Companies looking to increase sales among African-Americans are turning increasingly to minority agent recruitment programs to help in that effort.

Columbus, Ga.-based Aflac Inc. initiated one such effort last year. “Aflac is always looking for opportunities to grow and develop the careers of our nearly 60,000 field force agents,” says corporate spokeswoman Patsy Thomas. “Creating more opportunities to help our agents succeed also helps us to grow our business.”

The Aflac Diversity Development Grant’s goals are twofold: to increase minority sales force recruitment and increase overall account development, including minority-owned businesses, Thomas says.

In January of last year regional sales coordinators in Los Angeles, Baltimore and Miami received one-year grants of up to $20,000 each for their teams.

By year-end the teams had recruited an estimated 200 new minority agents, who generated $1 million in annual premiums, Thomas says.

“Whether it was recruiting at colleges, chambers of commerce, professional business associations, advertising in minority publications, or just word of mouth, the grant recipients said they got results,” Thomas says.

Regional sales coordinator David Morningstar took on the project in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area, going to job fairs and historically African-American colleges. And he found that the challenges and resistance factors are not that much different from other groups.

“You basically have a stigma with other Americans in selling insurance,” he says. “And there is always that difficulty with any sort of commission sales job.”

One joint event with Black Enterprise magazine stressed the need for black entrepreneurship and that insurance sales was one such path to take.

But in the end, Morningstar found that while there is not that much difference in selling insurance products to African-Americans, that is not the case with agent recruitment. “I am a white American and I have to overcome the fact that for some of these people–and if not these people, then maybe their parents’ generation–were taken advantage of. So, there is a little more level of suspicion.”

The Washington, D.C., area-based Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America sponsors a Diversity Task Force, one of whose goals is to increase the number of company appointments for diverse agents. Among the companies taking part in the project are Aetna, AIG Agency Auto, CAN, Chubb Group, The Hartford, MetLife Home and Auto, and Safeco.

Barbara Miller-Richards, vice president of agent development for the IIABA, says “the key is reaching out to those agents, because they are on the front lines.

“The insurance business is all about trust,” she says. “The trust needs to be there between the agent and the company, but it is even more important between agent and customer.”

Newark, N.J.-based Prudential Financial has had an agent minority recruitment program for the past three years.

“We don’t give out numbers, but let’s just say we are very pleased with the program,” says Gale Britton, Prudential vice president of recruiting and selecting.

She says Prudential does not depend on traditional venues such as job fairs and college campuses but instead looks to form partnerships with groups such as the Black MBA Association and 100 Black Men of America.

“What works about our strategy is that it is a leader-to-leader approach,” she says.

Duluth, Ga.-based Primerica Financial Services Inc. is currently backing an effort to create a term-only life insurance license, which it believes will help make financial services available to those middle market neighborhoods that the mainstream industry now is said to avoid for its lack of profitability.

The term-only license could serve as a good entry into the business for members of those underserved communities, Primerica spokesman Mark Supic says.

LIMRA found that African-Americans overwhelmingly purchased life insurance face to face with an agent, broker or financial planner.