Strategies For Serving Culturally Diverse Markets

By Jeff  Breeze  & Cynthia J. Funcheon for the October 2012 issue of Broker World Magazine

A cultural shift continues to take place in our country and in our industry. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, during the previous 10 years, Asians, Blacks and Hispanics accounted for about 80 percent of population growth, making up more than a third of the population.

Clearly, learning how to reach and serve culturally diverse financial advisors and clients will be critical to the future success of the industry. These diverse groups each have their own values and attitudes regarding protection, saving and spending.

The growth in Asian cultural groups in particular has created rich and unique markets with distinct needs and values. Asian-Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. Their median annual household income is estimated at $68,950 compared to $56,362 for white households. Notable in Asian-American consumer spending is their expenditures for personal insurance and pensions, compared to other groups.1

There is great potential for producers and carriers who understand the needs of these markets, how different cultural traditions view financial services products, and how doing business differs. So, what brings success in serving this market?

Key to serving the Asian market is sharing or understanding the culture and how it differs from the mainstream as well as an awareness of cultural differences within the community.

For example, the term Asian-American is extremely broad and encompasses different languages, cultures, religions, traditions and values. In fact, the Asian-American label doesn’t hold up very well within the group—only about 19 percent identify themselves with this term.2 It’s more likely that individuals will refer to themselves by their country of origin (e.g., Chinese, Korean), but some prefer to identify themselves as simply American.

With some historical records going back as far as the 17th century BC, it is not surprising that Asian cultures prefer to do business with companies with an established history. The importance of saving has been handed down over multiple generations, and some may have directly experienced the impact of disastrous economies of the past in various Asian countries. As such, the importance of financial strength is given strong credence.

Within some cultural and religious traditions, it is considered taboo to talk about death, which obviously makes talking about life insurance more challenging. One way around this potential hurdle is by also discussing living benefits that are available as part of some life insurance policies in addition to death benefits. Discussing the ability, if needed, to advance a portion of the policy for terminal illness, chronic illness or specified medical conditions makes the conversation a lot more palatable.

Becoming involved in the local Asian community has led to success for both companies and individuals. There are opportunities to get involved and be visible through volunteering or sponsorships, participating in community events and celebrations such as parades, fairs and festivals.

Columbus Life’s Regional Marketing Director Sam Pitt has cultivated growth in Southern California over the last two years with several Asian agencies. With one group, the initial conversation began over product and rider offerings that met a particular need for the agency’s clients. Sam took notice of the value the agency places on building relationships and educating agents.

“I build relationships with agents through face-to-face meetings and frequent contact by phone. Meetings vary from home office supported agency meetings, to smaller lunches and learning groups and webinars, as well as simple get-togethers like lunch with a couple of top producers and the agency head. You learn a lot about people by breaking bread with them, and they learn a lot about you, too.”

Pitt noticed that the design of culturally diverse agencies is different from the structure in most of the independent channel. “While many agencies in the independent channel are small shops with a few producers and maybe a detached office here or there, the Asian agencies I’ve worked with tend to mirror the older style agency structure with an agency head, mid-level directors, sales managers and agents.”

As with any segment of the population, the key to success is being able to provide financial solutions that help meet people’s needs and to develop a strong relationship. Pitt observed, “One thing I’ve noticed is that cultural perspectives don’t matter when it comes to core desires. We all want to see our kids do better than ourselves. Most of us want to provide an opportunity to others, to give back, to make a difference and know that we mattered. Being respectful and knowing we’re not really that different goes a long way, no matter who you work with.”

 

                                       Ethnic Market Resources

There are a variety of resources available to research ethnic markets, from demographic data to studies that examine spending habits and preferences in communication style: Geoscape.com, pewresearch.org, LIMRA.com, and census.gov.

                                        Asian Market Statistics

Total U.S. Asian-American Population in 2011—18,205,898  (5.8 percent of the U.S. population)

Six groups make up 83 percent of the Asian–American population:  Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese

A majority—62 percent—identify themselves  by their country of origin (i.e. Chinese or Chinese–American)

19 percent identify themselves as Asian–American or Asian

14 percent identify themselves as American.

74 percent of Asian–Americans 18+ are foreign born (outside the U.S.)

49 percent of Asian–Americans 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 28 percent of U.S. population

52 percent rate their personal financial situation as excellent or good,  compared to 35 percent of the general public

41 percent say all or most of their friends in the United States are from their same country of origin

54 percent of Asian–Americans believe having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in their life, compared to 34 percent of the general public

67 percent of Asian–Americans believe being a good parent is one of the most important things in their life, compared to 50 percent of the general public

39 percent of Asian–Americans see themselves as typical Americans, while 53 percent say they are very different

43 percent of Asian–Americans are satisfied with the direction of the country, compared to 21 percent of the general public

Source: Pew Research Center, The Rise of Asian–Americans, June 19, 2012.

 

1. Geoscape, American Marketscape DataStream: 2011 Executive Summary Report.

2. Pew Research Center, Pew Social & Demographic Trends, June 2012.

Author’s Bio Jeff  Breeze, ALMI, AFSI, AIAA, PCS joined Columbus Life Insurance Company in July 2004 and currently holds the position of assistant vice president, agency operations.

Cynthia J. Funcheon serves Columbus Life Insurance Company as assistant vice president of communications and recognition.

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