Tony Dowding talked to Olga Collins, chief executive officer of Worldwide Broker Network (WBN), about what makes WBN different, with collaboration and connectivity, the changing role of the broker and putting the client centre stage all at the heart of the network.
How broad is the global coverage of WBN?
WBN is the largest and most widely represented independent network based on revenues as well as geographies. We span more than 100 countries, with six continents represented.
and have about 120 members with over $10bn revenue under management.
So, it compares well against the large brokers. The new members that have joined since I became CEO, around 18 months ago, have said they were looking for a truly global environment, which further underlines the fact that we always speak from the global versus regional level.
Are there plans for further expansion? Are there regions where you are actively looking for partners?
We certainly focus on the economic makeup of the countries we target but also look at the capabilities that we may or may not have with this specific geography. We’re also paying great attention to the M&A activity that’s out there to ensure that we’re as proactive as possible in multiple geographies.
I look at expansion not just from the number of members perspective, it’s also about expansion of products and services that we provide to our members and clients. We’ve grown our HQ and are expanding into business development activities to help our current members. We are also going to launch a Client Advisory Council in January to continue to grow, not just in size but also in scope.
How are network partners chosen? What are the requirements for being a partner?
The way that we target new members now is slightly different than in the past because we were very much needing a strong service platform, whereas now we look at the size of the organisations and their capabilities to produce global business. Having clout in the local market, as well as a wide range of services and an entrepreneurial spirit, is important.
Do you have associate members who are not necessarily brokers but provide other services that link into the network?
We consider ourselves to be a one-stop shop. We have our members who are brokers, service providers as associate members and we also have our sponsors who are the carriers, so essentially it is a three-pronged approach for anything the client may need.
What size company is WBN aimed at? Does it have large multinational clients or is it more targeted to medium-sized companies with some overseas operations?
It’s the entire spectrum – we have a great portfolio of household brands, all the way to small companies and even personal lines. It’s both P&C and employee benefits, and we try and blend the two worlds together as much as possible because as a company grows in sophistication, risk management is often a topic at the enterprise level, so bringing in the HR side (loss prevention, security, etc.) enables greater collaboration.
How does WBN provide an alternative to the big brokers in terms of servicing multinationals and their global insurance programmes? What are the advantages of such a network?
When you are more connected, more collaborative and more nimble to be able to provide service, then that service gets elevated. We also have an independent, inclusive structure, with multiple members per country, which again elevates the quality of service because there’s a little bit of competition.
WBN is more open communication-based, and we can flex our cost structure to fit the actual needs of the client. Because we get together in-person a few times a year, our members can collaborate on what the best set up and structure for the client is. This brings our connectivity to a completely different level and creates an environment of people needing and wanting to work with each other because ‘your growth means my growth’.
I think what also sets us apart is that we always bring the client to centre stage. A lot of our competitors, large and small, do a lot of deliverables services but without really bring the client to the table. We continue to put clients first to make sure we hear from them, and we want to make sure that they have a networking opportunity when they are with us – this is a huge differentiator for WBN.
We provide an opportunity for clients to come to our events and meet with their entire brokerage community. So, if you have operations in 40 countries, imagine walking into a conference room where you have 40 of those brokers represented, all talking about what is going on at the local level in the operations. That is something that’s been a focal point for WBN for quite some time but we’re growing that opportunity for more clients every day.
Is the role of brokers on the large commercial lines side growing in importance as risk becomes more complex? With more demands around risk management, is the role changing from transactional broking to a broader risk advisory role?
I think the placing of the business is just the final piece of the jigsaw. Risk management went from being this cost centre of a procurement-type function to a more creative consultancy role. I think it’s also been elevated to the enterprise risk management level and that’s where the connectivity between HR and health and safety, security, and M&A collides in a positive way with risk management. Those brokers out there who think it’s a case of ‘get a submission to the market, give me five choices and then pick one that’s the cheapest’ are going to be extinct before we know it.
After such a long soft market, how does a hard market change the role? Is it just more demanding, with brokers needing to be more innovative and provide alternative solutions? Basically, do brokers have to work harder in a hard market?
I couldn’t agree more, and those conversations are of a consultative nature as well. We’re seeing that with the carriers too; it’s not just the requirement of brokers to be creative and flexible, it’s also the carriers. They are starting to pay attention to different things that are not directly correlated with a specific risk at hand. We are talking about ESG and the overall brand risk that all of a sudden is trickling into cyber or D&O etc. So, it’s an interesting place to be but I think that those who pay attention to more than just their lane are going to win the race.