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Personnel File - April 2008: financial services

Wade Reece, Chairman and CEO
BB&T Insurance Services Inc., Raleigh

It took BB&T’s insurance subsidiary nearly 70 years to reach $6 million in annual sales. Seventeen years after Wade Reece took the reins, it’s about to hit $1 billion. So much for oil and water not mixing — the oil being bankers, who are supposed to shun risk, and insurers, who owe their existence to it.

Reece, 51, didn’t want the job initially. “BB&T was the only place I’d ever worked, and banking was all I knew,” he recalls. “I said, ‘I understand the long-term strategy of the bank, but I don’t know a thing about insurance.’ They said, ‘Well, you’re not opposed to learning, are you?’’’

That was late 1990. The Boonville native, then in his middle 30s, was the bank’s city executive in Gastonia and a regional manager when the brass tapped him to pump up the anemic insurance arm, which was founded in 1922. “We knew we needed to transform BB&T into a more dynamic, true financial-services institution, and insurance was a product all our clients needed.”

The division had shown little or no profit. Under Reece, it began buying agencies in strategic locations, first in North Carolina and then throughout the Southeast and nation. The count now stands at more than 130. They’re co-branded, keeping their old names but adding BB&T’s. Business Insurance, a trade publication, ranks it the nation’s seventh-largest insurance broker.

Reece estimates that acquisi-tions account for two-thirds of the increase in revenue; the rest has been generated by organic growth. “We have competitors who’re just aggregators that like doing acquisitions. We don’t do that because we think it’s a shallow strategy. At the end of the day, if you’re not growing your business the old-fashioned way — by the sweat of your brow — you’re missing the point.”