed to demand surge related to kind of temporary inflation, if you will, around around cat losses but it's further -- those issues are further exacerbated by the supply chain challenges that we're seeing in markets. So some level of concern there in terms of what it will mean ultimately to loss costs around cat.

I mentioned earlier the impact of social inflation around liability claims and particularly here in the United States in a couple of other jurisdictions as courts reopen after the pandemic, and we're seeing some evidence of that although broad-based evidence is really yet to show itself. Of course payrolls and employment levels are important from a demand perspective around commercial insurance and work comp in particular, and so there is concern about wage inflation from some of our clients and the impact on growing cost there. And maybe with that, I'll hand it to Martine to talk maybe more about the benefit side of things.

Martine Ferland -- President & CEO, Mercer & Vice Chair, Marsh McLennan

Yes. No, thanks, John. And indeed, wage inflation and inflation in general, usually we do well in these times. One, because our clients really need help in managing these increased costs. So do they manage through medical inflation, which we believe is coming back, now that regular care will resume which is intended to keep premium a bit lower during COVID. The same thing on wage inflation. Looking at accelerating transformation program with clients to address the pyramid and the profile of their workforce. And in terms of pension plans as well, I mean we have to watch on that. And as soon as there is pressures in this -- in the economy and system governance spike up in terms of helping clients, manage the asset side of their pension funds more tightly, and therefore that's hugely good for the OCIO business in our investment management solutions.

And lastly from a management of our business, most if not all of our multi-year assignments would have automatic adjustment to inflation. So we had -- we've seen that moving before some years ago.

Brian Meredith -- UBS Group AG -- Analyst

Thank you.

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Thank you. Appreciate it. Next question, please.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Michael Phillips with Morgan Stanley.

Michael Phillips -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Thanks, good morning. First question on -- Dan, have you seen at a higher level any impact of tax reform on M&A activity at the industry level either it's changing the timing of it of M&A or deals paid, the multiples paid, any impact there at all.

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. There's been in -- there is a lot of deals out there, but that has been pretty consistent over the last several years. And whether there is some marginal impact of people trying to get ahead of whatever could happen in the U.S. tax environment, it would be on the edges, it's not driving like more significant level than what we've seen. There has been a lot of sellers out there. I think there is a lot of sellers out there, mainly because there's a lot of capital out there and valuations are pretty strong is probably the biggest factor as to what's driving M&A activity.

Michael Phillips -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Okay. Thanks. And then just a quick follow-up on the last couple comments on inflation. You've talked a lot of about -- lot of questions on hiring you got and possible impacts on your margins there. But I guess specifically to you guys on wage inflation, any impacts there you seem you felt in current margins or you expect sort of impact on your margins for you guys specifically?

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I'll hand off to Martine and then to Nick to just talk about whether they're seeing in the client base, and in fact in our own curb any pressures around wage inflation. We're watching it very closely obviously. We're all reading about inflation in general. And also, in the dynamic between employers and employees across many industries, the employee seem to be in charge right now. And so I think that not only wages and benefits, but more broadly environment of how companies operate, the attractiveness of their work environment, etc.

Our key factors in terms of the ability to retain people and the ability to attract high quality people. But why don't we start with Martine and and see what you're seeing and then we'll go to Nick.

Martine Ferland -- President & CEO, Mercer & Vice Chair, Marsh McLennan

Yeah. From a wage inflation point of view in the market what we're seeing is that there is more pressure at the lower end of the wage spectrum where there is a lot of movement there to attract people to job that have been really hard hit during the pandemic. And the -- at a higher end white collar professional, what we're seeing is a little bit of a musical chair, I would say. So there is a great resignation displaying that people have moved, people are looking for different careers. And we need to help our clients manage through these pressures and demand, but I think this element of it will be temporary and will settle itself over time.

I mean as clients look at, as I said earlier, transforming, focusing on the skills they need rather than jobs enrolls, we see a very important trend there. Dan has spoken earlier about our Skills-Edge platform that helps client migrate to that. These are all techniques that will help clients get through this change that we're seeing right now.

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

So let me hand over to Nick with a bit of a shout out for Oliver Wyman because two quarters in a row of 20% plus organic growth. Not bad, not bad. And I'm looking forward to finalizing the budget conversation with you later on today. But Nick, are you seeing some wage inflation? Are you hearing it from clients as well?

Nick Studer -- President & CEO, Oliver Wyman Group & Vice Chair, Marsh McLennan

Yeah. Thanks, Dan. Thank you, Michael, for the question as well. I think I agree with the way that Dan and Martine have both characterized it overall. In our businesses it is a competitive market for talent. I think we see it in our clients, I think we particularly see it in all business. And I have been a couple of times when, with our strong growth capacity constraint, I have constrained our ability a little bit. I'm not enormously worried by it. We are finding it -- we are hiring more than we've hired, I think maybe ever before, but certainly over the last five years, hiring extremely rapidly. But we see some of the musical chairs which Martine described across our businesses too. So in short, yes, there is a period of employee power and rising wages.

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Thank you. I think we have time for another question or two. But next question, please.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Ryan Tunis with Autonomous Research.

Ryan Tunis -- Autonomous Research -- Analyst

Hey, thanks. Good morning. Dan, I just had one. How do you think about the growth dynamics of the talent pool in the industry as a whole? From -- whether it's a consulting you do or P&C brokerage. I guess I ask because we know there are some areas of brokerage, I guess it's more on the personal line side, where there is kind of secular talent outflow. I'm just trying to get a sense...

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

No, it's a very good. We see no -- Ryan, it's a great question, but we see no problem with our ability to attract talent. In fact, when we hire 5,000 people, you have to understand, we are interviewing 25,000 to 30,000 interviews taking place. We are very selective in how we approach talent. Every time we're seeking talent, we have numerous applicants. And so I think at the very heart of it is the work that we do. We're not an insurance business, we're a risk business. We're not a people business from a administrative standpoint, we are a strategic people business. And so from that standpoint, the purpose of the organization of making a difference for companies, in their moments that matter and those inflection points. I think it's very attractive.

And so where -- we're able to compete with the best firms in the world for high levels of talent. And when we have the the broad base that we have, you can take some risks around, OK, so that person is not a subject matter expert, but boy, they've got a history of success, and let's see how they do. And so we can go a little bit broader. So we see none of the constraints that some folks in, particularly in the insurance industry have in terms of inflow of talent.

Ryan Tunis -- Autonomous Research -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. I would now like to turn the call back over to Dan Glaser, President and CEO of Marsh McLennan for any closing remarks.

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Andrew, and thank you everybody for joining us on the call this morning. In particular, I want to thank our 81,000 colleagues for their commitment, hard work and dedication to Marsh McLennan, it shows. Thank you all very much and I look forward to speaking with you next quarter.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 61 minutes

Call participants:

Daniel S. Glaser -- President & Chief Executive Officer

Mark McGivney -- Chief Financial Officer

John Q. Doyle -- President & Chief Executive Officer, Marsh & Vice Chair, Marsh McLennan

Peter Hearn -- President & Chief Executive Officer, Guy Carpenter and Vice Chair, Marsh McLennan

Martine Ferland -- President & CEO, Mercer & Vice Chair, Marsh McLennan

Nick Studer -- President & CEO, Oliver Wyman Group & Vice Chair, Marsh McLennan

Elyse Greenspan -- Wells Fargo & Company -- Analyst

Jimmy Bhullar -- JPMorgan Chase & Co. -- Analyst

David Motemaden -- Evercore Inc. -- Analyst

Meyer Shields -- Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Inc. -- Analyst

Michael Zaremski -- Wolfe Research, LLC -- Analyst

Brian Meredith -- UBS Group AG -- Analyst

Michael Phillips -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Ryan Tunis -- Autonomous Research -- Analyst

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