Minority Agent Support Still Has A Ways To Go
By E.E. Mazier
Last year, the Independent Insurance Agents of America touted its first joint annual convention with agents from the National African-American Insurance Association and the Latin American Association of Independent Insurance Agencies. The Alexandria, Va.-based IIAA hoped that this would be a step toward a brighter future for minority insurance agents in particular and the insurance industry in general.
However, “to be perfectly honest[we've had] limited success,” admits IIAA CEO Robert A. Rusbuldt.
The IIAA met with insurance companies and agents, Rusbuldt says, to “brainstorm” ways of providing services and education to “minority and multi-cultural” agencies that might be unaware of what is available to them through their associations or individual insurance companies.
He suggests that minority agents have “been too busy trying to make a living” to take advantage of such programs and services.
Rusbuldt reports that IIAA is engaged in a cooperative effort with independent agency companies such as SAFECO, Travelers and Chubb to attract minority agents. The effort also seeks to provide these agents with the services they need to thrive, not just survive, and to “become completely integrated in their communitiesand within the insurance industry,” he says.
The IIAA believes this is not only “the right thing to do,” but also prudent for the industry. This is because the growing Hispanic and African-American populations represent a “huge” insurance market, Rusbuldt says.
“It makes an incredible amount of business sense to make sure that IIAA agents and brokers are servicing that growing portion of the United States population,” he notes.
That servicing, Rusbuldt says, might involve:
Providing Spanish-speaking agents and customer service representatives for people who are newly arrived in the United States.
Recognizing that there are “definite insurance needs and good risks in inner-city neighborhoods.”
Recognizing that, increasingly, women are making insurance decisions for their families.
Still, no one denies the existence of entrenched obstacles to achieving that ideal.
Denise H. Lloyd, owner of D.H. Lloyd & Associates, a commercial insurance brokerage headquartered in Washington, D.C., who chairs the Cincinnati-based NAAIA, says she is not seeing an increase in the number of young minorities attracted to insurance as a career.
“I think the insurance agency is not even understood or known in the community at large regardless of race, creed or color,” Lloyd observes.
This problem is particularly prevalent among minorities, Lloyd adds, for whom “insurance” either means “a State Farm agent or an Allstate agent,” or evokes memories of “a person that knocks on the door and gets a dollar or two from their grandmother.”
However, Lloyd believes these impressions are starting to fade “because our industry has done much more advertising.”
Another obstacle that insurance recruiters face, suggests Rusbuldt, is that “people want to be investment bankers and stockbrokers” instead of choosing insurance as a financial services career.
Lloyd agrees, but she points out that “sometimes the most sexy industries, like the computer industry,” find themselves in the “economic doldrums.” By contrast, “insurance is consistently steady” and its “sophistication level has increased,” she observes.
Rusbuldt concurs, believing “absolutely” that there are “plenty of opportunities for anyone entering the insurance field.”
Some of the reasons why opportunities in insurance exist regardless of the state of the economy, Rusbuldt says, is that people are still legally obligated to carry certain types of insurance such as auto or homeowners. Additionally, in these days of “cross-marketing,” NAAII member agencies are starting to offer a wide array of banking and investment products, he observes.
All this means that “theres always a need for good agents and brokers in our industry,” Rusbuldt says. In fact, “most agencies I know are willing to even train people, they want them so badly,” he adds.
This coming January, says Rusbuldt, the IIAA, in a joint cooperative effort with a number of insurance companies, will embark on a new initiative “to provide support for multicultural agencies and brokerages that we think are the wave of the future.”
However, because the new initiative is only in “the planning stages,” Rusbuldt could not specify whether and how that effort would differ from previous initiatives.
E.E. Mazier is a staff writer for NU’s Property & Casualty/Risk & Benefits Management Edition.
Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, November 12, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.