While the Hispanic market holds great potential for the life insurance industry, their agents would do well to heed Latino customs when they actually get invited and set foot into their first household.
What to wear, for example, can be a deal-breaking decision for an agent seeking to bond with a potential Latino client.
Dress down and stay casual and save the three-piece suit and the formal wear for church, confirmations, la Quincean᷈era — a girl’s 15th birthday — and weddings, said Richard E. Mediano, a field agent with the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization based in Downers Grove, Ill.
Agents looking to break into the Hispanic market need to think of themselves as part of a family. That means they need to act neither above nor below the economic station of the prospects they approach, Mediano said in an interview with InsuranceNewsNet.
Insurance agents wearing suits come across as too formal, he said. Suits, starched collars and ties represent agents who are successful, have made some money and are knocking on the door asking for still more.
“Suits and dresses represent a different class to them and they are turned off,”Mediano said.
Oh, and all those ads — however passé and cliché — of the insurance agent sitting down at a clean and orderly kitchen table, go ahead and scrap those too. That’s not the way it works in the Latino household.
Often there are two, three or four children running around the house, their mother shouting at the top of her lungs. Maybe there’s even a grandparent or two watching TV, or in animated discussion about the latest neighborhood goings-on.
There are papers all over the kitchen table and three or four unwashed dishes in the kitchen sink waiting their turn to go into the dishwasher.
Agents who venture into a Hispanic household should be prepared to hear multiple conversations and deal with as many interruptions, Mediano said.
The point, he added, is that this is what it means to be part of the family and there’s nothing more out of place than an insurance agent in freshly laundered suit in the warmth of family chaos.
Corporate life insurance agents, under the most pressure to close and reticent to accept after-hours invitations to break bread, will likely find the Hispanic market tough to penetrate, Mediano said.
For at-home meetings in a dressed-down setting, Mediano said, “we just drink coffee, it’s not very complicated.” No need to meet at the chain coffee bar filled with complicated latte, Frappuccinos to mochacchino concoctions.
No, it’s not complicated, not like rocket science.
But that still doesn’t guarantee that advisors are trained to follow the unwritten rules of business etiquette. Those rules change from one economic stratum to the next within the Latino segment which is, like many, ruefully underserved for life insurance.
In terms of percentage growth, the Latino market is rocketing ahead of other demographic groups.
The Hispanic segment is expected to grow 167 percent from 2010 to 2015, compared with 42 percent growth of the overall population over the same period, according to research published last year by Prudential Financial.
By 2020, as many as 30.5 million entrants into the labor force will be of Hispanic origin, nearly triple the 10.7 million reported in 1990, Prudential found, citing data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Louis Barajas, a fee-only advisor in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., offers a more nuanced approach to the Latino market than Mediano.
Barajas, owner of LAB Financial Life Solutions, said his experience has taught him that when serving clients it’s important to “dress in a way that will not distract from the value I’m trying to provide.”
It’s a rule of thumb he’s learned over 30 years of serving the Latino market. In practical terms, it comes down to dressing one level above the clients you are working with to make sure you earn their respect, he said.
If he’s meeting with a client and an attorney to discuss estate planning issues, then a suit is entirely appropriate, said Barajas.
If a client is wearing a sport coat for a meeting at a coffee shop, then the agent is safe in wearing a suit. If clients wear a shirt and jeans at home then agents are safe wearing a sport coat and a clean pair of jeans, he said.
Agents serving celebrities can be a bit more casual as well and wear jeans.
Latinos with higher levels of education tend to dress more conservatively and agents should take that into account, said Barajas, who was raised in a barrio, earned his MBA and became a certified financial planner.
“Language is also a dress code,” he said.
Agents who use slang and colloquialisms, rely on incorrect grammar and usage, and display a lack of command of their mother tongue hurt themselves before they even get around to discussing an insurance product, he said.
Barajas said in the insurance world first impressions still count for more than people think, even if “what’s inside” matters more than outward appearances.
Dress code etiquette reaches into hair, makeup, jewelry and perfume and cologne, and agents who dress beneath the occasion will hurt them, while those who dress one rung above the occasion will emerged unscathed.
Latino advisors who dress in a way to impress Miami Beach nightclub bouncers are more likely to put off than to engage a prospect, Barajas said.
One final rule about addressing the Hispanic market: Agents who don’t know Spanish should never, ever muddle through trying to convince prospects they speak the language, Mediano said. Agents who speak English should stick to English.
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Writer Cyril Tuohy has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at [email protected].
© Entire contents copyright 2015 by InsuranceNewsNet.com Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reprinted without the expressed written consent from InsuranceNewsNet.com.