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The language of liability

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

EDWARDS ” More immigrants are starting their own businesses in the Vail Valley. That’s how a lot of them meet Sonia Becerra.

Becerra works for Wall Street Insurance in Edwards. After starting a couple of years ago in the front office, Becerra has earned her licenses to sell insurance, and now works with Spanish-speaking commercial insurance clients.

She brings a unique perspective to her work. Now 23, Becerra came with her parents to the Vail Valley from Mexico when she was 10. She attended local schools and graduated from Battle Mountain High School a few years ago.

But while she was learning the language and culture of her adopted country, her family returned home to Mexico for frequent visits as she was growing up, so she remains familiar with the culture of her homeland.

“In our culture we don’t have a knowlege of insurance or risk management,” Becerra said. “I teach clients what that is, what they’re spending their money on.”

A lot of Becerra’s potential clients are skeptics.

“It’s hard to convince some clients to get the right coverage,” she said. “Some are just looking at their bottom line, not their coverage.”

A matter of payment

But for a new business owner working for a general contractor, knowing how insurance works can be the difference between getting paid and a lengthy delay.

“A lot of people I see are clients trying to get a policy because their checks are being withheld by contractors because they don’t have insurance,” Becerra said.

The requirements can be steep.

Roxanne Novia of George Shaffer Construction said her company asks its subcontractors to provide proof of $2 million in general liability insurance, another $2 million policy to ensure the company will finish a project and an additional $1 million policy on its commercial vehicles.

“Everybody we work with already has insurance,” Novia said. “It’s not really that hard.”

At R.A. Nelson construction, RiAnne Davis said most of that company’s subcontractors are also aware of the rules about insurance. But she said, some of the newer companies may not be. If they aren’t, Davis refers those company owners to Becerra.

“A lot of smaller companies that are just starting out may not be sure what they need,” Davis said. “They’ll talk to us, we’ll give them our requirements and send them to Sonia.”

Becerra also deals with a lot of independent contractors, essentially free agents in the valley’s construction industry.

Thanks to a fairly recent change in the law, those free agents have to carry their own workers compensation insurance.

“Most of the independent contractors don’t know about it,” Becerra said. “A lot can’t afford it.”

What to buy?

Explaining insurance can be tough in English. Explaining it in Spanish can be even trickier.

“I hear a lot that people think they’re spending their money for nothing,” Becerra said. “They’ll say ‘I’m a safe worker; nothing’s going to happen.'”

Davis said she hears the same thing from people who want to do business with R.A. Nelson.

“I try to explain to them that they can lose their business if they don’t have the right coverage,” she said.

That’s when it’s important to bridge the language barrier.

Bacerra said policies are all written in English, but she’ll write notes in Spanish along the margins to help clients understand what it is they’re signing, and agreeing to pay for.

“That’s why I try to get them to come in instead of just talking over the phone,” Becerra said. “It’s a big advantage to explain things in Spanish, even if they speak English.”

It can also be hard to explain to potential clients just what kind of coverage they need.

While big companies have specific requirements, others don’t. That’s why it’s important for insurance agents to get to know their clients.

“People ask how much they need, and sometimes there’s no clear answer,” Becerra said. “But I’ve reviewed policies for people and they’ll either not have what they need, or they’ll be paying for things they don’t need. I try to fix that.”

Wall Street owner Noel Harris said having a truly bilingual agent has been a boon for the company.

“We’re growing that part of the business,” Harris said. “Sonia has a unique perspective on both Mexican and American cultures. She’s a huge asset.”


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