As sales professionals seek to expand their business, it is important that they become educated on the economic prowess of the growing Hispanic/Latino market base. Not understanding the value of doing business with this emerging market may limit your growth.

According to the U.S Census Bureau, Hispanic/Latino business ownership is growing 3 times as fast as the national average. The Hispanic/Latino market buying muscle is getting stronger, and the rising rate of Hispanic/Latino business is booming.

In May 2006, Aflac and StrategyOne surveyed business owners across the country and found that Hispanic/Latinos are less likely than any other demographic group to have medical insurance–only 71% of Hispanic/Latinos compared to 88% of Caucasians. The disparity of health care in this minority community is astounding, partly due to the lack of insurance education.

For agents, this represents a multitude of opportunities to continue growing primary business while educating this budding market on the importance of adding insurance as an important financial planning tool to help protect families.

Here are a few tips to help you get started with effectively marketing to this community:

Building community relationships

A sound way to build relationships within the Hispanic/Latino market is to build the trust level from the ground up through community involvement. To do this, an agent should consider getting involved by sponsoring events such as a health fair, by partnering in an educational initiative or by building brand recognition through referrals in the business community.

Minority small business leaders can serve as major community influencers who can partner with agents to educate consumers on topics, such as the importance of owning voluntary insurance products, to guard against draining savings due to unexpected health care costs. Also, using community networking events to recruit a diverse sales team can provide added value to your operation. It’s not only the right thing to do; it also makes good business sense to sell products and services with a team that reflects the market you are trying to reach.

Market familiarization

Understanding the needs, influences and concerns of the community is vital in reaching out to the Hispanic/Latino market. The U.S. Census Bureau says that Hispanic/Latinos accounted for 40% of the country’s population growth between 1990 and 2000. There are differences in this lucrative market segment that agents must become familiar with to expand their business.

According to the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the number of Hispanic/Latino-owned companies has grown 82% since 1997, making them among the fastest-growing business segments in the nation. Additionally, U.S. Hispanic/Latino purchasing power has surged to nearly $700 billion and is projected to reach $1 trillion by 2010, nearly 3 times the national rate of consumer purchasing power over the past decade.

Sales agents who are familiar with the Hispanic/Latino culture can aptly educate business owners on insurance products that best fit their employee profile and customers on necessary products that best fit their individual lifestyle.

Financial planning

Most consumers spend a significant amount of time protecting personal items like homes, automobiles and boats so they have a means for replacing their property in the event of a disaster. Many consumers may not recognize that financial planning is even more crucial in protecting their family’s financial wellness if a life-altering event were to occur.

The same Aflac-commissioned survey found that one in three Americans stated unexpected medical bills could force them to declare bankruptcy. The research also found that 89% of those polled said rising health care costs are a pressing concern to them. Of the respondents, 83% agreed that all Americans should put aside money to cover future health care expenses; however, less than 37% surveyed had actually set aside money to cover those expenses.

These days, even with two-income households, few employees can afford to miss significant time off work due to an unforeseen life event. Surgeries and other unexpected health events can render an employee unable to work for months at a time, which can have a profound impact on budgets, creating a real need for income. Therefore, it is important for agents to educate Hispanic/Latino customers on how voluntary products like accident and disability insurance can be an integral part in maintaining their fiscal well-being.

Customer service

According to the Center for Media Research, Hispanic/Latinos are more loyal to brand names and quality, but good customer service sways the purchase decision more than price. This survey also found that:

? 94% of Hispanics/Latinos are likely to buy a brand that provides the best customer service.

? 92% of Hispanics/Latinos are likely to buy the best known and longest surviving brand.

? 91% of Hispanics/Latinos are likely to have a lot of information before buying a product.

Customer service should be a top priority. Throughout the sales transaction, listen to the customers’ concerns and provide information that will address their specific needs. This will help build credibility and strengthen the consumers’ trust. No matter what your native tongue is, excellent service is a language that everyone understands.

Just as with any demographic, Hispanics/Latinos need insurance coverage to help maintain quality of family life amid financial uncertainties or unexpected health events. As an insurance professional, you can provide customers with the education, knowledge and service that can help you expand into this emerging market while adding a competitive edge to your business.

Vilma Salaverria is vice president of multicultural marketing for the U.S. operations Aflac Worldwide, Columbus, Ga. You may e-mail her at .