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Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

Understanding the Japanese-American Market

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When marketing to Asian-Americans, many financial services companies largely exclude Japanese-Americans.

Ray Ting, managing director of Ray Ting and Associates, City of Industry, Calif., an office of MetLife Financial Services, suspects this is because Japanese immigration to the U.S. has dropped off markedly since the 1970s.

In the early 1980s, most Asian immigrants were Vietnamese and ethnic Chinese people living in Vietnam, he says. Many came to the Midwest and within a few years moved to the East and West Coasts.

The current Asian-American marketplace is largely first-generation Americans whose parents immigrated from China and Korea, with fewer coming from Vietnam and an even smaller number from Japan, Ting says.

“We dont have a large number of Japanese-American people to work with,” he says.

Nonetheless, American companies, including Prudential Financial, Newark, N.J., find it prudent to study the Japanese marketplace in order to better understand and thereby serve Japanese consumers of American financial services.

A recent Prudential survey finds that home computer ownership in Japan continues to rise rapidly, and more and more of these home computers are connected to the Internet.

Prudential Financial estimates that the number of Japanese “online households,” referring to families that own at least one personal computer at home and have Internet access, reached 26 million in June.

This surprises few in the U.S., who perceive the Japanese as technologically savvy consumers. But, the Japanese have not yet embraced the idea of buying financial products online, says Lee Haydon, vice president of Global Market Research at Prudential Financial.

The Japanese are using the Internet for comparative pricing and gathering information more so than for actual shopping, he says.

“The Japanese have been in a recession for 10 years,” Haydon says. “Theyre conservative and are not worried about growing investments but protecting them.”

The Japanese probably have more savings goals than any other population Prudential has researched, he says. The Japanese tend to be concerned about retirement planning and asset protection, and they tend to keep their objectives compartmentalized.

In other words, the Japanese tend to save money in separate pots for retirement, wealth preservation, childrens education, childrens weddings, a new or second home, etc., he says.

So, companies in Japan are looking for the right amount of Internet service to offer, he says.

“We want to be there, but we dont want to over-invest in the Net to the exclusion of branch options and advisory channels because the desire of people to go into branches and call people will continue to exist,” he says.

The Internet will play a role for the Japanese consumer as a tool for pre-screening a company, “but its not going to be the be-all-and-end-all,” Haydon says.

In terms of the Internet, Haydon says that if the “Japanese were behind the U.S. before, theyve caught up really quickly and financial services companies are going to get a piece of that.”

Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, October 7, 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.


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