There’s a clear-cut through-line between the trajectory of Worldwide Broker Network (WBN) and the journey to date of CEO Olga Collins (pictured) – one defined by a truly global outlook and a commitment to doing things differently.
Born and raised in Poland, Collins moved to the US as a teenager, becoming the textbook definition of an internationally-focused young person with her study of languages and her fascination with international business. She started her career on the client side of the industry, working with UPS for 15 years, serving, among other roles, as risk manager responsible for global risks in over 200 countries.
“That really fell in line with my interests, to be involved on the international side,” she said. “Then an opportunity came along to start working with some of the brokers I had become very close with and was working well with over the years, so I moved to Beecher Carlson - which is now owned by Brown & Brown - to formalise their international strategy. It was a really fun exercise to go through with an organisation that is focused on large, risk management type accounts, where nothing is small and nothing is easy. Everything that touched our desks was complex risk management.”
Working within that department meant carrying out quite a bit of due diligence on independent networks, which is where Collins got her first introduction to WBN. She learnt a lot about how it differentiated itself through its quality of service, she said, and cemented the relationship between her brokerage house and the network. She then went on to become heavily involved with WBN’s various committees, becoming head of its Young Professionals Academy and joining its board of directors in 2019.
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“It took me by surprise to be tapped on the shoulder by the board members as they were looking through the market externally for candidates for the role of CEO,” she said. “I never saw it coming but I’m really glad it did come. I’ve now been in my role for a little bit over a year, and it’s been a great ride so far. There are lots of new initiatives, the team has grown, the membership has grown and, coming out of the COVID years, it’s very exciting getting people together again.”
Leading the largest independent broker network in the world, with over 100 broker members across 100 countries, has made for a busy year for Collins. But the progress that has been made by the team far surpasses that timeline, she said, as they’ve been able to bring forward and complete multiple value-add initiatives for members.
The network’s strategic growth has involved a significant expansion geographically but also of WBN’s service types as it has welcomed new niche members around the world. Going forward, she emphasised that each of these areas of focus will remain central to its strategy over the next 12-to-24 months.
“Because of my background in being a client for a very long time, WBN is working on initiatives to put clients right in the middle, not just with our service and our focus on delivering service, but also with being part of our community,” she said. “So, we are looking to launch our client advisory council in the next six or so months to make sure we are a place for our clients to network within.”
Collins highlighted that the challenges and opportunities associated with building out a global network stem often from the same source – that the industry is changing every day. Every morning we wake up and there’s news about expansion, or members moving into new geographies or M&A activity both within the membership and externally, she said, which offers a challenge and an opportunity at the same time.
“We have quite a few members that are on the very large side, so as they continue to expand, their services and their size continue to grow. That’s a great opportunity for us, but it’s also a threat in a way as well, because the instability continues. But [I’m confident] that we can channel that into our own growth in the future.”
One of the key challenges being seen by the WBN team ties in closely with its own emphasis on founding and funding new initiatives to bring more young people into insurance – the ongoing war for talent. In the US especially, she said, there has been a lot of movement in people. WBN is seeing quite a bit of impact on the Employee Benefits side of its service, with teams moving around not just within the industry but also among its clientele, while the P&C side of the industry is seeing a slightly reduced impact.
That continues to be a core challenge for WBN, she said, to make sure that its people, teams and clients are stable in a volatile external environment.
“Looking at what’s upcoming economically with some of the political unrest in certain parts of the world, of course, brings its own challenges,” she said. “But I think we always look for opportunities for growth and evolution. And so far, we’ve been able to fare quite well. It’s wonderful to be part of an industry that grew during the pandemic. So, I think we’re drawing a lot more talent into our industry now, showing how stable it can be.”
Now over a year into her role, Collins is looking forward to continuing to accelerate WBN’s rapid growth trajectory and noted that the organisation’s wish-list and to-do list continues to grow. And she’s taking the opportunity wherever possible to travel and meet the network’s teams which are spread out across the world.
“We’re getting together to discuss our strategies - which again will continue to focus on end client deliverables,” she said. “We’re very excited about the client advisory council that is being proposed in the months to come. We’re looking to expand our value-add propositions for our members… and we’re very excited [by the opportunity] to diversify what we do for our clients and our members as well.”
The “next phase” of WBN promises to be an exciting one, and Collins and her team have no intention of slowing down now.
“We have a great group of people that are very passionate about growth and expanding our horizons,” she said. “We definitely foresee the team growing as well, which makes me very excited. Because we don’t see boundaries, we are not a US firm, we’re not a European firm, we are a truly global representation of brokerage. So, it’s really nice to be in a position to look for resources across the world.”