Throughout June and July I was able to partially step away from my everyday routine and jump on a project that allowed me to examine the mechanics of how the industry moves and thinks from a very different perspective than I have had throughout my tenure covering the life and health insurance industry.
The National Underwriter research team began the work that would culminate as its inaugural project, Multicultural Markets: Positioned for Growth in early June. The research study, sponsored by Prudential Financial, randomly surveyed more than 1,600 life and health producers nationwide with the aim of taking the pulse of the industry concerning multicultural markets and the extent to which they are being adequately educated, communicated with and marketed to.
For the purpose of our study, the research considered four distinct multicultural markets: African American, Hispanic, Asian and LGBT. The results, which appeared in the September print issue of National Underwriter Life & Health, Senior Market Advisor and Life Insurance Selling, brought to light areas where the industry has come up short while at the same time identifying clear opportunities for expansion in the rapidly growing demographics that are altering the composition of the country. The sheer amount of data we were able to unearth on a topic so acutely germane to the long-term vitality of the industry and the long-term trajectory of our country was, in a sense, rather humbling.
On a daily basis I pour over press releases and reports that clearly highlight and identify trends that are currently, or soon will, impact the relationship between producers and consumers. By the time these releases and reports hit my inbox, they are whittled down to digestible pieces of data that allows me to track, target, verify and report on the trends that producers and carriers need to remain competitive. What I do not often see is the staggering amount of descriptive metadata that needs to be manicured, ignored or debated in order to produce a report from an encompassing survey. The process can be dizzying and often times, as with any endeavor, some interesting nuggets do not make the final product and remain sequestered in the cells of an spreadsheet or a note on a rough draft’s margin.
With this column I hope to bring to light some data that was not included in the final survey results as I feel it is practical information for today’s insurance professional.
Barriers can be easily erected by both language and ignorance as to the nuances of a culture. One would assume, both could very easily and seriously hinder a sale. A language barrier in any capacity always appears as an arduous challenge to overcome. There is, of course, the possibility of the main points getting jumbled in translation, awkward silences that creep in and inhibit rapport-building and the potential for body language (sometimes one’s only method of communication) to send the wrong signals.
Surprisingly, the survey results found that the language barrier might not be as burdensome as one might assume. We asked our respondents: How important was it to speak a client’s native language when serving multicultural markets? Only 16.4 percent indicated it was “very important” while 27.1 percent said it was “not important at all.” Typically, many respondents fell somewhere in the middle, with 34.8 percent saying it was “somewhat important” and 21.7 percent saying it was “important.”
Our survey results seem to indicate that although a language barrier can present certain obstacles, it does not solely diminish the possibility to make a sale. Perhaps various proficiencies in English and the native language of some multicultural markets allow for more communication than both parties thought possible.
We also asked respondents: How important is it for you to be generally knowledgeable about a multicultural client’s distinct culture? With only 3.1 percent of respondents saying it was “not important,” there appears to me some degree of consensus that says making certain overtures and being aware of certain cultural mores is a valuable undertaking when selling to multicultural markets. Forty-one percent of respondents said it was “very important,” 34 percent said it was “somewhat important” and 22 percent said it was “important.”
As the demographics of our country continue to shift, traditional racial and cultural barriers will continue to become less and less relevant to society as a whole. For a profession like selling life and health insurance, these barriers will also erode. After all, preserving earning capacity, protecting wealth and empowering individuals and families through financial education is what the industry has always done and providing the same value to new demographics in an ever-changing America is what it needs to continue to do in order to remain a significant component of the American dream.