Sue Kuraja got her start in financial services at an early age. When she immigrated from Croatia with her family as a young child, she translated financial documents for her parents as they learned English. Her ability to conduct business in a foreign language was sought after and she continued to demonstrate financial aptitude early in her career. Twenty years later, she still serves Main Street USA as a representative and advocate for consumers, while maintaining strong relations with corporate clients and enterprises.
Making a Difference
Now a brokerage director representing MassMutual Arizona, Kuraja distributes individual and group insurance products to brokers and firms. One of the best parts of her career, says Kuraja, is that her business isn’t limited by geographic boundaries like most retailers—she works with over 1200 different members in 16 states.
Kuraja is the President of the Phoenix chapter of Women in Insurance and Financial Services (WIFS) and was recently recognized as the 2021 Women in Insurance & Financial Services Woman of the Year. When asked about her viewpoints regarding leadership, Kuraja states that the most important quality for any financial services leader is empathy. "You never know where a relationship experience will take you,” she says. “Sometimes you engage and find yourself in an unexpected scenario that you don’t know how to handle. It may be followed by emotion, hardship, or even some very deeply personal stories.”
Kuraja says, while she wasn’t prepared for the emotional side of the business in her early years, those experiences carried over to other areas of her work and helped shape her empathetic leadership style. “Making yourself emotionally available allows you to establish deeper intentional relationships that work,” she begins. “As financial and insurance advisors and leaders, we must have empathy in order to remain impartial and to make sure we are always building mutually beneficial ecosystems. Kuraja adds that this becomes increasingly important when building leadership skills in the non-profit arena, saying, “Our advisors can choose to pour themselves into any non-profit organization. The ones that most closely align with the personal and professional goals and standards will shine! Having empathy is the key to this alignment.”
The Importance of NAIFA’s Political Advocacy
As a Financial Security Advocate, Kuraja is dedicated to ensuring financial security for all Americans. She has served in several leadership positions within NAIFA and knows the value of NAIFA’s political advocacy. She says that her “Aha!” moment came after a presentation from NAIFA-AZ Past President Tracy Jones, in which Jones discussed how legislation affects agents and advisors. “She was drawing a parallel to what we should be paying attention to—the legislation that is moving and how it will affect [financial professionals’ earnings potential],” says Kuraja. “As a young wholesaler professional not in direct sales, it didn’t affect me as much. After meeting with many advisors about their positions on advocacy and how it affected their livelihood, it began to click.”
Kuraja describes herself as a researcher of the Internet of things (IoT) and its influence on Insurtech. She recently spoke at WIFS’ annual conference on blockchain technology and its effect on the insurance and financial services industry and says she looks forward to the legislative wisdom NAIFA will provide the broader WIFS community.
Looking ahead, Kuraja sees a new challenge on the horizon—bringing discussions about digital assets into mainstream financial advising. "Right now, there are over 50 bills on the hill that will impact our future conversations around digital assets,” she begins. “Digital assets have not become a mainstream conversation for advisors, but they soon will. These 50 bills are going to dictate how—with comfort, ease, and confidence—we have digital asset conversations with our clients.” By participating in political advocacy, NAIFA members have a voice in the legislation that affects their clients, carriers, and businesses.
The Benefits of NAIFA Membership
Becoming a NAIFA member has had a big impact on Kuraja, both professionally and personally. It helped her come out of her shell and find her individuality, she says. When she started out in the insurance and financial services industry, she looked just like everyone else. She wore dark blue suits, pantyhose, and heels and kept her hair in a bun. When she started attending NAIFA meetings, she realized that standing out from the crowd made her more memorable to colleagues, clients, and prospects. “[Going to NAIFA events] has really helped me understand that I don't have to be like everybody else,” she begins. “I slowly began to shed this baggage that had been imposed upon me by other people on how you should act, behave, and represent your position in financial services.”
For Kuraja, being a NAIFA member is essential for any insurance or financial services professional. “If you're serious about your career and you're serious about helping your clients, you must have representation for your field,” she says. “As far as I’m concerned, the only well-rounded representation for our field is NAIFA.”
Through networking and mentorship, NAIFA provides Kuraja with the collective wisdom of top professionals and thought leaders. She talks about the importance of that resource, saying, “You can tap someone on the shoulder at NAIFA or pick up the phone and call them and say, ‘I have an idea. I have a thought. Who can I speak to in order to develop a new idea? Who can I talk to about getting on a committee? How can I help with programs? What events are you looking for?’ It is a platform that will help you find yourself and your space as a person, as a financial advisor, and as a changemaker.”
NAIFA’s Leadership in Life Institute
Kuraja is a graduate of NAIFA’s Leadership in Life Institute (LILI). She talks about the impact LILI had on her, personally and professionally, saying, “LILI was fantastic. [Before LILI], I would compartmentalize my personal life and my professional life completely separately. But after LILI, I came to an understanding that I can't really do that if I want to be serious about this career. Finding the balance and the intersection of those two was important because, at the end of the day, you want to do business with people you like to be around.”
Outside of the Office
When she's not working, Kuraja loves spending time with her husband and four children. Her children are voracious readers, and the family takes trips to the library often. They check out dozens of books, read them throughout the week, and are ready for a new batch on their next trip. When the weather allows, they spend time outdoors, hiking and paddleboarding.
Kuraja also stays active in her community. When her son was born, he received life-saving cardiac surgery at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. She has served on the hospital board and has helped raise money for a 3D printer capable of creating a model of a baby’s heart, which helps physicians prepare for surgeries just like the one her son had. Kuraja also volunteers with Junior Achievement and is the Secretary of the Croatian American Club of Phoenix.
Thank you, Sue, for your service to our industry and association. We’re #NAIFAproud to call you one of our own.