The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Insurance trainer volunteers abroad
By CATHY DYSON
Bill Cundiff volunteers his time in developing countries, not to treat the sick or build houses and schools but to tell people everything they need to know about insurance.
The 65-year-old Spotsylvania County man teaches government officials about insurance principles and practices, and helps them set up their own training centers. In the past two years he has made three trips to Albania and Cambodia.
Having an insurance policy may seem irrelevant in a land where people are struggling to survive. But as nations develop, insurance becomes “an incredibly important piece of the economy,” said Joe Hudgins, a Richmond resident with the Independent Insurance Agents of Virginia.
“In order for companies to attract industry, there has to be an insurance market,” Hudgins said. “Businessmen won’t take a chance if that infrastructure’s not there.”
And Cundiff is just the person to help build the foundation, said Hudgins, who has known his fellow agent since the 1970s.
“He just has a real passion for people doing the right thing when it comes to the insurance industry,” Hudgins said. “You can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice.”
Forty years ago, Cundiff began his career in the Fredericksburg area as a retail agent. Starting in 1972, he worked downtown in the old Sears building as an Allstate representative.
Later he ran his own agency, then focused his business on training other agents in the mid-1990s, when new laws required insurers to have continuing education.
He and his wife, Gloria, run the University of Insurance, which he calls a boutique training and consulting company. He said his “saving grace,” in terms of grasping the technology available, is his grandson, Bill Cundiff IV. He’s 26 and a graphics designer who also works for the company.
These days, the elder Cundiff deals more with agencies than individuals. He does a lot of work through the Internet and conducts Web-based seminars. He also travels to London twice a year for training sessions.
A few years ago he joined the Financial Services Volunteer Corps, a nonprofit dedicated to helping developing countries build sound financial systems.
When a trip to Albania was mentioned, he asked about the cost and was delighted to learn that all his expenses would be covered. He merely needed to give of his time.
His first trip lasted five weeks and was well received by his host country.
“Bill Cundiff was simply excellent,” wrote Ornela Kullolli in an email. She’s an Albanian and the senior program officer with Financial Services Volunteer Corps.
She said it was her honor to talk about “a good friend and an excellent insurance professional.” She mentioned how well-prepared Cundiff was for the assignment and how he adapted his lecture to what the Albanians needed.
“He is able to find common language with his audience to be able to convey his message,” she wrote.
Anxhela Dervishi, an officer with the Albanian Financial Supervisory Authority, also said she appreciated Cundiff’s expertise. But she was especially grateful for the way he brought attention to “the good things that we have in our country, which we should be proud of,” she wrote in an email.
‘A MATTER OF RESPECT’
The last thing Cundiff wants to be is “the Ugly American.” That’s why he researches the people and the culture of a given country, not just their financial practices and the history of their insurance market.
Knowing that Albanians shake their heads “no” when they mean “yes” saved him a lot of confusion in his first training sessions.
He also discovered that the proper way to give a Cambodian a business card is to offer it with both hands held forward and head slightly bowed.
“It’s just a matter of respect, and I have great respect for the Albanian people and the Cambodian people,” Cundiff said. “They have persevered through so much in their personal history.”
There typically isn’t a language barrier because English is spoken throughout the financial world, he said. And unlike in America, where one person in his class may have a GED and another a master’s degree, every insurance regulator he has met on foreign soil has university training.
Cundiff will return to Albania in September to provide advanced training and review the country’s strategic plan for training private insurance companies. He’ll also skip over to Kosovo to meet with State Department officials there about insurance issues.
“His name has gotten out in that community as someone who is willing to come and do that,” said Hudgins, the fellow agent in Richmond. “I’m glad there are people like him around.”
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425