Insurance executive recognized for community contributions

By STEVE CLARK/The Brownsville Herald –  August 30, 2012

Carlos Varela of Pronto Insurance has been named Businessman of the Year by the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce.

Varela, 39, one of five brothers who own Brownsville-based Pronto, was recognized for his contributions to the Hispanic commu-nity during the TAMACC Chairman’s Gala and Awards Banquet Aug. 18 in San Antonio. Varela sits on the company’s board and concentrates heavily on the sales and marketing aspect of the operation.

In addition to serving as a Pronto principal, he is a partner and director with IBEX Business Solutions, which provides human re-sources and technology solutions to Texas business owners. Varela is also a partner in various business developments in Texas, Arizona and Mexico and serves on the board of directors at Texas Regional Bank. He graduated from Villa Maria High School in Brownsville and studied business at St. Edward’s University in Austin.

Pronto has more than 100 company-owned retail agencies and sells its products through nearly 500 independent agencies, Varela said. The company began franchising about three years ago and today has roughly 30 franchises featuring the Pronto name and brand. Ninety-five percent of the franchisees are Hispanic, Varela noted.

Pronto recently opened an operation in Austin, which stretched the company’s reach from Central Texas to Houston, Del Rio and South Texas. Pronto also has two franchise stores in El Paso and two in Dallas.

“We’re analyzing the Texas markets constantly and seeing where there are profitable growth opportunities,” Varela said. “There are plenty of growth opportunities in the state.”

The company’s specialty is “non-standard” insurance products for the Hispanic market. The market caters largely to motorists whose poor driving records make them too much of a risk for traditional insurers. The “Texas Sure” vehicle insurance verification program has driven quite a few customers Pronto’s way since the state began sending letters to residents without insurance to match their vehicle registrations.

“The other thing that’s really pushing to be people to be insured is a lot of municipal areas are really getting very strict with the enforcement,” Varela said. “They’re towing vehicles. If for whatever reason they’re caught without proof of insurance they’ll make you leave your car there and they’ll tow it. Fines have continued to increase.”

Pronto’s annual sales have grown to about $100 million since the Varela brothers formed the partnership in 2004. That’s nearly 2 percent of the total non-standard insurance market in the state and a little less than 1 percent of the overall auto insurance market. Forbes named the company one of its “Top 20 Franchises for the Buck.”

Moreover, the South Texas insurance company has been named one of the top 25 franchises for your dollar, according to Forbes. In addition, Pronto has also been listed as one of the Top 50 Franchises for Minorities by USA Today and among Top 25 Franchises for Hispanics by Poder Magazine in 2010 and 2011.

Varela said he sees the company doubling or tripling its annual sales in Texas and, eventually, launching operations in other states.

“I think we’re in a good place to grow,” he said. “I think the state of Texas could definitely be a $200 million to $300 million market for our company here. We know that eventually we probably will have to expand outside of the state, but in the next three years we’re set here. We’ll be OK here in Texas.”

Varela said it’s gratifying to be able to provide high-paying jobs in the Brownsville area and that the company has no intention of moving its headquarters to a bigger city like Dallas or Houston. His roots are here, he said. Though the brothers operated a trucking company in Laredo for several years in the 1990s before starting Pronto, when they had a chance to come back to the Valley they grabbed it, Varela said.

“We’re very focused on staying here,” he said. “We love the area — more so now that we’ve been able to grow a business here and contribute to the community here. We’re very pleased with our success and proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish. But con-tributing to the community here brings a different level of satisfaction. We’ve been able to bring close to 250 jobs to the Brownsville area.”