By SHELLY WILKISON
While many would say that insurance is a necessary evil, it’s the image of the agent in the cowboy hat walking through a hay field to shake hands with his customer that makes Texans want to feel differently about the industry.
In Liberty Hill, that friendly insurance man is K. Linvel Baker of Monroe Insurance. Although he doesn’t spend much time these days walking through hay fields, a print depicting the encounter hangs on the wall in his new office. He says it reminds him why Germania Insurance is his preferred carrier and why he chose to build a career in insurance.
“I’ve done all kinds of things in my life, but my strength is that I really enjoy people,” Baker said. “I like to see them succeed and do well.”
The Monroe Insurance company has been in Liberty Hill since 1978, and Baker bought the business from Dale Monroe in 2007. This week, Baker opened the agency in a new location in Liberty Hill. The company closed the doors on its smaller quarters on State Highway 29 and moved to 100 Carl Shipp Road, just behind Liberty Hill’s Municipal Court building.
Baker asked customers to be patient as a trailer on the front part of the property is in the process of being relocated.
While the trailer may be blocking the view of the two-story Monroe Insurance office, the large Germania sign at the driveway signals the entrance. Within two years, Baker plans to build a new building and a parking lot on the front of the property.
“We’ve grown by two to five percent in the past few years in a hard market,” said Baker, explaining that fires in Bastrop and hailstorms throughout the state resulted in some rate increases and company “belt-tightening. The whole area was hit hard.
“But overall, we have a good reputation for trying our best to give people what they need,” he said.
Baker lives in Smithwick — eight miles east of Marble Falls in Burnet County — where he pastors the only church in town, the Smithwick Church of Christ.
Seven generations of his family are in Burnet and Williamson counties and he feels a deep connection to the land and its people.
Baker, who earned a Master’s Degree from Austin Graduate School of Theology and a Bachelor’s Degree from Abilene Christian University, was a youth minister at the Bertram Church of Christ when he met Monroe. Monroe was looking for someone to learn the insurance business and eventually take over the agency. Baker seemed to be a perfect fit.
“For some in the insurance business, it is all about making money while others offer advice and help,” Baker said, adding that he is the latter.
“I get concerned when I see people who don’t know how to take care of their finances. They don’t understand the (insurance) coverage they have, and many don’t see the value in making payments and keeping up policies,” he said.
Baker said in recent years he has seen more cases than ever before of recently-divorced women and single mothers who let insurance policies lapse.
“This is a real problem now,” he said. “They don’t understand the coverage (because they didn’t purchase the policies). I try my best to give them good advice and counsel them through it.”
For Baker, his church ministry and a career in the insurance business are somewhat related.
“There is value in being part of a church family,” he said. “It gives you strength for living.”
He said being an agent for Germania gives him similar reassurance. What makes Germania different from other major insurance corporations, many of which spend significantly on marketing, is the sense of caring for customers.
“Germania is connected to the people of Texas, and they only do business here,” he said. “They are familiar with and interested in what we’re doing. And it’s that support system that makes Germania such a strong company.”
Baker said the company’s history is at the heart of its business more than 100 years after it was founded by farmers in Perry, Texas.
“Germania really does care,” he said.
Baker recalled a case where a local customer came into the office one day and paid his insurance premium for a year. A few months later, he had a collision and the company showed his auto policy as lapsed. Baker said the customer’s payment had not been recorded correctly, but he made a phone call and convinced the corporate office to honor it.
“It’s a good feeling to write a check for them after a collision or after a fire,” Baker said.
At the same time, he said most people are under-insured and don’t realize it until it’s too late.
“A car wreck, for example, can ruin your life faster than anything else,” he said. “People don’t get enough liability (coverage). A vehicle can be replaced, but they don’t get enough coverage to cover medical issues that come with a wreck.”
Monroe Insurance only sells auto, home, life and small business policies.
Working with Baker at the new location is Lily Adame, a customer service professional. Ms. Adame, who also speaks Spanish and is able to assist Spanish-speaking customers, manages the office.
Baker’s son, Kaleb Baker, formerly worked in the agency. In recent months, he moved to Beaumont to pursue other career interests.
“Insurance plays an important role in eveyone’s financial future,” Baker said. “You don’t want to be part of a company that you have to sue to get them to pay a claim. Here, we do our best to honor the handshake,”