There aren’t a lot of businesses that have been around for more than 100 years, but the Collens-Wagner Insurance Agency is one of them. With Joanna Miliziano Bankos, president of the agency, at the helm, and with her daughters working alongside her, it looks as though her company is headed for many more years of continued success serving York County.
Born and raised in York, Bankos is the daughter of Italian immigrants and the first generation in her family born in the United States. This married mother of two entered the insurance industry 46 years ago.
She recalls that when she graduated, the way to find a job was to look at the help wanted ads in the newspaper.
“I saw an ad for a claims position with an insurance company,” she said.
The ad did not provide the name of the company, only the phone number, so Bankos went through the Yellow Pages to discover what company she was applying to.
She didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, she now sees that she “was using my investigative skills as I do today when talking to a new client,” she said. “We need to ask the right questions in order to insure the client properly.”
That initial interview led to her first job with Reliance Insurance, but after only a year, the company decided to move to Virginia.
“My strict Italian parents weren’t going to let me move,” Bankos said.
She found another position with Stein Insurance, where she would be in sales, something that required an agent’s license.
“It was Charlie Stein who encouraged me to obtain my license,” she said.
After working with Stein for five years, Bankos left to have her first child. While at home, she heard of an opening with Collens-Wagner Insurance, and she took that position. It was a career move that would “lead to partnership and eventually ownership,” she said.
“It was Jack Ulrich, my partner at Collens-Wagner, that helped me advance my career,” Bankos said. “I was blessed to have two male mentors (Stein and Ulrich) who influenced me in the insurance business.”
Bankos said that although things have changed, the insurance industry was definitely a male-dominated field in years past. Women provided more of a support role.
“Often, I was asked if my business was a family-owned business or did my husband own the business,” she said.
One of the best parts of her job is to realize that after having provided insurance services for so many years, she has been able to watch some of her commercial clients grow from startup businesses to very large accounts.
Bankos also enjoys long-term, close relationships with many of her individual clients.
“I have worked with parents, their children, and now their children’s children,” she said.
Being able to tell a client that they needn’t worry about a claim, and that they have coverage, is one of the best parts of her job, she said. She enjoys being able to say “everything will be taken care of, and tomorrow will be a better day.”
Not only is it important to her to maintain that supportive relationship with her clients, it is also important to Bankos that she gives back to her local community. Bankos sits on the advisory board of the Salvation Army, she is a York East Rotary board member, and she serves on the Christopher Columbus Scholarship Fund board and the SpiriTrust Lutheran Foundation board.
The Collens-Wagner Agency team consists of nine “knowledgeable, dedicated, and hard-working women,” Bankos said. “I know that when a client calls the office, they are speaking to an experienced adviser.”
She has a lot of faith in her team and enjoys a good working relationship with them — but it just so happens that two members of the CWA team enjoy a particularly close relationship with Bankos. They get to call her mom.
“Working with my mom has been a great experience for me,” oldest daughter Laura said. “I feel I learned the insurance business from one of the best. I continue to look to my mom for wisdom and knowledge in this ever-changing industry.”
Although working with her mother wasn’t something she always felt led to do, Laura said that when the opportunity to do so presented itself, she decided to give it a try.
“Now I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” she said.
Younger daughter Christina, who graduated from Penn State University with a degree in insurance, also feels very fortunate to have learned from “one of the best,” she said.
“Not only does she teach us the ins and outs of the business, but she also teaches us how to manage work and family at the same time. I remember growing up thinking I had the coolest mom. She loved her job and always had time for my sister and me. I knew I wanted to be just like her when I got older and had my own family.”
Over the years, Bankos said that she has learned that “hard work, perseverance, and a strong belief in myself will lead to success.”
As for the future of the Collens-Wagner Agency, her daughters plan to follow in their mother’s footsteps by continuing that legacy of success.
“We will continue to put our customers’ needs first,” Christina said. “We will listen, advise, and protect. By following already established footing in the community, we will continue to grow and service York County.”