Q4 2010 HRO Ends on an Up Note

While we wait to see 2010’s full year HRO financial results, we can review activities in the fourth quarter.  HRO growth is occurring across most industry segments, with the public sector lagging.  The fastest growth rates are still outside of the mature economies in North America, U.K., and Europe for the global providers, although the U.S. is starting to rebound.

Benefits administration showed a nice level of new business activity, even in the mature areas.  Congratulations to Fidelity for the competitive wins of AT&T for both defined contributions and defined benefits and Office Depot for broad benefits administration services.  There were also notable benefits wins by Mercer, Aon Hewitt, Ceridian and Xafinity.  Meanwhile, we are still waiting for a major jump start in learning and multi-process HRO contracts.

The volume of new business and growth with existing clients will continue to rise in 2011, but the pricing environment will not likely ease much in 2011 as buyers remain price sensitive.  Maintaining efficiency will be critical in order to win with both clients and investors.  For example, The Right Thing recently introduced dedicated Solution Teams to manage the transition from sales and implementation into operations. Managing implementation was a costly problem for service providers and customers in multi-process HRO for years, so it is good to see the lessons learned extending to other areas of HRO.

Preparing for further growth also continues in partnerships, mergers, and acquisitions.  Aon Hewitt is expanding its benefits capabilities in Scotland via a pension services partnership with Babcock International Group.  Towers Watson is jumping back into the benefits fray with a partnership with Wage Works and the acquisition of Aliquant, a mid-range benefits service provider.

Fourth quarter good news stories continued with revenues up in most areas of HRO.  Several HR service providers reported a 4% to 6% increase in revenues including ADP Employer Services up 6%, Aon Consulting up 4%, and Mercer up 6%. RPO and staffing companies continued recovering at a rapid pace, leading the way out of the downturn just as they led the way into it.  Revenues for Manpower were up 19% and The Right Thing’s revenues were up 30%.  GP Strategies, Kelly, and Kenexa all had increased revenues in the mid-20% range.

Operating margins are remaining consistent as the HRO industry adds back employees indicating they will be able to manage growth while keeping an eye on hard-won profitability.  Investments in technology and global service delivery capabilities will now be bearing fruit and should also support margin growth.

Happy New Year – may 2011 be a great year for us all in the HRO community in every way!

Linda Merritt, Research Director, HRO, NelsonHall

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