By Roz Skinner

Creating warm relationships with the customer is the main aim of the insurance agencies of NFU Mutual in Skye, Lochalsh and the Western Isles.

Senior Agent, Jake Sayles, says: “We care about people in the areas that we live and work.  If someone phones or visits the office, they are made to feel welcome.  We want to take the time to explain the options to people and help them understand the risks, rather than just take their money.  

“It's great when we can form personal relationships with customers.  I get people who pop in the office just to tell us a joke! It's lovely.”

NFU's two Hebridean offices are based in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis and Portree, Isle of Skye.  Currently run by Duncan MacIntyre and Jake Sayles respectively, the offices have been a familiar sight to locals in Stornoway for around 40 years and to Portree residents for around 50 years.  

Recently, the two have joined forces in a partnership, and work in tandem to provide customers in the Western Isles, Skye and Lochalsh with year-round insurance for their car, travel, pet and home, as well as financial products and retirement protection.

Jake's experience with NFU Mutual goes back to his childhood.  He says: “I grew up around NFU as my dad did the same job I do now.  I have so many memories of being in the car with my dad when he was reviewing someone's insurance.  These days, I'm the one who goes to visit clients and I love it.”

Duncan's first involvement with the agency was in Stornoway.  After meeting and marrying his Lewis-born wife, the couple moved to the island in 2004 when they were expecting their daughter.  Duncan states: “I was no stranger to the islands as my mother was brought up in Seilebost, Harris.  However, the move was a bit of a leap in the dark as I had no job!  I originally started working at the Department of Work and Pensions, then applied for a job with the Royal Bank of Scotland as a mortgage adviser.”

His application was successful, and this was Duncan's first foray into the financial world; his previous experiences included working in the Royal Air Force and as a prison officer.  Explains Duncan: “I wanted to do something different, and I really liked what I had heard about the NFU agency.  I applied for a sales job in 2011, was accepted and turned it down.  It just wasn't right for me at the time.“

A year later, Duncan received a phone call from Steve Lewis, the agent at the time.  “Steve said that he had kept my details on record and was disappointed I hadn't taken the sales job.  However, there was an opening for a partner agent if I was interested.  I joined in September 2013 and have been here ever since.”

A familiar sight in both offices are Jake and Duncan's dogs!  Duncan's Chocolate Labrador, Buster, loves coming to work.  Duncan reveals: “He spends the morning meeting clients.  A dog is something you don't expect to see in a modern office, but it makes sense.  We are real people and we provide a personal service.”

Meanwhile, in Portree, Henry is never far from Jake's side.  “Henry has been with me for the last eight years and has been on most calls with me,” laughs Jake.  “He comes with me to the office and I do have people who come in just to say hello to him.  I've tried to teach him only to bark at the people who haven't paid their premiums, but it hasn't worked!  I think having a dog in here makes people feel more comfortable and less like they're about to have their money wrestled off them.”

What plans do Jake and Duncan have for the future? Jake says: “The Stornoway office is set to relocate to Harbour View in mid-2017.  The new premises will have better parking facilities and more space.  We are also hoping to add an extension to the Portree office.”

The Uists could also receive an NFU Mutual branch.  Duncan and Jake say: “It's very important to us to give clients a face-to-face service.  At the moment, Jake can commute back and forth to the Uists to see customers, but, if it was viable, we would like to establish an office and another agent over there.”

Jake and Duncan also wish to thank their customers and staff members.  Jake relates: “It's a pleasure to deal with them all and we are blessed with a lovely bunch of people in Skye, Lochalsh and the Western Isles.  It makes living and working here a dream.  

“We also want to say a big thank you to the staff, who go above and beyond.  I have to kick them out the door at the end of the day, sometimes!  Our businesses would be nothing without them and if anyone has anything they want to run past us or talk about, they will get an informal discussion and the right advice before they make their choice.”