Selling Peace of Mind
While their insurance agency has been serving clients in Greater Holyoke for the past several years, Miguel Rivera and Lidia Rodríguez’s story in this sector goes back further than that.
“We started in the insurance business in 2009 in Puerto Rico,” Rivera said. “My wife and I were both insurance agents on the island. I used to sell cars, but I was tired of working six to seven days a week. So I found the insurance industry, and we fell in love with it.”
Their main focus — life and health insurance, mainly for an older clientele — was born from tragedy.
Back in 2009, “we were having a difficult time because my uncle died with cancer. And my aunt died with kidney failure two years later,” Rivera explained. “And I realized that I wasn’t doing my job, because my cousins ended up living in three different places because they didn’t have life insurance.”
So the couple became students of life insurance, and when they moved to Massachusetts, they started selling it in 2016, and it became a key niche when they launched Rewarding Insurance Agency in 2018.
They had no business office at first, and in late 2019, they began renting space at the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce. But that was never going to be a long-term solution, especially as the agency grew to more than 1,000 clients.
“We want to be the most complete Latino-owned life, health, auto, home, and business insurance agency in the region; that’s what will make us a unique agency.”
So, earlier this month, Rivera and Rodríguez celebrated another milestone, opening their own office and storefront on Maple Street in downtown Holyoke, which the chamber marked with a ribbon-cutting event.
“It is so incredible to have seen the growth from Miguel and Lidia since they began working in our office,” said Jordan Hart, the chamber’s executive director. “Being the only bilingual insurance agency in downtown, where many residents are native Spanish speakers and live nearby, they recognized the need to accommodate their growing elder Latino customers with life insurance, notarizations, and health insurance, and completely pivoted their business, and now we can welcome them at their own space.”
Indeed, Rivera said, “first, we started selling life insurance, and then we added Medicare Advantage, which is health insurance for seniors. And we are planning to add auto, home, and business insurance in January.”
Rivera said Rewarding is a relatively unique agency in that it serves mostly Hispanic seniors, which he feels has been an underserved population.
“We love our community. Our goal is to educate them in a way that they can understand what it means to have life insurance, because there is a lot of misunderstanding out there; they feel comfortable coming here and asking questions. And we also go to their house or their apartment to orient them about the insurance,” Rodríguez added. “And if something happens to them, the beneficiary can come here and ask questions. We don’t leave them alone in the process. We are with the family during the whole process.”
Planning for a Crisis
Rodríguez noted that ‘final expenses’ insurance, as it’s known, is an affordable type of life insurance that many people aren’t aware of.
“A funeral is really expensive; we’re talking $12,000 to $15,000. So how do they find that kind of money?”
Rivera agreed. “We encourage people to have life insurance so the family doesn’t have to collect donations and or do GoFundMe or things like that,” he said, adding that anyone can qualify for final-expense insurance. “People think that if they are too old, they don’t qualify for life insurance, but they do qualify for final expenses.”
That’s important during times of crisis, Rodríguez said. “It gives them peace of mind so that, ‘OK, I can focus now on healing because I have the financial cover. Let the insurance company cover all this for me.’”
On both the life- and health-insurance side, Rewarding Insurance has established contracts with leading insurance carriers to provide a diverse range of options, Rivera said. “When we meet with a client, we find the best plan for them.”
The agency’s focus on older clients came about organically, he added, based on the needs of the community.
“It was word of mouth; people want to do their life insurance and health insurance in the same place, so we’re trying to make it simple for our clients. And with the health-insurance plans, we give them access to services that help them have a better quality of life — access to durable equipment, food, over-the-counter medications. We help them save money on co-payments and deductibles. We find transportation for them.
“People love to come here and find the best health insurance plan that they can qualify for,” he went on. “We have access to CCA, Fallon Health, UnitedHealth, Health New England, Aetna, all those plans that are the top carriers here in Massachusetts. And depending on the doctor’s network and depending on their Medicare status, we find the best plan for them. We make sure their doctors take the plan they’re enrolled in. That’s the main focus.”
The agency also offers critical-illness insurance, a supplemental product that puts money in one’s pocket in case of an illness or an accident.
“So we are protecting families in case of illness or death or an accident,” Rivera said, adding that Rewarding also does 401(k)-to-IRA rollovers and helps clients make retirement-planning decisions around that savings vehicle. “So we help them protect their families financially with health, life, critical illness, and also their assets with IRAs.”
“It is so incredible to have seen the growth from Miguel and Lidia since they began working in our office.”
Those services, as noted earlier, will expand further with the addition of home, auto, and business insurance to the practice at the start of 2024.
“We want to be the most complete Latino-owned life, health, auto, home, and business insurance agency in the region; that’s what will make us a unique agency,” Rivera noted. “We will be a one-stop shop for all your insurance needs.”
Having grown into a new space and with new services on the horizon, Rodríguez said she expects more growth and a bigger agency in the future. And the couple both said their niche serving the area’s Hispanic community has been personally fulfilling.
“Holyoke is about 50% Hispanic, and about 90% of our clients are Hispanic — not because that’s what we wanted it to be, but that’s how it ended up being,” Rivera said, noting that Rewarding Insurance serves English- and Spanish-speaking clients with equal effectiveness.
“The Latino community feels very comfortable coming here,” he added. “English-speaking people have many insurance agencies to go to, but Latinos don’t have too many places here in this region where they can go and feel comfortable. We take time with them, explaining to them how everything works.
“We love it here. This is is the space we were looking for,” he added. “We can have meetings and workshops here. We have all the resources we need here. And the people feel comfortable coming here. They don’t want to leave.”
That was one of the goals, Rodríguez added: to create a comfortable, home-like environment for talking about critical issues of insurance and life planning.
“This is for them. This is their place where they can come and ask questions. We answer the phone, and now they know where to find us, too,” she told BusinessWest. “And we love our senior community, but we want to serve their families, too. We know that, once the family knows what we do, they’re going to do other kinds of life insurance with us. That’s what we want to do — not only serve them, but serve their sons, their granddaughters, everyone in the house.”
Rivera said it’s gratifying to get positive feedback in the community.
“My wife was at the supermarket the other day, and a client said, ‘hey, tell your husband I’m thankful because we’re saving money in co-payments and deductibles.’ So people are thankful, and we are glad.
“We just want to thank the community for their support,” he added. “Holyoke has been very welcoming. People say stuff about Holyoke, and Holyoke is not perfect, but we feel welcome here. We love the diversity here in Holyoke, and we are glad that we are in a good position and expanding here.”
Rodríguez agreed. “It’s satisfying when families come here and say, ‘thank you for everything you do.’ That is our goal: to continue to provide services that our community needs.”