Firm finds clients among Lancaster’s Spanish speakers

Cinthia Kettering is the founder and president of a Lancaster-based insurance business known as The Bagnall Shaw Co.

The company was named after the grandparents of Cinthia’s husband, Paul, whose last names were Bagnall and Shaw. Paul is CEO of the company, but he is not involved in the daily business operations.

The company employs a full-time staff of 11 women, including four insurance agents, four customer service representatives, a bookkeeper, a compliance manager and a receptionist.

Together, the women sell insurance and manage accounts. Half of the employees are licensed insurance agents, and three have bachelor’s degrees.

Ten of the 11 employees are bilingual. Spanish-speaking clients can communicate in their native tongue – giving Bagnall Shaw a potential edge over its competition.

Lancaster County has a population of about 500,000. About 11 percent, or 60,000, are Hispanic.

With a premium volume in the amount of $6.5 million, Kettering and her husband have gained traction in Lancaster’s insurance market. The majority of the assets come from sales of home, auto and commercial policies.

But it took hard work and sustained effort.

Across the continents

Kettering was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador in 1977. She grew up and attended college there, earning a bachelor’s degree in political and social sciences.

While working at a radio station after college, she interviewed a traveling musician on air. It was her future husband, Paul Kettering, an American. They dated for four months, fell in love and eventually married in Leola, Pennsylvania while Cinthia was visiting him.

After their marriage in early 2000, the pair decided to settle in Lancaster County.

“I had nothing when I arrived except for two suitcases. I had to start over again,” Cinthia Kettering said.

She got a work permit and initially worked as a paralegal, then later in the trust department at Fulton Bank in Lancaster.

During this time, she was attending Harrisburg Area Community College and Reading Area Community College to pursue an associate degree in banking technology.

She was so anxious to continue her education that she didn’t mind the long drive to Reading for classes. The extra language practice improved her communication skills. “I wanted to get better at speaking English,” she said.

She eventually transitioned into managing mortgages for American Home Bank, where she became a licensed mortgage underwriter. However, she was laid off during the great recession, when housing prices tanked in early 2008.

She turned her misfortunate into an opportunity, and decided to enter a new field: insurance.

Making connections

Without any formal training, Kettering opened an insurance company in downtown Lancaster in 2010, The Bagnall Shaw Co.

Her first objective was to gain clients.

“Someone gave me the idea to join the chamber of commerce,” she said. 

Kettering was quickly elected a board member and served for two terms.

“That really helped me to make connections in the industry,” she noted.

She said she also went door to door to both businesses and individuals in an attempt to expand her client base. “I didn’t have any money to advertise,” she explained.

She went from having zero clients to over 8,000.

Forty percent of the business’ clients are corporations, while the remaining 60 percent are individuals. Additionally, half of the insurance sales are for auto and home policies, while commercial policies count for 45 percent. Life and health insurance make up the remaining 5 percent.

Kettering is a licensed insurance broker in five states, but most of her clients come from Lancaster.

All the staff at Bagnall and Shaw strive for customer satisfaction and retention. More than that, they truly care about their clients: “If there’s a death in the family, we try to help them. We worry about the clients especially if they’ve been in accidents,” Kettering said.

That community-centered attitude carries over to the workplace environment: Kettering’s favorite part of being a business owner is building relationships with her employees.

She takes her time during the hiring process and doesn’t always hire based on a candidate’s experience.

“I’ve hired people with no experience. Now they’re insurance agents. It makes me happy when people learn quickly. I help them succeed by working with me, and help them to get where they want to get,” she said.

She offers full health benefits to all her employees, as well as up to five weeks of vacation time per year. She has a passion for traveling and has been to 41 countries with her family.

“I like my employees to travel and see other cultures,” she said. The generous vacation policy also allows the women to spend time with their families, or those who have immigrated to the States to visit their home countries.

Aside from being a business owner and a wife and mother of four boys, Kettering also finds the time to write. In 2013 she published a book of poems titled “Sentimientos: Un Libro de Poemas.” She is also interested in political and social issues and continually seeks opportunities to write about immigration policies.

Mariah Chuprinski
Mariah Chuprinski is the special projects editor at CPBJ. Email her at mchuprinski@cpbj.com.

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