Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Marilyn Berisiartua’s perseverance and energy insures more than customers 

Franchise owner offers advocacy and compassion 

Editor’s Note: To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, the Herald is featuring Young Latin Voices, profiles of a few of Peekskill’s Latin business owners.

Timing, as they say, is everything. Marilyn Berisiartua knows the truth of this sentiment all too well. As a teenager, she unexpectedly found her calling in insurance, and has been supporting the insurance needs of the Hispanic population in the Hudson Valley for over 10 years. Just six months after Berisiartua mustered the grit and funds to open her own insurance agency (The Beris Agency located at 20 Welcher Avenue), the pandemic hit, throwing the future of the business into question. But a quirk of legislative timing (the state legislature passed the Green Light Bill in 2019) resulted in an increased demand for auto insurance, so Berisiartua’s agency was able to make it through its first year. Four years after opening, The Beris Agency has become a well-known, respected insurance provider with the ever-growing Hispanic community in Peekskill.

Berisiartua, 32, was born and raised in Peekskill. She is of Peruvian and Ecuadorian descent. When Berisiartua was in high school, her family moved to Cortlandt; she graduated from Walter Panas High School in 2008. After high school, Berisiartua attended Berkeley College in White Plains, graduating in 2012 with a major in International Business. 

In 2009, during her first year of college, Berisiartua, 19 at the time, landed an internship at the Romano Agency, an Allstate franchise in Shrub Oak. Before joining, she had no interest in insurance, but wanted to learn the ins and outs of running a business. After a few months, Berisiartua noticed how important being insured was to customers, especially Hispanic clients, who needed help understanding documents written in English. Berisiartua became intrigued and wanted to help. Armando Romano, owner of the agency, saw her interest and asked her to get licensed as an insurance agent. Berisiartua studied for a month and took the NYS Insurance License exam. At the time, the exam was 300 questions long and a person needed a score of 70 percent to pass. She failed twice and told herself if she failed a third time, it was not meant to be. The third time was the charm: Berisiartua passed and was hired as a part-time agent while she finished college.

Romano became a mentor to Berisiartua, showing her the ropes of the insurance field. After nearly 10 years with the Romano agency, Berisiartua arrived at a crossroads: “I had two options. It was either I stay there for the rest of my life or I can do my own thing,” she said. Eventually, with Romano’s “bendición”, or “blessing”, Berisiartua decided to start her own agency.

Marilyn begins her day at home answering emails and is at her office by 9 o’clock. She’s frequently there after closing.  (Photo by Jeff Merchan)

Rather than buying an existing franchise, which would have been easier, Berisiartua took a “from scratch approach.” This meant she needed to provide a business plan to Allstate and show proof of finances before being approved to start a franchise. Finally, after more than six months of paperwork, and two more to find the Welcher location, Berisiartua officially opened The Beris Agency in late 2019. When asked if she ever considered another city, Berisiartua responded, “It was always going to be here in Peekskill. This is my hometown and I know the community well.”

The first few months were very slow for the new agency: “Due to a conflict of interest, I couldn’t market my business to my old customers from my old agency. I had to find new customers.” To drum up business, the team created videos and skits promoting the agency, and uploaded them to social media sites. Berisiartua and her employees also went old school:  they made phone calls to local residents introducing the new agency and advertising its services. “We started calling almost a thousand people in a month and seeing how many of those people would call back.” Eventually, this work paid off;  the team began to steadily grow their clientele, but nothing could have  prepared them for the events of 2020.

Berisiartua recalled being at the agency one afternoon in March 2020 and crying when she heard the news that many businesses in the area were closing as the number of COVID cases increased. She questioned whether she made the right decision by leaving Romano’s agency. But one thing kept her from closing the doors: in 2019, the New York State Legislature passed the Green Light Bill, which allows all New Yorkers the opportunity to earn a driver’s license, regardless of their immigration status. As the state issued more licenses, the demand for auto insurance also increased.  “It worked out. The year of COVID was one of my biggest years,” said Berisiartua.

In the early days of the pandemic, The Beris Agency worked around the clock to provide auto insurance to the regional residents impacted by the Green Light Bill, all while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Berisiartua recalled, “We never closed. You would come, knock on the window and give us documents and we would get to work.” The agency gained a lot of customers during this period, many of whom continue to support the business.


Marilyn’s team, from left Annabelle Figueroa, Lily Rosado and Michelle Ferreras. Marilyn is in front of them.

Berisiartua currently employs three people at her agency: Anabelle Figueroa (agent), Michelle Ferreras (agent) and Lily Rosado (customer service). Although all three are relatively new to the insurance field, they have become a “family.”

This family atmosphere is reflected in how the team interacts with clients. The agency offers bilingual services, which makes Hispanic clients feel comfortable confiding their troubles. Berisiartua spoke of how many of her Hispanic customers recount stories of being taken advantage of due to the language barrier: “I’ve fought with other insurance companies to help people get paid.” The team tries to  help in any way possible, even if the problem is not insurance related. “We sort of become an advocate for them [Hispanic customers]. People come here and talk to me about divorce, child support, evictions, mortgage questions.”

As if being a full-time franchise owner were not hard and time consuming enough, Berisiartua is a dedicated partner to her fiancé, and is the mother of five children: Matt (15), Mia (12), Micaela (10), Jazelle (1), and Jeremias, who was born last week. When asked how she can keep up with all the things in her life, Berisiartua responded, “I have a lot of support. I try to disperse myself as much as I can to all the important things in my life. It’s hard but not impossible.” Berisiartua is currently at home on maternity leave, but is confident her business is in good hands. “I trust these girls.” Referencing when she took leave after the birth of Jazelle, “I’ve done it before a year ago and it went fine.”


Three of Marilyn’s children.  From left, Mia, Marilyn next to Matt and Micaela in front. Missing are Jazelle and newborn Jeremias.

A typical day for Berisiartua consists of checking emails in the morning at home, then coming into work at 9 A.M. Sometimes there are people waiting for her outside the agency when she arrives. Her work day usually ends at 6 p.m. but she has been known to stay at the agency past that. She does all this while getting her mom duties done before and after work. “People ask me why I do it, I  do it because I like helping people.” said Berisiartua. 


About the Contributor
Jeffrey Merchan
Peekskill native Jeffrey Merchan is a 2022 graduate of Peekskill High School. He is the Collegiate Journalist at Peekskill Herald, funded by a grant from the DJ McManus Foundation. He is currently enrolled at Westchester Community College where he is studying journalism. As the inaugural recipient of the McManus grant, he will be covering city government, schools and feature stories with a focus on Peekskill’s growing Hispanic community.