Interview: Olga Collins, CEO of the Worldwide Broker Network

Olga Collins

Since Olga Collins took on role of CEO at the Worldwide Broker Network in April 2021, it has added 30 new members around the world and focused on its IT growing customised solutions for its brokers.

WBN UK members:

  • Mattioli Woods
  • McGill and Partners
  • Miller
  • Price Forbes
  • SRG
  • Towergate Insurance Brokers
  • Verlingue

Collins, pictured, told Insurance Age: “I was on the board of WBN prior to becoming the CEO, so I knew some of the things we were hoping to achieve in the future; I just didn’t know that to-do list was going to be mine.”

WBN, founded in 1989, is the largest independent broker network in the world. It provides service to multinational clients across property and casualty, and employee benefits. It also provides a range of consultancy offerings with access to risk management, alternative risk transfer, claims and other subsidiary services.

Collins pinpointed: “We’re a group of over 150 brokers from around the world in 100 countries. Going to the marketplace and negotiating as a $14bn (£10.99bn)-plus organisation in revenues is something we knew we had missed opportunities on up until three years ago. That’s a big focus of ours.”

2024

WBN membership has been growing under her leadership and the CEO expects to see continued progress in 2024 alongside expanding its own team.

She highlighted: “We had almost 30 new members [brokers] from around the world added on [since April 2021] and if you looked at the map, it’s spread across the continents, it’s not a regional focus. It’s definitely a global focus where we see opportunities to have representation.”

The CEO claimed WBN’s due diligence in adding new members is thorough as there must be a cultural fit.

“All of our members are very entrepreneurial in their makeup and many call themselves fiercely independent, so they’re here to stay. It’s important that we vet them ahead of time because we put all of our faith in the quality of service and the creative solutions they bring to the table. 

“It’s really wonderful to see the collaboration that happens within the network, and we don’t want to upset that going forward.”

Role

According to Collins, the role of the broker evolves and continues to change.

She added: “It’s a more consultative approach, especially with the AI taking a large chunk of our day-to-day activities making that more efficient and creating more space in our day to think creatively, to think of products that are not out there just yet. But the consultative approach continues to be the winning game.”

AI

AI continues to be a conversation in the broker space, with RSA finding four in five brokers use AI on a daily basis.

Collins believes the implementation of artificial intelligence will progress very quickly at first but then slow down when people “realise the impact it can have that’s both positive and negative on the brand risk. 

I’m a big believer that robots will not take over the world and brokers – not yet at least – until they start to learn how to make emotionally intelligent decisions

“I’m a big believer that robots will not take over the world and brokers – not yet at least – until they start to learn how to make emotionally intelligent decisions. 

“For us and for me, the success story is when you can bring to the table digitalisation coupled with emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence, because we work across the borders on a daily basis.”

Collins added: “The three-prong approach is really key to success, not just AI.”

IT

She revealed WBN has been heavily investing in IT overall as it is such a large organisation composed of firms that have to work together seamlessly. 

Collins remarked: “We knew the investment in IT is very important and we’ve done that with external resources. We’ve hired an IT director who can bring those solutions in house, and we can customise what is important.

“We’re starting with the employee benefits platform which will enable our members to have at their fingertips information about all the programmes we’re creating. There will be much more built into it in the future, but for EB specifically, that’s deliverable this year.”

Staff

Collins also noted that during the ongoing shortage of talent in the sector, staying focused on retention was key for members.

She said: “Hence our employee benefits programme being used by our members as a retention tool, not just recruitment tool. We should focus on the current talent, internal training but also benefits.”

Citing her team is mostly made up of women and is spread from California to Prague, she claimed it is “very diverse when it comes to cultural backgrounds”.

Collins stated: “As a woman, I don’t want to be picked for a position because I’m a woman and there are 11 men and 12 needs to be a woman. I want to make sure I’m given the same opportunity.”

We need to stop documenting what we’re going to do and start doing it

Collins previously highlighted to Insurance Age that the industry had come a long way, yet there is still a lot to be done. She echoed this point, stating: “We need to stop documenting what we’re going to do and start doing it.

“When you’re showing diversity within your organisation, you’re attracting a diverse crowd, so I think it is important to lead by example.”

She further suggested employers need to normalise that women can have a personal life and a family as well as a career. 

Catalyst programme

WBN’s Catalyst training programme and academy is for all of its member brokers aged 35 or under or within seven years of their industry experience. The programme focuses on the global aspect of insurance and leadership type skills. 

“I like to say it’s the MBA of international insurance.”

She continued: “When you’ve finished the academy as a catalyst then you’re afforded the mentorship programme with one of our board members who is somewhere across the world from you. You continuously have access to very different types of leadership, different cultural intelligence and have more experiences.”

Collins is hopeful that more of WBN’s member brokers will send more talent through the programme this year. She revealed her team is considering opening up the programme to those not currently in the industry. 

"We’ve also talked about this as an opportunity for our carriers who are our sponsors to be involved in. It’s just something we may be growing outside of the brokerage community."

Collins added that it is nice to watch how the roles of those who finished the programme are escalating in their own organisations. 

She said: “Selfishly, we’ve hired from those who really stood out. The EB practice leader, Liz Yovich, who’s on my team, was very involved in the catalyst programme; she was a graduate of the programme, was then chair of the programme, and now she’s on my team.”

Household names

Last year, the WBN launched its client advisory council, and its members met for the first time in April. The council consists of risk management and HR executives from Mastercard, Amazon, Bose and Intel.

Collins stated: “Historically, people would think the WBN is small business focused or mid-market–focused organisation, but we work on small to very large clients.”

The WBN also has partnerships with a range of households including McAfee, Fitbit, Vitality and Headspace.

She said: “It’s very important because not everybody plays in the global space. There are many organisations that are good within those niche spaces but they’re domestic and for us everything we deliver is for international clients, so we want to make sure their capabilities are global.”

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