Meet Kirk Maraj, the Branch Manager for the territory in Saint Lucia of the Guyana and Trinidad Mutual Group of Companies (GTM). A 16-year veteran in the insurance
business, Maraj now has more reason than ever to be proud of his profession and his role as head of what has arguably been one of the more dynamic and enduring insurance companies on the island.
The 138-year old GTM established its first office in Saint Lucia in 1954. In 1998, the company acquired the portfolio of First National Life Insurance Company. GTM offers a wide range of insurance policies and services to individuals, families and companies. It has offices in Castries, Vieux Fort and Soufriere.
Recently, the company announced plans to construct a corporate head office for its Eastern Caribbean operations at Choc Estate in Sunny Acres. The sub-regional office is expected to be an eco-friendly, state-of-the-art facility, employing some 50 staff. This is tantamount to a feather in the local GTM branch’s cap, that Saint Lucia was deemed the best place from which the company can grow and expand its business in the sub-region.
Maraj is understandably delighted with this development and simultaneously, he is extremely proud of the impact GTM has had in the local insurance sector over the years. He is deeply convinced that GTM has a lot more to offer its clients, and the company is uniquely poised to help them improve their lives in profound ways in the months and years ahead.
One of GTM’s key strengths, says Maraj, is the diversity of its service offerings and their relevance to people’s daily lives and their needs, coupled with the company’s people-centred approach to business.
“At GTM, we have such a wide assortment of products and services that it is very difficult to come to our offices and not be able to make a decision about what would suit you. Medical, home and vehicle insurance, retirement pension plans…you name it, there are just so many different classes of insurance business we do. We are genuinely committed to our mission statement ‘to consistently provide sound and reliable services with the highest ethical and professional standards across the Caribbean.’ That is not meant to be taken lightly, and it isn’t just something someone just came up with in a boardroom—we are always there for the people. For example, our home insurance policies are designed to insure houses of all kinds, including plywood houses. We issue relatively small insurance policies, for example $10,000 policies, something that many companies wouldn’t do. We are not the loudest, nor are we the biggest in the business. We do not tout our assets or our balance sheets, but I assure you, at GTM we care the deepest about our clients.”
A warm and affable chap, it soon becomes clear just by watching Maraj at work in his office, that he has a good rapport with his staff, and they find him very approachable. There is an almost familial air in the way they flit in and out of his office to confer with him and sort out business matters. Not surprisingly, Maraj says it is the human interaction aspect of insurance that he enjoys most, and merely knowing that he can help to change people’s lives for the better.
“The fun and the joy at the heart of it is meeting people whom I had never known and building a professional relationship with them, which often turns into a genuine friendship. One of the hallmarks of the insurance profession is those occasions when children whom I got to know when they were three or four years old – as a result of being their parents’ insurance agent – and who have grown up and are now in school or probably working, and they come to me for insurance because I used to visit their parents’ homes. That itself is very gratifying. What I also love about this profession is the product itself and the restorative aspect of it. To be able to assist people to get back on their feet after they’ve gone through a crisis,” says Maraj.
Among his most memorable experiences, of which Maraj says there have been plenty, he cites the numerous children whom he helped secure student loan insurance policies.
“Many of them have returned home and they’re now well settled. Some are engineers, doctors etc. As a result, they have opted to use me as their number one choice for insurance. That was very fulfilling for me,” says Maraj.
There was also the occasion when he felt impelled to respond to a GTM client’s call for help very early in the morning.
“I insured the contents for his store which is not too far from our office. I got a call from him about 5:30 in the morning. His store had been burglarised. He was very concerned, he didn’t speak very good English, and didn’t know what to do. Therefore, I went to him at the store, consoled him and then guided him through the process of lodging a claim. At that time, the police were there dusting for fingerprints and carrying out their investigations. They were quite surprised to learn that an insurance agent had arrived on the scene so early in the morning. The client was so grateful, he became an ambassador for insurance. I use this example to underscore the fact that we, at GTM, are there with our clients.”
Notwithstanding his love for the insurance business, Maraj is a realist. He knows all too well that among the major obstacles that insurance agents encounter are scepticism and suspicion due to the negative perception that many people tend to have about the industry.
“There’s a saying that there are worse things in life than death – have you ever spent a night with an insurance salesman? That sentiment touches a very sensitive area. It ridicules the virtues of an insurance agent and places him in an unproductive and negative light. The insurance agent is seen as peddling a policy rather than empowering clients and businesses to plan ahead for the future and protect themselves against unexpected circumstances or losses. In some ways, they are unsung heroes because in times of crisis when the crunch comes, the client then becomes aware of how valuable their insurance policy is to their continued well being,” says Maraj.
He issued a special appeal to Saint Lucia’s millennials, including self-employed youths, who are more likely to lack things like health and life insurance than older consumers.
“We want to tell the millennials that at GTM, we care about them very much,” said Maraj. “We have very flexible policies in terms of premium and coverage, that they would find to be ideal for them. Likewise, we have coverage for senior citizens and plans for individuals above the age of 65. Hence, we are overarching in many respects,” he added.