Courtesy AMERIND Risk
CEO Derek Valdo in front of AMERIND Risk's headquarters on the Santa Ana Pueblo in New Mexico. His higher mission is to create affordable and sustainable insurance products that foster economic development in Native communities.

AMERIND Risk Increases Customer Base with Small Tribes, Gaming Enterprise

Randi Rourke Barreiro
2/19/14

There’s an optimistic outlook at AMERIND Risk this year, and for good reason.

The only 100 percent Native American-owned and -operated insurance provider in the country added 30 new customers and is up $3 million in tribal government business in the last year alone.

A big part of that achievement is owed to the increase in the insurer’s workers’ compensation program. According to AMERIND COO Dennis McCann, the program more than doubled and smaller Tribes were responsible for the majority of that growth.

Gaming enterprise has been a prime area of expansion for AMERIND, accounting for about 40 percent of the company’s growth last year, says McCann. 

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AMERIND Risk CEO Derek Valdo, a Council Member at Acoma Pueblo, readily celebrates this recent success, which came during his first year at the helm. Still, he acknowledges the bigger picture: being able to provide a flexible alternative option for Tribal governments and enterprises.

“In this economy,” he points out, “the ability of Tribes to look at a non-traditional insurance company like AMERIND is a win-win.”

One reason for this, according to McCann, is that the coverage documents AMERIND prepares for customers in Indian country are very similar to state workers’ comp laws except that Tribal sovereignty and self-determination is front and center.

McCann says Tribal workers’ compensation laws or ordinances in most of California are almost identical to the coverage provided by AMERIND.

“We have an innate flexibility in assisting Tribes,” he points out. “We modify our coverage documents to reflect Tribes’ cultural needs.”

Another reason for this success, says Valdo, is that AMERIND has pursued new customers that are in alignment with the company’s purpose – buying Indian to provide affordable insurance while keeping Tribal dollars in Indian country.

He refers to AMERIND’s expansion in over 420 Tribes, including numerous government and businesses entities as insureds. 

“Our mission, ‘Tribes Protecting Tribes,’ appeals to Tribes that want buy from themselves and support Indian-owned business,” Valdo says.

Offering Tribal workers compensation coverage for medical cost, wage loss, disability and death benefits, AMERIND insures more than 125 Tribal employers and provides workers’ compensation for 25,000 employees.

Those people aren’t just numbers to Valdo. He thinks they are a testament to the belief that buying Native works for Indian country.

“We’ve had great success,” he says, “working with Tribes whose leadership is interested in enhancing tribal sovereignty.”

Workplace education and outreach are built into AMERIND’s workers’ compensation coverage. The importance of employee safety plans will be a main topic of the insurer’s upcoming AMERIND Risk Institute, to be held April 22-24 at the Hyatt Tamaya Resort and Spa on the Santa Ana Pueblo just north of Albuquerque.

AMERIND’s safety team also performs a trend analysis for every customer as a claim prevention measure. This gives AMERIND unique insight into the workplace safety of Indian country.

“You’d think the majority of claims might be in law enforcement,” a field in which there is inherent danger associated with the job, says Valdo. “But the bigger trend is in Head Start,” due to lifting and slip-and-falls. Everyday acts of people comprise a large majority of the claims we handle.”

That’s not to say AMERIND hasn’t handled its share of unique claims. A few years ago, an employee of the La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians toppled a vehicle some 200 feet off the side of a cliff.

“It’s a miracle that person is alive,” said Adam Geisler, a La Jolla Council Member. Fortunately, he said, the Tribe had workers’ comp coverage with AMERIND.

“AMERIND covered every single expense he had, and they made a follow-up call to see how he was doing. They’re compassionate about people, and recognize that when accidents happen, people’s friends, neighbors and co-workers are also affected.”

Geisler notes that La Jolla has had a relationship with AMERIND Risk since the 2007 wildfires that prompted mass evacuations and destroyed hundreds of homes in Southern California. Because of AMERIND’s immediate response to the community, La Jolla experienced the fastest wildfire recovery in the area. While some people were still negotiating with insurance companies two years later, the strong relationship between La Jolla and AMERIND resulted in a recovery executed within nine months. Most Tribal members returned home within a year.

“Overall,” says Geisler, “AMERIND’s coverage, timeliness and responsiveness blow everyone else out of the water.”

The non-gaming Tribe of about 700 members has a small but vibrant workforce – including Geisler’s 93-year-old grandmother, who works as a receptionist. He says La Jolla’s strong leadership, led by Tribal Chair LaVonne Peck, worked to bring community safety to the forefront.

“We’re cognizant that a single workplace incident could cripple our Tribe, so we make workers’ comp and general liability one of our primary budget concerns,” says Geisler. “Our people want to work and we want to protect them.”

That sentiment helps emphasize Valdo’s belief about AMERIND’s growth. He acknowledges the great success AMERIND Risk has had when the company’s value of enhancing sovereignty align with a Tribe’s leadership philosophy and direction.

“AMERIND is a successful model of a tribal enterprise that performs well and keeps profit margins low,” he says. “Because we’re 100 percent tribally-owned and operated, our emphasis is not on profit. We want to do what’s best for our customers, Tribes and all Indian people."

AMERIND Risk has 27 years of experience providing property, liability and workers’ compensation insurance coverage in Indian country. To learn more about AMERIND Risk, visit www.TribesProtectingTribes.com or call (800) 352-3496.

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