The collapse of oil prices and the gross mismanagement of the economy and the COVID-19 pandemic by the Rowley-led PNM have put Trinidad & Tobago in the worst economic crisis since the 1980’s. A well-known businessman discusses his struggles as an entrepreneur in the insurance industry in these economically challenging times.
“Over 120,000 persons have lost their jobs under this Government. Over 6,000 small businesses have closed. I want you to remember, COVID did not crash the economy. It crashed long before.”-Kamla Persad Bissessar
August 16, 2021
Q1: What are the main challenges faced by your business? Did these challenges start before or after COVID?
The business was challenging before COVID, but the impact of COVID has been enormous and overwhelmingly negative. The main challenges are finding new customers, finding ways for people to afford their premiums, negotiating premiums financing and debt forgiveness. Accessing growth financing from banks and financial institutions during the pandemic is also a big challenge for us.
“Banks are unwilling to assist, but mortgages and car loans must be paid on time. Finding new customers surpassed all other challenges and continues to be a challenge.”
The local companies that handle internet connections are unreliable and connections drop a lot. So online connectivity is still difficult in this market.
Q2: Is the Government doing enough to support your business? What sort of support are you receiving from the Government? What more would you like them to do?
“It was a great failure of our Government to not be more helpful to struggling businesses during this pandemic. Many businesses have closed their doors forever. They haven’t cut taxes or given a directive to banks to provide debt forgiveness and assist businesses. This will have adverse effects on our livelihoods and lives moving forward.”
More stringent regulations have been introduced in the insurance industry which have increased the financial strain on smaller insurance companies, making it more difficult for them to survive in this market.
Q3: Is there any advice you would like to give to future entrepreneurs?
“Get to know your customers. Their needs are very important. Offer great customer service and train your staff to be caring, courteous and respectful. Nurture existing customers and keep them happy as they are your bread and butter. Host events and give back to your communities.”
Hire competent people and have a training program for new employees. Look for ways to expand and drive your sales force and to cut costs. Use social media more. It’s the new frontier. Measure what works and refine your approach as you go.
Q4: What inspired you to start your own business and what is your proudest accomplishment?
I wanted to be my own boss and to support my family. I had a zeal for taking financial risks in the hope of making profits. There were also many successful business people who I knew and admired a lot, and seeing their successes gave me the drive.
“My family had a long history in business and they influenced me greatly. They helped me to develop a strong desire to succeed at a purpose much larger than myself.”
The business was started as a 1-man show. I had little financial support from my family and had to work full-time to grow the customer base while pursuing my insurance license. This was challenging and it taught me how to prioritize my time, develop a great work ethic and stay focused on my goals. I’m proud of this accomplishment.
“What I learned over the years made my business a success and gives me a big advantage over my competitors.”
Q5: Where do you see your business in 5 years’ time?
I hope to reduce ongoing business expenses, expand locations locally and regionally and hire more staff to get the job done. I want to ramp up productivity to increase revenue without compromising the quality of service to the clients. I also hope to create new products that appeal to the customers which are tailor made for their pockets.
I intend to use social media marketing, websites and blogs to reach a different clientele and market sector. I also want to make it easier for customers to access the products by creating a new online customer service, instant billing and easy payment system.
“The plan for the next five years is to survive the pandemic, expand the business and become more technology driven.”
UNC Policies to help the Insurance Industry and other Entrepreneurial Small Businesses
“We believe reducing the heavy tax burden on our citizens and businesses most affected by the pandemic will help our. -Kamla Persad Bissessar
citizens start to regain their footing. Our plan included a reduction in personal and
corporate income taxes, a simplified VAT regime, the removal of basic food items
from the VAT net, and improved
efficiency of the tax system by
strengthening the Board of Inland Revenue, VAT office and Customs and Excise”
May 4, 2020
“Here are some proposals that the Government can implement to lessen the burden of lockdown for citizens:
- Loan deferral schemes in coordination with the Bankers Association and the Central Bank.
- Reduced bank rates for loans in place at the moment.
- A debt workout scheme for companies that are deemed to now fall below “bank risk” as a result of the deleterious effect of the pandemic. This can place state-run bank FCB or other takers in the scheme to
ensure that businesses get rescued.
- Renewal of SME fund accessibility via
commercial banks for companies that are
small and micro and may by nature fall below “bank risk” (unsuitable for bank
loans in effect) via NEDCO, Development Finance, and other state entity.
- VAT rebates. For companies that …
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