On a recent business trip to Chicago, I was struck by the wide array of restaurants serving a vast variety of foods from all over the world. Within two blocks, I saw an Armenian restaurant, a Brazilian restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, a Vietnamese restaurant, an Italian restaurant and an Irish pub. And what's most striking is that, in all of our cities across the United States, the trend seems to be toward an increasing number of restaurants serving ethnic foods.
In my view, that's a great thing for lots of reasons. Not only does it provide us a far greater number of really good choices, but it also offers us the ability to experience some wonderful foods that we otherwise would not have heard of, much less have had the opportunity to try. In addition, it shows clearly the wonderful mixture of people from different backgrounds and nationalities who make up our country.
But it caused me to wonder, too, whether and how these people from clearly different backgrounds are being served financially. Some of the major insurance carriers appear to be making an effort to speak directly to specific cultural groups, but it's not clear yet whether those efforts are having an impact. It is very clear, though, that some of the top producers in the business have been making a big impact on the lives of some of the people who make up our multicultural society, and it's to these producers that we're turning in this month's Producer Roundtable.
To get an understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the multicultural market, we posed questions to the following group of top producers: Howard Catchings; Devang Patel, CFP; and ShirleyAnn M. Robertson, CLTC.
Charles K. Hirsch, CLU: Can you talk a little bit about the market in which you're working these days, and how you ended up there?
Howard Catchings: First and foremost, I am not a big-time insurance salesman. I am a "little-time" insurance salesman. When I started selling more than 35 years ago, the big-time insurance salesman I knew serviced the teachers, principals and administrative workers in my town in Mississippi. He sold 31 out of 33 employees. At the time, I was a teacher, but I figured I could sell 33 out of 33. So I asked this salesman how to get into the insurance business, and I followed the necessary procedures and became licensed. I tried to do it his way, but I failed. It was almost a disaster.
After a while, I realized that the bus drivers, janitors and cafeteria workers were not being serviced. They were the foundation of the school system. The bus drivers brought the children to school; the janitors made sure the schools were cleaned; and the cafeteria workers provided the food for the children. These employees were not being serviced because of their positions and because they didn't have checking or savings accounts. So I developed a payroll deductible "burial policy" for this market. I called it a burial policy so that they would understand that it was burial insurance, not life insurance. I treated them as though they were just as important as the teachers and principals. I called them by their names and gave them first-class service. I found my niche in the insurance business -- "Voluntary Payroll Deductible Burial Insurance." Remember, I do not call it life insurance.
Devang Patel, CFP: I currently work primarily with Asian business owners. I was born and brought up in India, and most of my relatives are business owners. I saw the opportunity to implement multiple strategies to help them better manage their finances and protect their businesses.
ShirleyAnn Robertson, CLTC: When I graduated from college, I knew I wanted to join my mother, a veteran financial professional who is now retired. As women born in Jamaica, these two perspectives enabled us to leverage opportunities to work and network in a diverse marketplace. Our goal was to learn the challenges our demographic may be facing -- women, for instance, are in the majority when it comes to owning businesses. Providing financial education, insight or solutions they may not even be aware of often develops into sales and referrals with people of varied and diverse backgrounds.
Therefore, my focus became multicultural marketing and increasing my daytime activity. I worked diligently to get in front of prospects during the day, meeting while they were at work or having them come to my office. Success came at one of my daytime appointments. I met with one of my clients at her office to discuss her retirement and life insurance concerns. Of Filipino descent, her entrepreneurial drive led her to open her first home health care agency.
During our appointment, she expressed concerns about her new business venture. She was looking for ways to attract and retain new employees of similar culture. She not only wanted to provide employment, but her desire was to educate and empower them financially as well. That conversation led to a series of lunch-and-learn events, creating an opportunity for her employees to get answers to their financial concerns while helping them grow and protect their wealth. My client has since opened three larger agencies and continues to be a great source of referrals. Many of these referrals are in my client's network, resulting in meetings with others of Filipino ancestry.
Success in the multicultural market requires understanding their needs both culturally and professionally. Integrating your understanding will help you provide solutions to their financial situation and offer suitable products and services. With 18 years of experience in the insurance and financial services industry, understanding cultural differences is something I have learned and can speak to.
Hirsch: What have you found to be some of the more challenging aspects of working in a multicultural market, and how have you overcome those challenges?
Patel: Brand awareness and trust are important in the multicultural markets. People want to do business with companies and people they know and trust. I found it difficult to penetrate this market without recognition of all the products and services my company, MetLife, offers. Many people know MetLife as an insurance company, but they don't know that we can also offer investment products. I found the best way to overcome that challenge was for MetLife to be visible in the community and for representatives to educate families about all of our capabilities. That helps to build trust more quickly.
Robertson: People from different parts of the world have their cultures and beliefs, which are fundamentally woven into their day-to-day lives and business activities. Challenges arise if you're not willing to adapt and learn to understand these cultures and beliefs. Learn to respect them and use them in all business meetings.
Catchings: We are selling burial insurance, and it is hard convincing the white-collar workers that it is needed. But not everyone is a white-collar worker, nor does everyone have a checking and savings account. Now that burial insurance is a household name and is being advertised in the media, it is an open market for other companies and agents. So, the biggest challenge for me today is competition and explaining the importance of the product to be accepted on payroll deduction for employees, whether they are blue-collar or white-collar workers. Blue-collar workers, however, are the foundation of my agency.
Hirsch: On the flip side, could you talk a little about some of the more gratifying aspects --
both professionally and personally -- of working in a multicultural market?
Robertson: Loyalty, loyalty, loyalty! Once you have gained their trust and respect, these clients will refer you to most everyone they know. Hence the phrase, people do business with people they know, like and trust!
[Also, there are] more social/cultural events to attend! Multicultural markets celebrate and come together with family and friends very often. From the relationships I've developed, I'm invited to many of their social/cultural events, and I make every effort to attend. These are fantastic opportunities to nurture existing clients, solidify relationships and meet prospects. I am introduced at all events, which offers the opportunity for them to know my name and build rapport.
Catchings: Professionally, it is gratifying to be able to service and inform others about a product that they need. They are not aware of all the aspects of burial. I actually have made a list of the more than 100 things that must be done when death occurs. [Editor's note: This list is included with the online version of this article at www.lifeinsuranceselling.com]. Personally, it is gratifying when I attend funerals and deliver checks to my insured's loved one. It is a good feeling being able to help. Otherwise, they would have to pass the hat at church or borrow money from loan companies for funeral expenses. By purchasing the burial policy, they have helped their loved ones avoid all that.
Patel: It is gratifying to help all of my clients achieve their financial goals, but it's especially satisfying to help those from my own community. The Asian market tends to have high per capita income, and it's great to work with families from this market to help them make informed decisions about their money. The result of doing the right thing is ultimately a very lucrative career, which, of course, is also very gratifying.
Hirsch: What would your advice be to the young producer who is considering working in a multicultural market?
Catchings: My advice is to find your own niche and let it work for you. Remember that what works for others may not work for you. Make sure that you understand the difference in salary versus commission. With a salary, you know that you are paid once a month; however, on commission, you are only paid if you sell. With a salary, you work from 8 to 5; however, on commission, you work from 8 to "can't." You have to love what you are doing and love people to be successful in this business.
Patel: It may help to partner with senior advisors who are already working in the multicultural markets. More importantly, I would suggest that young producers become as educated as possible about the industry and always put the clients' interests first. They should develop an understanding of the needs, wants and culture of the market. Clients and prospects from the multicultural market want to work with people who are experts in their field. If you prove yourself to be trustworthy and knowledgeable, they will not only give you their business, but also recommend you to their family members and friends.
Robertson: Be authentic and sincere! Be willing to learn, adapt to and understand each culture. Never forget the reason you started your career in this profession -- to help make a difference in the lives of others. We have to really care passionately about making a difference and delivering maximum value to our clients. Know your product and be available to answer questions. Access company materials and seek out mentors to provide the resources and reinforcement you need to take care of clients. Building relationships is critical for success!
Hirsch: Any further thoughts?
Robertson: Recognizing the explosive growth of multicultural markets in the United States, we must make every effort to entice these lucrative clients by developing our most effective marketing strategies. The buying power of the minority population is growing faster than the general population, creating significant multicultural opportunities today. The steps to succeed in the multicultural market transcend to most markets, but the biggest key for this market is building relationships, leading to sustainable client relationships.
Patel: It's important to get industry-related designations like Chartered Life Underwriter or Chartered Financial Consultant. Also, join organizations like the Million Dollar Round Table and Financial Planning Association and keep your knowledge base growing.
Charles K. Hirsch, CLU, is a contributing editor to Life Insurance Selling. He is the president of Hirsch Communications Consulting LLC, in Florissant, Mo.
Howard Catchings runs Catchings Insurance Agency in Jackson, Miss. A long-time member of MDRT, he has been a member of the Court of the Table for 25 years and the Top of the Table for 17 years. He is a member of NAIFA's nominations committee and is serving his second term on the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education board of directors. He serves on the MDRT Top of the Table advisory board.
Devang Patel, CFP, is a financial planner with Patel Financial Group, an office of MetLife, in Cranford, N.J. He is a seven-year MDRT member with two Court of the Table and one Top of the Table honors.
ShirleyAnn M. Robertson, CLTC, is a partner of Robertson & Robertson Financial Services in Schaumburg, Ill. She is an eight-year MDRT member with one Top of the Table honor.
100+ things that must be done when you die
Courtesy of Howard Catchings
Secure vital statistics
Full legal name
Home address and phone number
How long in state
Occupation and title
Type of business
Business address and phone number
Social Security number
Veterans serial number
Date of birth
Place of birth
Mother's maiden name
Religious name (if any)
Spouse name (maiden, if wife)
Make cemetery arrangements
Opening and closing of grave
Memorial marker and inscription
Setting of marker
Make funeral arrangements with mortuary
Initial ambulance pickup
Embalming and preparation
Display of flowers
Preparation of necessary papers
Legal certificates and permits
Memorial record book
Insurance and government forms
Limousine for family and pallbearers
Collect documents for rights
Income tax returns
Veterans discharge papers
Notify as soon as possible
Doctor or doctors
Clubs, unions, organizations
Pay some or all of the following
Medicine and drugs
Police escort (if required)
State showing room
Religious and fraternal rites
Jewelry and glasses for the deceased
Telephone and telegraph
Donations instead of flowers
Clothing for deceased
Decide and arrange in a few hours
Clergy to officiate
Time of service
Clothing for you and children
Preparation at home
Transportation for family and guests
Answer phone calls, messages, etc.
Greet friends and relatives
Arrange lodging for out-of-town guests
Compile thank you card list
Look after children
Notify family and friends
Order death certificate
Pay for services
Gather personal data of deceased
Public, civic religious involvement
Charitable and special wishes
Plan for the future
Re-budget for limited income