By ERIN GAZICA,
a freelance writer from Pottstown, Pa.
Wade Reece is chairman and CEO of BB&T Insurance Services, the seventh largest independent insurance agency in the United States. The company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Branch Banking and Trust Company, headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., works with most major carriers and offers a full range of commercial insurance products. In October, Reece was elected the 2010 chairman of The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers. He has since had a chance to speak with Risk & Insurance® about his long career with BB&T.
Risk & Insurance: You've been with BB&T
your entire professional career?
Yes, I graduated from NC State in 1978 and immediately went to work with BB&T in its management development program. My first assignment was on the banking side as a commercial lender. Then I became a city executive in several different cities, then an area manager in charge of banks in several cities. Then in 1990 I moved to Raleigh to head up the insurance operation and that's where I've happily been ever since.
R&I: How did you make the switch from banking to insurance?
BB&T has been in the property and casualty insurance business since 1922, so BB&T has a very long legacy in the brokerage business. In 1990, we really were emphasizing growth in non-credit related areas of the bank so we were trying to diversify our revenue stream and by doing that we were trying to diversify into some fee businesses. Of course, insurance was very prominent in that we had a long history of being in that business. But we weren't growing it to the degree that we needed to.
BB&T has always had people that had the insurance background lead the insurance area but one of the great opportunities was going to be able to optimize the cross-sell potential of the BB&T client base and so they decided to have somebody who really understood the BB&T side of the equation in charge. They asked me to come over, which I thought was kind of strange at first because I really didn't have any experience in managing anything related to an insurance operation, but I understood ultimately what BB&T was trying to do. I went on a quest to try to learn everything I could about insurance to make up for the deficiency.
R&I: As you say, this is where you've happily been ever since.
Yes, and that's saying a lot because I enjoyed every one of my assignments, but certainly have enjoyed this one the most. I just love the insurance business. I feel great about BB&T's strategy and our place in the insurance business. We've made a lot of acquisitions along the way and added a lot of just incredible people with great skills and it's just fun to be around that kind of an environment.
R&I: It's been nearly 20 years since you took over. How has BB&T become the seventh largest insurance agency in the U.S.?
WR: In '91 we had $6 million in top-line revenue. Obviously there's been a lot of growth in that this year we'll exceed $1 billion in revenue. Over that time there's been one central theme and the theme was to increase our sales ability, both from our ability to manage the sales process but also execute on the sales process. So it's been a very organic growth strategy that has been complimented by acquisitions. We really look at acquisitions as a way to complement future organic growth.
In other words, we'll make an acquisition because we believe that it will stimulate organic growth in the future because of the quality of the agency and the people that we're bringing on, the demographics, or maybe the specialization or niche that the agency has. Over that period of time we've obviously grown by acquisition but the quest was always to grow organically through bringing in new clients and retaining the ones that we have.
R&I: I'm sure your success involved bringing in great employees.
Absolutely. A lot that we have obviously just hired to come in but a lot have come in through acquisitions that were, frankly, people we convinced that we could operate better together than apart; incredible people that have done just an extraordinary job. It's a pleasure to get to work with people like that.
R&I: Perhaps due in part to acquisitions, it seems that BB&T is gaining traction in niche markets.
Over the past 10 years we have really concentrated on developing specialty areas of expertise and we have really applied a lot of time and energy and investment in that. No question--oil and gas, energy, electric utilities, healthcare, hospitals, private schools and colleges, construction and construction surety, transportation, blue water and brown water marine, professional liability, D&O--are all areas that we've concentrated on with a laser focus. As we've acquired and gained the talent certainly our profile of larger clients has become a greater priority. The [McGriff, Seibels & Williams] acquisition really helped us out with that, because that was what McGriff's focus was and is, Fortune 500 companies.
December 1, 2009
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