STRETCHING THE NOTION OF AGENT
Two middle-aged men stand in front of the agency looking indecisive hesitantly come in. Down the street, there’s a small bar and the two want to lease it. The bar owner is Miriam’s customer. One of the two visitors asks Miriam if she could take them to the bar owner and draw up a lease agreement. She politely declines. “I’d be delighted to arrange any sort of insurance for you, but I don’t get involved in property business,” she says.
One of the two visitors decides not to give up. Rumor has it that the bar owner is behind on his rent payments, he casually mentions. Miriam knows that’s not true. And she firmly cuts the conversation short, giving the visitors the bar owner’s name and nothing more, before ushering them out of her office. A quick SMS to the bar owner warns him of the impending visit of the two. He’s grateful that Miriam didn’t share his number. This is a kind of closeness city-dwellers rarely enjoy.
UNPAID WORK, BUT SATISFYING
Miriam has a visit scheduled to a customer who needs help. The members of a young family renovated their parent’s house in a small village near Doneztebe. When they went on a holiday after the renovation, a beam made of spruce caught fire. The copper chimney flue had been wrongly mounted and it came into contact with the beam, an obvious error by the architect. The fire started when heating came on in the unoccupied house. Flames were already leaping out of the roof by the time anyone noticed. The family is fully insured with Allianz, except for fire insurance. The bank made it a condition of the building loan that this policy and the motor insurance policy were held for at least a year with its home insurer. It shouldn’t have been this way, but rural life is different.
The bank sent an unconcerned loss adjustor and the bank’s representative was nowhere to be seen. The young family turned to Miriam for advice on what sort of costs insurers bear in general and how to get rid of the acrid smell of soot from the walls and wooden beams. Miriam has the answers and the young woman has made up her mind to go to Allianz when the policies come up for renewal.
On the bumpy ride back, Miriam explains: “The fire had nothing to do with me or Allianz. But tomorrow, everyone in the tiny village behind us will know that I was there and tried to help.” People remember that. “All I did today was lose time and money. In a year’s time, we’ll take stock of what I’ve gained in sales from this visit.”
COMPARISONS ARE INEVITABLE
Doneztebe may be small and rural, but competition exists here too. We’re driving out of Doneztebe to visit José Luis Arrachea. He and his wife are Miriam’s customers, but the house is still insured with a competitor. The last time they talked, Miriam explained Allianz’s new digital home insurance policy to José Luis. Allianz is counting on simple, smart pricing in this sector. Pricing is based on just two criteria; land registry information and postal code. Where surface area and floor level are concerned, the land registry data is usually available on the internet. In the countryside, however, Miriam has to make a laborious trip to the public authority to get the data. She has done this already and can now make José Luis a binding offer.
He’s a thoughtful man, loves hunting and lets Miriam explain all the options to him. He’s decided to cancel the old policy and insure the house with Miriam. Afterwards, she readies everything at the agency – the cancellation letter and the new policy (basic or with all-round cover). Selling insurance takes a bit of time. When we were saying goodbye, José Luis said he thought his hunting insurance policy was still with another insurer. “When it’s due to end, I’ll bring that to you too.” The message doesn’t get clearer.
RISK ASSESSMENT OVER SNACKS
José Miguel Valencia and Jesús Nagore, the heads of the commercial and private customer businesses, have come along from Pamplona. The customer, Maika Ariztegui, has a problem called borda. Bordas are windowless stone huts in the mountains of the Basque region and most are used as stables or for storing hay. Sometimes, they are renovated and rented out to hunters.
Maika owns eight bordas and wants to insure them, but neither home nor commercial insurance is suitable. José Miguel and Jesús will now look at the whole picture so they can get a suitable price from Barcelona. Maika’s husband, José Maria Miquelarera, is up in the mountains – hunting season has started. We meet him later with his hunting pals for a mid-morning meal in a borda.
Before you know it, we’re sitting in a windowless room surrounded by the finest fresh walnuts and baguettes, venison salami, sheep’s cheese, chistorra (Basque sausages) and fried pork rind, all from their own land and made at home.
The food is accompanied by Spanish cider, red wine and a good deal of banter. Only an agent treated as a part of the family gets to experience such hospitality.
A FULL CIRCLE
Sixteen years ago, when Miriam told her friends in Pamplona that she wanted to take over her parents’ Allianz agency, they weren’t impressed. But Miriam was determined. “I didn’t want to just sell insurance. I wanted to develop a professional insurance business.” She’s achieved a lot more. “My friends no longer laugh about it; instead they are amazed at what I’ve created here,” says Miriam with pride.
The relationships don’t end with a sale. Milagros Jaimerera comes by for advice on investment products. José Luis Arrachea cancels his old home insurance policy and opts for a cover from Allianz. A friend of the woman who suffered the fire damage gets in touch for a review of her fire insurance. She wants to cancel her old policy with the bank and get insurance from Allianz. Her mother comes to Miriam’s agency and insures a tractor.
Meanwhile, the head office in Barcelona has decided that a borda is a special case. Miriam can set a price for it as originally suggested and she has already sent off three suitable policies for Maika Ariztegui. More will follow.
Miriam’s success is a story of trust. A story that deserves telling and retelling.