By now, we all have heard the call to diversify – not only in the workplace, but in our markets as well. As research has confirmed, an inclusive and insightful approach to multicultural markets is not only good humanity, it’s also good business.

By targeting the South Asian market in the New York City metropolitan area, I have put my insurance and financial planning business on a successful trajectory. The future is bright as the South Asian population grows in size and wealth.

My experience has shown that smaller ethnic groups such as the South Asian market can offer important and untapped opportunities. The South Asian community is concentrated in a few areas, making them relatively easy to target. And the group is affluent and entrepreneurial.

The Census Bureau reports that the 10-million American Asian community made up slightly more than 4% of the nation’s population in 2000. And in a 2005 update, the bureau calculated that 2.5 million Asian Indians lived in the U.S. There are large South Asian communities in California, Texas, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C.

The South Asian community boasts a high median family income – $71,000 for Asian Indians and $50,200 for Pakistanis. South Asians are well educated – between 50% and 60% hold a bachelors degree or graduate degree. Sixty percent of the nation’s Asian-Indians and 44% of the Pakistani working population held managerial, professional or technical jobs, according to 2000 U.S. Census statistics.

Personally, I’ve found that many members of the New York South Asian community have lofty aspirations. They want the best for their families – the best homes, education, and jobs. Parents look for their children to become doctors, entrepreneurs, and engineers.

Financial representatives who gain the trust of South Asian families will find that their clients are often very loyal and value financial advice that can help them to protect their families, build wealth, and secure their future.

To gain trust within the South Asian community, it helps if a producer understands the importance of family and knows the nuances of the culture. It also is critical to have a commitment to providing exceptional client service and building long-term relationships.
Something as simple as knowing that Desi is not a name, but what we proudly call ourselves, or that cricket is the sport of choice, can go a long way when working with the South Asian community. Tapping into the local Desi television shows and media outlets serving the South Asian community also can give a producer serving this market an advantage.

My firm has had great success advertising in local newspapers and airing commercials on television stations with large South Asian audiences. We stay in close contact with local Indian and Pakistani physicians’ organizations and sponsor their annual dinners. Our firm has sponsored local cultural and sporting events and even backs an amateur cricket team in the area.

The results have been positive. The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America recognized my agency as the New Agency of the Year in 2005. Although we have producers that serve both the general and South Asian markers, we estimate that 65% of our clients are local physicians and that most of our firm’s business is generated within the South Asian community. Yet despite our hard work, much of the South Asian market in the New York tri-state area remains untapped.

Along the way, my firm has learned some very important lessons that can help producers in their effort to recognize and profit from our nation’s diversity. Here are steps we all can take to better serve a more diverse American marketplace:

1. Diversity and Recruitment
It makes sense to have a diverse marketing, sales, and service team. One of the best ways to reach a diverse audience is to hire producers who are connected to the communities that you are targeting.

At my agency, some producers who are not of South Asian descent often will partner with a South Asian producer when they are approaching Desi prospects. This is not always necessary, but it can be helpful. Many groups show loyalty to companies that hire people from their communities, support their organizations, and make efforts to embrace their culture.

2. Speak Not Only the Language, But Also the Culture
Language usually is not a barrier in the South Asian market. In India alone, there are more than a dozen official languages, but English is widely spoken. In some cases, when operating in multicultural markets, it’s necessary to know English and Spanish, for example, and to be ready to do business in both. Often within one household there are several generations with different degrees of acculturation.

No matter what language you choose for conducting business, it is important to absorb as much as you can about a group’s culture. For example, Desis or Deshis– meaning “locals,” as we call ourselves – are often very close to their extended families and feel a strong sense of responsibility to grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles as well as their spouses and children.

Cultural references can help open doors, too. If you slip in references to baseball and football, chances are you’ll strike out with many South Asian prospects. Mention cricket – by some counts the second most popular sport on the planet after soccer – and you can very likely open doors. References to popular Desi music, Bollywood stars, or TV shows are great icebreakers as well.

It helps to keep in mind that while many groups readily embrace American culture with relish, at the same time they retain very strong ties to the country of their roots where they, their parents, or grandparents grew up.

It doesn’t hurt to know a little history as well. South Asian communities have flourished not only in the United States, but all around the Caribbean as well. Knowing how to navigate the market has provided an entry point with a number of Caribbean clients of mine who are of South Asian heritage, but come from Trinidad, Guyana, or Grenada.

3. The Power of Respect
Remember, clients of all backgrounds want to feel important. No matter what their heritage, they need to know that you respect them, their families, and their culture. It is important to avoid promoting offensive stereotypes and pretending that you know things about a culture that is foreign to you.

Also understand that there is diversity within diverse audiences. While language and culture often unite people, each family will have its own set of ideas, beliefs, and behaviors. When working with multicultural audiences, it is best to understand that each person and family deserves not only a culturally relevant, but also a customized experience tailored to their unique needs.

Nadeem “Nick” Saleem is a financial representative with Long-Island based Anchor Financial Services, a general agency of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York. He works from their United Wealth Group offices in New Jersey and has more than 10 years of experience in financial services.