Brokerslink is celebrating its 15th birthday this year, and Insurance Business caught up with chairman José Manuel Fonseca (pictured) ahead of the global broking business’s annual conference happening on October 17-18 in Bordeaux, France.
In this Q&A, Fonseca – who is also chief executive of Lloyd’s broker MDS Group – tells us how insurance became his life and what milestones he holds dear. The book lover also talks about enterprise growth as well as his outlook for the industry.
What brought you to the world of insurance broking?
As usual, it was by chance! In the ‘80s I was working in a leading Portuguese bank and the chairman decided that he needed someone to be in charge of the bank’s insurance. At that time, the bank’s knowledge of insurance was poor, and he asked me if I was interested in joining a training programme at a local insurance company.
I was very concerned and asked him: “Don’t you like me? Are you angry with me?” To which he replied with the saying: “Among the blind a one-eyed man is king.” I understood and immediately enrolled in the training programme for that insurance company. Now insurance is my life.
As chairman of Brokerslink – which has been busy expanding this year – what are your current priorities?
2019 has been a very busy year for Brokerslink. Our business has grown, and we have continued to invest in the expansion and quality of our network. We now have a much stronger presence in 113 countries and have been reinforced by some great new additions.
Alliant, one of the biggest brokers in the world, is now a shareholder and we have also experienced great growth in other markets such as South Korea and Malaysia. And, of course, we have further strengthened our position in Africa – this continent will continue to be our focus in the coming years.
We also focus a lot on developing technology platforms for our network, with great communication tools and a unique marketplace where our partners and affiliates can access insurance products, risk management support, and other services.
What do you envision for the global broking business?
With its unique structure and ownership combined with a powerful network and enormous motivation, Brokerslink has all the conditions to affirm its position as an alternative in the market and to consolidate all that we have been building in the last decade.
More broadly, I also see a great future for the global broking industry. We are living in a fast-changing world, facing new and challenging risks – more complex than ever. The technological revolution and the increased availability of data and information will be a key factor in supporting the value chain. Now more than ever brokers play a fundamental role in providing a valuable service to their clients.
In your years in the industry, what have been some of your key achievements and most memorable moments?
There have been several important moments. Early in my career I led the launch of bancassurance in Portugal. This was one of the first bancassurance projects in Europe and it has been very successful, growing extremely quickly and becoming well-established in Portugal.
Another key moment was the transformation of MDS from a captive broker based in Porto employing 15 people, into a leading insurance and risk consulting group with a global presence and more than 800 employees.
More recently, in 2004, an idea conceived in Porto gave rise to Brokerslink. MDS, in conjunction with a small group of founding brokers, decided to launch Brokerslink, with a mix of voluntarism, optimism, and vision for the future. A visionary idea that led to the creation of what is today a major global insurance brokerage company.
Where would you be if not in insurance?
I would probably still be working in banking. I started my career in a great and very innovative bank and I probably would have stayed. However, now I cannot see myself working anywhere else other than in the insurance industry.
Name one thing your peers probably don’t know about you.
Well, what can I say? I must admit that I’m a compulsive buyer and reader of books. I don’t think I’m able to say how many I own at the moment. As J. Paul Getty once said, “If you can count your money, you don't have a billion dollars”; for me, I can’t count my books…!