The enduring concept of America is one where all are created equal, regardless of race, creed or color. But as we all know, the reality has often fallen far short of the ideal. Native Americans, African-Americans, European immigrants, Jews, Asian immigrants, Hispanics and others have all felt the cruelty of racism while chasing the American dream. But as America becomes more diverse and more tolerant, the life and health insurance industry is playing a key role in making things right.
According to Census Bureau projections, by the year 2030 the United States will become what some demographics experts call a “minority majority.” That is, the non-Hispanic white population will be smaller than the combined populations of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and other racial groups. It is a sea change that will re-knit the fabric of American life, but it is also one that is already having a big impact on how the life and health industry is doing business.
Ever since the civil rights movement, the business world has, in fits and starts, employed diversity training and focused on selling to racial, ethnic and cultural markets as a matter of business opportunity. This accelerated especially during the heyday of “political correctness” in the 1990s and on through to today. Some industries have been more aggressive about this than others, and across much of the public, the notion persists that insurance, and life insurance in particular, is a white person’s industry. But as some of the industry’s best and brightest minority producers are proving, with the help of home office diversity training and support, that is no longer the case…if it ever was the case to begin with.
Luis Hernandez, an American of Cuban descent and a Miami-based general agent with MassMutual, disagrees that insurance is a monochromatic industry. But he also acknowledges that MassMutual’s robust diversity program has not only been helpful to his own career, it proves that when it comes to promoting diversity, MassMutual (and other home offices like it), are putting their money where their mouth is.
The centerpiece of MassMutual’s diversity program is a Match to Market initiative wherein the company has dedicated itself to making sure the demographics of its own workforce match the demographics of society at large. To that end, MassMutual actively recruits, trains and supports agents from various racial, ethnic and cultural markets. It also supports those agents in the field with, among other things, multi-lingual marketing materials. For Hernandez, who at one point left MassMutual, one of the things that guided him back to the company was the Match to Market program.
But he is quick to stress that diversity programs are just one factor out of many that makes for a successful agent, minority or otherwise. He sees himself as having no advantage or disadvantage to anyone else in the industry simply because of his ethnic background.
“One of the biggest misconceptions within the industry is that you have to be Hispanic to sell to Hispanics or you have to be Jewish to sell to Jews,” Hernandez says. “I think that is a myth.”
Other producers National Underwriter has spoken to echo Hernandez’ sentiment. A Korean agent, they say, is unlikely to be strongly steered toward selling specifically to the Korean marketplace because sales acumen, not race, is what most determines an agent’s success or failure. That said, those same producers admit that having the type of intimate knowledge about a certain culture that accompanies being part of that community will undoubtedly ease the initial conversations with a prospective client. But it is never enough to close a sale.
In some instances, selling to individuals within one’s own ethnic background can, in fact, act as a hindrance to the success of a producer. Gaurang Parikh, Long Island, NY-based financial professional of Indian descent with the Prudential Insurance Company of America, explains that in certain instances, more affluent members of Indian-American society will not want to do business with an Indian-American producer.