Framing the value of life insurance for prospects in terms of retirement security will be key to the industry’s future growth.

So said Michael Smith, CEO of Insurance Solutions at Voya Financial, during an afternoon keynote today at the annual Insurance Executive Conference. Hosted by Summit Professional Networks, the session explored opportunities for industry growth in the coming years.

“Americans are more focused on retirement than on any other financial concern,” said Smith. “Retirement security also tops the list of concerns among employees.”

He added that, though the industry has made progress in focusing Americans on retirement security, ownership of a key component of that security — life insurance — continues to decline. This despite the fact that consumers “recognize the need for life insurance” and plan to buy a policy “eventually.”

The disconnect, said Smith, has positioned the insurance industry for “long-term, sustainable growth.”

But to achieve that growth, the industry has to educate consumers about the product’s dual function in retirement security: financial protection and cash accumulation. The outreach also needs to target demographic groups key to the industry’s growth: (1) those in the middle market, (2) GenXers and (3) Millennials.

The market opportunity is especially great in respect to middle market consumers, a group comprising 52 million U.S. households with incomes ranging from $35,000 to $99,000. LIMRA data cited by Smith shows that more than half of these households have $10,000-plus of non-mortgage debt and would need to borrow to cover an unexpected $5,000 financial event.

“For these families, the loss of one income could result in a dramatic change to their standard of living and a significant setback to their retirement planning,” said Smith. “As an industry, we need to do a better job of educating the middle market about the benefits of our products.”

Of particular focus to industry professionals are the three out of four middle market customers who, LIMRA indicates, are interested in learning more about savings options and strategies. Among them: using life insurance to help fund college tuition. Turning to multicultural markets, Smith said the industry continues to face hurdles communicating its message to two of America’s fastest-growing ethnic groups: Latinos and Asian-Americans.

One challenge is linguistics: avoiding literal translations of English language insurance terminology that may lead to misunderstanding in the foreign tongue. In Korean, for example, accelerated death benefit rider translates literally as “die faster” rider.

“We want to speak to our customers the way they speak to each other, which is why marketing materials, services and resources need to be translated both ‘in-language and in-culture,’” said Smith. “Without the right cultural perspective, you truly risk a ‘lost in translation’ scenario.”

Success in the multi-cultural space, he added, also requires building and maintaining bilingual product distribution networks, collaborating with local partners and community involvement.

The stakes are big — and growing. With a population of 54 million, Hispanic-Americans outnumber Canadians and will grow from 17 percent of the U.S. population in 2013 to 31 percent in 2060. The Asian-American community will also more than double by 2060, rising to 8 percent from the current 5 percent of the U.S. population.

As for GenXers and Millennials, Smith said that one key to gaining the trust of prospects of these age groups is through transparency: full disclosure about fees, commissions and the claims process. Also, though some elect to research and buy products exclusively online — a preference that calls for website content to be accessible, compelling and consistent — many still prefer to make the final purchase face-to-face with an agent or broker.

“Despite the growing numbers that purchase online, some Gen X and Millennial customers confirmed they want to purchase life insurance in person because it was too valuable to buy any other way,” said Smith. “This is interesting; and it underscores the importance they place on purchasing life insurance.”