Worldwide Broker Network CEO lifts lid on talent crunch and commission issues
Olga Collins is CEO of the Worldwide Broker Network (WBN). This puts her in charge of the largest independent broker network in the world with members in more than 100 countries. In this edition of IB Talk, Collins, who is based in the United States, discussed the challenges facing brokers in Australia and around the world. She talked about the evolving sophistication of client needs and using risk management tools and creative solutions to deal with insurance coverage issues. Collins also gave her view on broker commissions - an issue that’s currently a hot topic in Australia.
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Narrator: [00:00:02] Welcome to IB Talk, the leading podcast for the insurance industry across Australia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia Pacific region brought to you by insurance business.
Danny: [00:00:18] Hello and welcome back to IB Talk. I'm Danny Wood, news editor of Insurance Business Australia. Today's guest is Olga Collins, CEO of WBN, the Worldwide Broker Network. This puts Olga in charge of the largest independent broker network in the world with members in more than 100 countries. Olga is based in Atlanta, Georgia. Welcome to IB Talk, Olga.
Olga: [00:00:39] Oh, hi. Thank you so much for having me.
Danny: [00:00:42] It's a pleasure. And maybe to start with, could you just explain what do you see as the role of WBN?
Olga: [00:00:47] Yeah. WBN is the largest independent network of brokers in the world, and we strive to be a one stop shop for all of our clients, whether it's risk management or HR related. It's a tight knit family of organizations that promote healthy competition. So that way we can elevate our brokerage service capabilities for our clients.
Danny: [00:01:10] And what's the short version of how you got into the insurance business?
Olga: [00:01:15] Oh, short version. All right. Polish girl comes to the US, girl studies finance, realizes that she likes to work with people and networking. Then she finds risk management and never looks back. And I do have to say that it's been a really good ride because they started on the client side, then moved to brokerage and now in global network management. And for a person with an international background like myself. I really do feel I landed in the perfect spot.
Danny: [00:01:46] For one of those people who comes from a different background. Your English doesn't have a trace of of Polish accent in it. It seems to be completely American.
Olga: [00:01:55] If you ask my husband and my kids, my mom is mad, maybe the polish comes up then.
Danny: [00:01:59] Okay. Okay. It's more a psychological thing. So. So what do you like most about it? You've mentioned risk management. I mean, what in particular keeps you coming to work every day?
Olga: [00:02:11] What's really fun, at least for me, is that we touch every industry and in our network, every country on a regular basis. So it's really never a dull moment. But most of all, I really love having contacts and people I call friends at this point all across across the globe. And it makes us just have so much more fun doing business together.
Danny: [00:02:34] You mentioned contacting people from around the world, and you recently held your 66th Worldwide Broker Network Global Conference in San Francisco. What sorts of broker issues do you discuss when you come together?
Olga: [00:02:47] First of all, this was our first post-COVID in-person conference, and we hold our conferences, semi-annually somewhere around the globe. So it was really exciting to get back in the same room again. And just like every other time we heard from many industry leaders and those beyond our industry as well. But there was a lot of discussion regarding the pandemic and lessons learned. We always cover industry trends, of course, in the latest initiatives regarding the value added items that we provide for our members. We actually had 45 countries in the room, which was surprising and very welcomed, since we weren't sure how many countries are still going to have restrictions travel wise. And but we also provided an option to continue to connect with us virtually. And it really was a feeling of a reunion and it was quite incredible. So if you can imagine meeting up with 300 of your closest friends and that's exactly how it felt. We had clients there, as we always do, so we heard directly from them, which is so important for us to learn and make sure that we deliver the best possible solutions because we're both PNZ and EB minded and taking care of people became such an important topic during the pandemic. We provided an inspiring morning for our participants of mindfulness and motivation and learning more about well-being from experts. I think that one of the big items for us is that we pride ourselves on relationships, in our culture of care. So as part of our global conference, we always give back to our local communities. So participating in that for profit activities during the conference was a big hit as well.
Danny: [00:04:37] What are some of the you mentioned that you discussed the trends across the industry. What are some of the common issues facing brokers in your in your membership network? And and how exactly do you guys help them to deal with these issues?
Olga: [00:04:52] I think our issues or problems are not really unique to insurance only, especially over the last few years. We face similar issues as far as talent retention, as people call war on talent. As WBN, we've created a leadership focused program for our rising leaders. We call it Young Professionals Academy, and it's catered to our members so they can use this tool as a recruitment retention item, for example. I think what's unique is that we've seen an evolving sophistication of client needs and we tap into our cultural intelligence, having multinational teams collaborating all the time. We make sure that we connect at the local and global level as well. So even though we're the largest broker network, we're more focused on collaboration more than our competition.
Danny: [00:05:45] We mentioned the talent crunch and in Australia, brokers and insurers, everybody sometimes looks at industries, other industries, banking, banking, world and accounting and other professions, and they often feel like the education processes that bring people in are just not really quite there yet in the insurance industry. I'm just wondering if that's a feeling in the US as well.
Olga: [00:06:10] I think the insurance or the risk management world has come a long way when it comes to educating and keeping talent within. I think we still can do a better job advocating for, as we call here in the universities, a major or a track for risk management to be a more common class route or a major route because not many organizations or universities in in various countries provide that as a learning path. So I think we have some some more gains to be had. But overall, I think we do a really good job attracting folks. And as you know, the insurance world is a people world. It's all about relationships. There's a little bit of fun to be had here as well. So we want to make sure we portray that to the college graduates accordingly.
Danny: [00:07:01] Yeah, it's certainly a lot more fun than I was expecting and and a lot more and a lot more interesting, too. It's a sort of old school news journalist. I was. A little worried, but it's fascinating, everything about it. There is a big issue here in Australia at the moment with broker commissions and there's a debate going on about that and there's a government inquiry that's touching on those commissions that brokers get from insurers when they when they sell a policy. And it's getting a lot of regulatory attention here. I'm just wondering what your thoughts are on the issue of broker commissions and and how does it work exactly in the US for brokers?
Olga: [00:07:39] Well, my personal opinion, especially being a client at one point in my career, is that transparency is key. But I also think the requirements that are imposed on brokers for disclosure and reporting, I think they need to not be overly cumbersome because we certainly don't want to add inefficiencies to our industry. So I think what an eBay is proposing in Australia or already proposed, I just don't know the intimate details of the code of the new code, but it seems pretty in line with many other jurisdiction requirements. So again, speaking from my experience, we certainly don't want another Spitzer case. That was a huge topic here in the US and even here post Spitzer in the US, many codes continue to be redefined. We just had a new legislation passed affecting the employee benefit side of the industry and again, it's just something that redefines requirements and there's even an addition of a disclosure of expected commissions in writing to the client prior to renewal or change of health insurance contract. So again, transparency is key.
Danny: [00:08:51] To tell us a bit more for Aussie brokers who aren't in the know. What was the Spitzer case exactly?
Olga: [00:08:56] Essentially the allegations were leading clients to ensure so that we're providing higher commissions without disclosing that to the clients.
Danny: [00:09:06] Okay. Okay. And so so for you, it sounds like I mean, transparency is key, but not too burdensome on the regulations.
Olga: [00:09:15] Yeah. You don't want it to be so cumbersome that brokers will spend more time reporting versus business developing.
Danny: [00:09:24] Another big issue here and everywhere is, is the flooding and the disasters that have been striking Australia's east coast in the US as we speak. I think the fires in California are still raging. What's what are the feelings on what brokers can do to help clients who face, I guess, unaffordable and unavailable insurance because of these sorts of climate risks?
Olga: [00:09:46] Yeah, we're going to see more and more pressure, I think, coming from activists to stop insuring certain activities. So I think the clients are facing growing issues here and all over the world as far as getting coverage. And this is where the risk management tools and creative solutions have to come into play. And I think most importantly, loss prevention and maybe diversification of of risk needs to be discussed on a regular basis by risk management. We're seeing some carriers incentivizing good behavior in this space. So I think that's moved in the right direction. But I think the topic is even bigger than climate change. It's elevated to the ESG overall. It's just such a big conversation expectation across all industries.
Danny: [00:10:32] As a risk manager, you're very experienced in that department. And I mean, you talk about it as much as you talk about insurance when you're answering questions, is is this leaning on risk management more than just selling a policy? Is that is that happening more and more now, or is that always, always the case in your sphere of influence?
Olga: [00:10:51] I've been around for over a couple of decades, and I've already seen a great trajectory of moving risk management from a cost center, kind of a must have as from the insurance buying function, and little to no internal clout to this sophisticated, financially savvy, even elevated to enterprise risk management group of people who serve on leadership teams and governance, etc. So I see risk management be part of M&A due diligence now and finance or ERM committees definitely elevated clout within their organizations. Another phenomenon that I'm seeing and we are seeing throughout the network as well is the connectivity between risk management. So PNZ and HR. EB. And those two functions working together can find some creative tools to manage risk together and at WBN we're certainly blurring the lines between EB and PNZ to make sure that we avoid silos as much as possible.
Danny: [00:12:00] Is there somewhere that's ahead of the curve in joining up those two areas, or is everybody more or less in the same boat?
Olga: [00:12:07] I think those that have been. More on the risk management side versus insurance buying. That sophistication is leading folks to having a conversation about captive usage on both EB and PNZ risks. So yeah, usually it's the larger to upper midsize organizations just because they've been dealing with larger losses and larger risks much longer.
Danny: [00:12:32] Hmm. And you've mentioned ESG. Are there any other big risk management challenges out there right now?
Olga: [00:12:40] Some of the challenges for brokers are the similar to our risk managers and HR managers, the uninsurable risks in talent acquisition. And of course, there's economic and geopolitical instability that's, that everybody's talking about. So I think overall, having the client be part of the conversation and being the extension and working with the client versus for the client is key. So we put the clients in the spotlight at WBN and on a regular basis we learn from them. We continue to collaborate to provide best options. We're actually looking forward to starting a client advisory council shortly to make sure that we provide a benefit to our customers as well, and give them a platform where they can discuss global issues with each other.
Danny: [00:13:27] Olga Collins, thanks for joining us on IB Talk.
Olga: [00:13:30] Thanks so much for having me.
Danny: [00:13:31] And Olga Collins is the CEO of WBN, the Worldwide Broker Network. She's based in Atlanta, Georgia. Bye for now.
Narrator: [00:13:40] Thank you for listening to IB talk. For the latest episodes, be sure to follow us on SoundCloud, Stitcher and Apple Podcasts.
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