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Benefits Products & Services

Building ties to a multicultural market

MassMutual tailors its marketing approach to diverse populations

By Thomas A. McCoy, CLU

As the number of workers who are part of "minority groups" continues to grow, they will have an increasing impact on the employee benefits market. Four years ago an analysis of U.S. Census data by the State Department projected that by 2042 "minority groups" (those identifying themselves as non-Caucasians) actually will represent a majority of the overall population.

Insurers, brokers and HR executives all will be trying to understand the needs and priorities of an increasingly multicultural workforce. For example, do people whose families have immigrated to the U.S. within the last generation respond differently to benefits products than do other workers?

Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) began addressing such questions about five years ago by conducting research into the attitudes, needs and preferences of individual minority populations. As a result of this continuing research, MassMutual has built initiatives for several such groups.

Chris Mendoza, vice president of multicultural market development for MassMutual, says: "We have developed marketing and recruiting efforts focused on five cultural segments: African-Americans, Hispanics, Chinese, Koreans and South Asians." The company has a marketing director for each of these five segments operating from its home office.

MassMutual's research indicates that some attitudes and traits are shared across many of these cultures. For example, individuals who are of Asian and Hispanic heritage are particularly susceptible to "sandwich generation" pressures because their cultures place great importance on providing for both children and elderly parents.

"In both the Hispanic market and the Chinese market we find that families often have multiple generations living within their household," Mendoza says. Both of these cultures, as well as other immigrant populations, have a strong sense of obligation to family, he points out. That includes family members in their countries of origin as well. "Members of a family who have been in the United States for more than a generation will continue to send money to their country of origin to support relatives there."

MassMutual's research showed that Hispanics face particularly daunting challenges in building a retirement nest egg. "One quarter plan to retire solely on Social Security, and 47% have less than $25,000 saved for retirement," says Mendoza.

"Our solution to serving all of our multicultural populations," he continues, "is to work with our financial professionals to help them be a trusted source for these populations—so they can educate them on making smart financial decisions. Each of these multicultural groups needs to guard against their three biggest risks: dying too soon, living too long without enough income, or various life stage events such as taking care of their parents, or sending a child to college."

In the employee benefits space, where the company's products include retirement plans along with life, disability and long-term care insurance, MassMutual also provides native language assistance with enrollment materials and applications. Translators can be made available, and printed materials are offered in several languages.

"Providing the written material in the native language serves two purposes," says Mendoza. "It's a back-up for non-native English speakers who want to verify English meanings in their native language. It also serves as pass-along marketing material for other people the customer knows."

Consumers who visit the first screen of the company's Web site find information written in Spanish, Korean and Chinese. The site also highlights occasions that are important to specific immigrant populations, such as November's celebration of Diwali, a "festival of lights" holiday observed in India.

Outside the employee benefits space, MassMutual has taken several steps to facilitate the purchase of life insurance by immigrant populations. The company liberalized its travel guidelines in 2009 to permit those who apply for coverage to travel for up to 12 weeks for vacations, family visits and business in 16 Asian and eight Latin American countries, in addition to 20 more worldwide.

"These revised travel guidelines enabled us to offer coverage to individuals who came to the U.S. on certain temporary visas and decided to stay permanently," Mendoza explains. "These residents, their spouses and children often come from cultures with strong family orientations and, as a result, seek out life insurance to protect their loved ones."

To build ties to the minority business community, MassMutual executives and career agents are involved in professional organizations such as the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting, the National Association of Black MBAs, the Korean Drycleaners Association and local Chambers of Commerce for Chinese or Korean business owners.

Some MassMutual career agents are members of these five targeted minority groups. However, working with minority populations doesn't depend on sharing the same cultural background, Mendoza stresses. "What's important is to build and earn a relationship of trust."

Mendoza cautions brokers who want to build a clientele of well-educated professionals in immigrant populations not to assume that these individuals are well versed in financial matters.

"The discussion of money may not be part of their background. We know this from talking to many professionals in the multicultural market. It's true in my own life as well. I'm a late-stage baby boomer who grew up in an Hispanic household where Spanish was my primary language. We never had discussions about money, savings, annuities, life insurance or long-term care at the dinner table."

The priority placed on financial education in families appears to vary significantly across individual cultural groups. A MassMutual-sponsored study of higher income families (incomes of $100,000 or more, modified slightly for ethnic minorities) conducted in 2011 found that 60% of South Asians said their parents instilled in them the importance of saving at an early age—compared to 40% of the general population among the survey respondents.

"This could help to explain," the study points out, "why nearly three-quarters (71%) of Asian Indians are very careful not to accumulate too much debt."

Although MassMutual's current multicultural initiative is about five years old, Mendoza says, "In one sense, our company has served diverse consumers over our entire 161-year history." He points out that the longer people from another culture live in the United States, the more their behavior relative to financial products mirrors that of the population as a whole.

After all, he says, in this country, "We are all immigrants."


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