Agents Tap Into The Asian American Market

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The large number of immigrants coming to this country gave rise to the term “the American melting pot,” but today, these new Americans have become more mindful of their ethnic heritage, according to Lily Fong, multicultural business development officer for New England Financial, Boston.

“Everybody wants to identify themselves as Chinese-American, Philippine-American, Korean-American, and so on, instead of putting everything into a melting pot,” she explains. “There is no true melting pot in the U.S. anymore.”

Fong has the mission of branding NEF throughout different ethnic groups, one of which is the Asian-American market.

But just defining the Asian-American market can be a difficult task by itself. “Theres a general misunderstanding in the perception that Asian-American is just one community. In fact, Asia was fighting against each other for years, and still is,” says Stephen Kagawa, general agent of The Pacific Bridge Companies, Los Angeles.

“There are incredible sensitivities that an organization needs to appreciate and understand before embarking on multicultural marketing,” he says.

Agents who specialize in this market agree that in order to be successful, it is paramount to understand the culture of the community targeted.

“You cannot apply an Indian-Americans thinking into a Chinese-American market. It just wont work,” Fong says. “You have to be more specific to each segment.”

Kagawa agrees. “You have to embrace and understand the culture if you really want to do ethnic marketing.

“It extends deep into understanding the roots of where the people in the community come from and what their experiences were in order for us to relate,” Kagawa explains.

There are a few different ways agents are getting more involved with Asian-American communities.

“We do advertising in the local Chinese paper and the local Korean paper, all in their respective languages,” says Ben Su, senior managing associate of New England Financials Seattle agency.

To increase visibility in the community, Sus agency also sets up booths at local ethnic events, such as the street fair in Chinatown to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

“We let people know that were there for them, we answer questions and pass out marketing materials,” says Su.

Some of the marketing materials Su uses include bi-lingual brochures, which discuss topics like the importance of planning and recent tax law changes. Su says there is a high demand for this information “because most of the material thats out there is written in English and theres still a lot of first- and second-generation people that have their own language and have English as a second or third language.”

Fong adds that bilingual material, “gives the customer a choice as to whether they want to read their local language or English.”

Kagawa increases his agencys visibility by making charitable donations every year. The agency donates a percentage of its gross income to community nonprofit organizations.

“The focus for us is doing good for the community,” he says.

Educational seminars have been a successful inroad to the Asian-American market as well.

“We talk about why they need the insurance and how to protect their family,” says Fong.

By teaming up with ethnic associations, Su is able to provide educational seminars at association meetings, including the Chinese chamber of commerce, the Hong Kong Club, the Korean grocers association, and a Korean dry cleaners association.

While it may be difficult for an agent to brand herself as someone who caters to this market, it may be even more difficult to prepare an effective financial plan. Some planners recognize that in order to effectively plan for this market there are a number of “cross-border” issues that need to be dealt with. Kagawa warns that if planners dont take these issues into consideration, they could be doing more harm than good for their clients.

“Some people, because of their lack of knowledge and lack of understanding, set up a plan that seems efficient here in the U.S.,” Kagawa explains. “But when you apply the taxation from abroad, if thats truly the domicile of that individual, they could actually hurt the plan and contradict the desires of the client.”

Kagawa cites an example of a recent client who was living in America, married to a non-U.S. citizen, owned property in Japan and ran a business out of Taiwan. “Its extremely complex,” he says.

To insure that his clients have the right kind of planning, Kagawa has established a network with a number of international law firms and CPA firms.

“We want to bring financial planning to the community and make it culturally correct, we do a lot of cross-border type of planning,” he says.

Looking ahead, Kagawa is about to open a number of branch offices in each community he is targeting.

“There are a lot of underinsured, uninsured, and unprepared people out there,” he says. “Were going to go to them, were taking our programs within each community.”


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, September 9, 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.