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Executives who help insurers recruit African-American agents to sell to African-Americans say the logic of doing so is obvious.

“If you want to serve a community, you must have people coming from the community,” says Tariq Khan, an assistant vice president who works in MetLifes multicultural marketing unit.

“People want to do business with people who they think understand them,” says Kareim Cade, a partner at M.L. Garland Hill Agency, Detroit, an agency that specializes in handling large worksite marketing programs.

None of the executives interviewed suggested customers will buy insurance only from other members of their own demographic groups.

But supporters of the recruiting programs argue that customers do want to see that at least some of the sales reps look like them, and that building a diverse sales force can help increase the awareness and flexibility of all reps.

Besides, supporters say, the idea of diversity seems to be popular with customers.

When researchers for a 2000 consumer survey sponsored by Ariel Capital Management Inc., Chicago, and Charles Schwab & Company, San Francisco, asked African-Americans whether there ought to be more African-American role models in the financial industry, 75% agreed.

Sixty-one percent of the white participants also agreed that the financial industry ought to have more African-American role models.

Forty-nine percent of the African-Americans said they would like a chance to do business with an African-American advisor.

Statistics on employment of African-American agents and brokers by the insurance industry are scarce. Experts interviewed were not sure how much the diversity of U.S. producers has really changed over the past two decades.

But the multicultural marketing executives all say they try to attract good African-American agent candidates by sponsoring events organized by African-American colleges and associations, and by advertising in publications that reach African-Americans.

The executives say they also pound the pavement looking for great candidates, even in a soft economy.

“Were always aggressively going out and bringing those people in,” Khan says. “Were always looking out for those people.”

Jerald Tillman, owner of J.L. Tillman Insurance Agency, Sharonville, Ohio, has worked to expand the pool of top African-American candidates by establishing the National African-American Insurance Association, Cincinnati, a group with 1,000 members that tries to broaden the African-American presence within the insurance community.

The association, which will hold its next annual meeting in New Orleans in early September, brings insurers and African-American talent together, and it also encourages African-American participation in respected insurance education programs, such as the Chartered Life Underwriter program.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, June 10, 2002. Copyright 2002 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.