Deborah Ritchie speaks to chief executive officer of the Worldwide Broker Network, Olga Collins, about her journey to the helm of the network, and her plans for the organisation moving forward

You were the youngest ever board member at the Worldwide Broker Network before taking the reigns as CEO in April last year. How did your previous roles prepare you for this new post?

In each of my roles, I have looked for an opportunity to make a change and to make meaningful connections. Networking has been a huge focus area for me, from the very start of my career.

My relationship with WBN began some time before my appointment, and there had long been a sense of connection for me.

One year in to the new role, you’ve succeeded in introducing multiple new network members as well as associate members; and a new chairman and treasurer, among other appointments. Has this pace of change set the tone for the months ahead? What are your ambitions for WBN? Are there plans in place to expand the network’s current offering?

Yes, I have huge ambitions for WBN with a strategy that is firmly rooted in what I call ‘thoughtful expansion’. By this I mean not expanding just in terms of numbers, but strategically growing the size, scale and scope of services so that we can offer our clients as much choice as possible.

We are highly focused on continuing our membership expansion across the world, using our independent structure as a key differentiator. We believe that our geographical and cultural differences make us stronger as a collective, which is why we need a membership base that is truly representative of the global insurance market.

As part of our five-year strategy, we have recently expanded into wholesale membership and are working on niche products for members and clients. We are also working hard to deliver diversified added value to our members.

Traditionally WBN was viewed as a retail broker network, but now our goal is to be a ‘one stop shop’ for multinational companies, regardless of size or scale. As such we plan to expand our offering to respond to the elevated complexity in client needs that we are currently seeing across the industry. As part of that, we are launching a Client Advisory Council in January 2023 and developing our network to be an even more creative and flexible force for our clients.

The insurance landscape is evolving so rapidly and facing unprecedented change, so it is critical that we break down the complexity and remain focused on clients’ changing needs and expectations.

My two decades of experience in risk management, plus the fact that the entire WBN board largely come from customer-focused roles, really helps WBN to maintain its focus on the end client.

How did the pandemic change the way the organisation works, and what surprised you most about that?

Like many other organisations, the pandemic undoubtedly changed us, and I, for one, hope that we don’t revert completely to the ‘old ways’.

Our network was always built on a foundation of strong, personal relationships, where face-to-face meetings were the most impactful part of our work. These will always remain the highlight for us, but the pandemic really made us think about connectivity, and encouraged us to adopt a more hybrid approach. We want to make sure we remain as flexible as possible for the many people still affected by the pandemic. This shift in mindset and operations has ultimately, served to expand our audience, and proved an extremely positive experience.

Despite the many challenges of the last couple of years, what surprised me the most was that we not only survived, but thrived during the pandemic. While many businesses were having a hard time, we were hiring extra staff to support our growing business. Considering we span over 100 countries; I was really impressed by how seamlessly our teams were able to pivot so that we could continue to put client needs first.

Insurers have long been at the heart of responding to climate risk-related events. At the same time, the industry gets a great deal of bad press on the issue. What is your view on the evolving situation? What does progress look like?

Every day news from around the world brings more weight to the climate change debate, and ESG is now big across all industries.

I think incentivising good behaviour and best practice in this space would be the best way to drive change. We see some carriers moving in that direction already.

If this cannot be achieved, we will reach a point very soon where companies that continue to have a negative impact on the environment, and demonstrate poor loss prevention activity, are going to become uninsurable.

Insurance broking was thrust into the mainstream spotlight with the proposed acquisition of WTW by Aon. Much has changed since then. What’s your view on the impact the story has had on the market?

Disruption is of course a standard phenomenon in insurance, but that was certainly an impactful event that posed tremendous risks and impacted their teams, which experienced the most unsettling displacement. We saw an opportunity to engage with clients who got left behind in that process and implement our culture of care approach that has collaboration at its core.

M&A activity is dominant across all industries, and insurance is no different, both within our membership and externally. Every morning we wake up to news of expansion, or members moving into new geographies. A core challenge for WBN, and the wider industry, is to make sure that our people, teams, and clients are stable in a volatile external environment.

What is your view of the evolution of the traditional P/C annual renewal process?

As much as the industry talks about technological revolution and innovation, I believe that the continuous assessment and review of risk still needs a greater element of creativity and flexibility if you want to keep a high level of retention.

We should be working enterprise risk management into the overall risk profile, even if unrelated to the coverage at hand, and bringing the worlds of P/C and EB closer together, with HR also involved, so that the client benefits from a more streamlined and holistic approach.

This article was published in the Q3 2022 issue of CIR Magazine.

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