Roger Steel, formerly the chief executive of Sun Life Financial’s business in Hong Kong, has taken over the role of managing director for Hong Kong and Macau at Willis Towers Watson.

The insurance and pensions industry veteran joined the firm on February 12, having taken an extended sabbatical since leaving Sun Life last August, when he was the insurer's president of new markets and business development for Asia. 

In his new role Steel will be responsible for approximately 400 staff and his responsibilities will be across the firm’s main market segments. The specific parts of the firm that report to him cover corporate risk and broking, human capital and benefits, and benefits delivery and administration.

The latter is currently a US-only business but one Willis Towers Watson may look to bring to Asia at some stage, Steel told AsianInvestor.

Steel added that he will have some involvement in each of Willis Towers Watson's key market segments. That includes investment risk and reinsurance, a globally managed business. "Technically [it] doesn’t report to me, but I will have a heavy involvement locally with people like Jayne Bok, who heads the investment practice [for Asia],” he said.

Roger Steel

Steel will report to Smilla Yuan, who heads the group’s Greater China business and is based in Shanghai, and replaces Jeffrey Tang, who moved to EY in November, according to his LinkedIn page. Tang had been in the position since July 2014, having already spent 10 years at Towers Watson. 

As he gets to know the various business lines, Steel said one of his objectives would be “to make sure we get synergies from the merger of the Willis and Towers Watson businesses in the Hong Kong market.”

Willis is known primarily as a broking firm, while Towers Watson is known more as a benefits and investment consultant. “A major thing I will be driving for is cross-selling between all these different business lines; making the most of existing and long-standing client relationships.”

GREATER CHINA SYNERGIES

In Hong Kong, Steel sees potential for Willis Towers Watson to do more with the outbound investment from Chinese enterprises. “There’s a whole segment where we have a presence in Greater China, that we can do more with.”

Steel added that over time he also wants to build on the firm’s commitment to a broader and more substantial Mandatory Provident Fund market in Hong Kong.

Willis Towers Watson underwent a management reshuffle in July last year, when Naomi Denning, the long-standing head of Asia-Pacific investment consulting, left her post in Hong Kong and moved to Canada with her family.

At that time, Tokyo-based Taro Ogai replaced Denning and Bok became head of investments for Asia, excluding Japan and Australia, reporting to Ogai and retaining her previous responsibilities as Asia head of sovereign advisory.

In Asia, Richard Collis is head of insurance consulting and technology, while Albert Li is head of actuarial consulting for Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Willis Towers Watson said last year that it had decided to put more emphasis on existing clients in bigger Asian markets including China. Until recently, Smilla Yuan was the group's CEO just for the Chinese mainland.

Steel said “there are a lot of potential synergies across our Greater China business and Smilla has recently been appointed as the head for Greater China.”

Steel has worked in consulting before, from 1998 to 2003, when he was involved as leader of the Asian life insurance consulting business for actuarial consulting firm Trowbridge, which was subsequently acquired by Deloitte.

Having taken a decision to retire from Sun Life in August last year, he travelled around the world and hadn’t intended to move back into the financial services industry. Willis Towers Watson “have been very keen," he said, "to hire someone with a bit of grey hair, a broad experience and a level of connectivity with senior people that someone like myself can bring.”