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Keen Cultural Eye Fuels L.A. Agency Success

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Michael Shin came to this country a quarter of a century ago to get a Big Ten college education and the chance to prove himself on the playing fields of American commerce.

Born in Korea, he and his family moved to Hong Kong when he was a teen-ager and then lived for a while in London.

As one of the leading producers for Newark, N.J.-based Prudential Financial Inc., with his agency based in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles, Shin obviously has bridged the cultural gap of his native Korea to run a shop with 48 agents, nearly half of whom have been Million Dollar Round Table qualifiers.

Shin does not shy away from trumpeting the success that began when he joined Prudential in 1990. “I was promoted to a development sales director with scratch staff in 1997 and became No. 2 in the country a year later,” he says.

In November 2001 he became a managing director and “only had 19 agents with no second line manager.”

The following year the agency was ranked No. 15 in the Prudential firmament. Last year it came in second.

Natural drive helps fuel these accomplishments but having a keen understanding of the market he serves also plays a key role.

Asians arrive in America with varying degrees of wealth, but surprisingly those who come from the bottom rungs of society tend to grab hold of the American dream a lot quicker. “They tend to have success at a faster rate than those in the middle income level, who tend to have more problems,” Shin says.

First on the agenda is saving to buy a house. “In Asian countries, owning land is very important,” he says.

Many Asian immigrants had white-collar jobs in their native countries but in this country might end up owning a small business like a dry cleaner. “They work really hard, but they are not satisfied with what they are doing,” he says.

Thus, children’s education becomes a priority as a possible means of recovering lost family status.

Many of the recent immigrants have not had too much exposure to investment products. “They would own their business and work hard so they would not have 401(k)s or things like that,” Shin says.

When products with both protection aspects and variable investment components are introduced, Shin says he finds a ready audience for them.

A product, therefore, like variable universal life is appealing and can serve as a first step toward purchasing individual stocks or other investment vehicles once they gain their sea legs.

Virtually all of the business in Shin’s agency comes from Asian-Americans, while 90% of the agents are Korean.

“When people move in from another country to live here they are very insecure so they naturally want to contact a person from their country for whatever service they need,” he says.

Thus, Korean festivals in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego become critical venues for Shin’s agents to meet and greet their former countrymen.

“I built this agency as a marketing organization rather than sales,” he says. “Almost everyone here participates in some kind of regular marketing activities such as seminars, fairs, associations and community events.”

While born in Korea, which would make him first generation, Shin says a sort of “tweener” generation of immigrants exists who came to this country before their teen years, which he calls the “1.5 generation.”

“It’s funny but other members of the ’1.5 generation’ prefer to deal with the same category because they have the same background and experience,” Shin says.

For the most part, Chinese immigrants came to Los Angeles first, many in the 19th century. “So basically, the Chinese market is closest to the general market, in that the trends are the fastest,” he says.

[Editor's note: Since this story was written, Michael Shin has left Prudential and is now heading up part of the marketing operations of Samsung across three countries.]

In some cases, children’s education becomes a priority as a possible means of recovering lost family status


While many recent immigrants from Asia have not had too much exposure to investment products, when products with both protection aspects and variable investment components are introduced, they find a ready audience.


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