MassMutual trying to tap minority population market
January 3, 2013 - Springfield - Staff photo by Michael S. Gordon - Lorie Valle-Yanez, vice president, chief diversity officer at MassMutual Financial Group, left, and Chris M. Mendoza, vice president.
SPRINGFIELD — When a MassMutual agent is talking to a man about life insurance, he shouldn’t presume that the perspective customer has a wife at home.
“There might very well be a husband at home,” said Chris M. Mendoza, vice president of multicultural marketing for life company marketing at MassMutual Financial Group. “A woman prospect might very well have a wife.”
This sensitivity is all a part of a major diversity push on at MassMutual Financial Group. Five years ago, 12 percent of MassMutual’s customers were members of a minority group. Today, that is up to 20 percent, Mendoza said. Five years ago, just 7 percent of the company’s financial professionals were self-described minorities. Today that’s 15.6 percent.
It’s not just a feel-good effort by MassMutual, which had earnings of $1.7 billion in 2011 and had $443 billion in assets under management as of Dec. 31, 2011, said Lorie Vale-Yanez, vice president and chief development officer.
“There is a business case for diversity,” Vale-Yanez said. “It’s important to the core of our business.”
Simply put, the minority population is where the growth is.
The Census Bureau says minorites are 37 percent of the U.S. population. the Census Bureau also reported last month that the non-Hispanic white population is projected to peak in 2024, at 199.6 million, up from 197.8 million now. Unlike other race or ethnic groups, however, that non-Hispanic white population is projected to slowly decrease, falling by nearly 20.6 million from 2024 to 2060, also according to projections from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Vale-Yanez added that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is considered a $2 trillion market. People in that market are, according to market research, considered much more likely to plan for a financial future than the public at large.
So diversity goes beyond making sure that there are Spanish-speakers on duty at MassMutual’s call center. Although just a few years ago there were none on hand.
That’s changed, Valle-Yanez said.
“Although we are always looking for more Spanish-speakers for our customer call center,” she said.
MassMutual employees get diversity training. At first, Valle-Yanez points out the demographics that make MassMutual pay attention to diverse communities. Advanced classes get into biases.
“We start with the assumption that we all have biases, we just need to look at where they show up,” she said.
It might be a manager who rejects resumes if the names are hard to pronounce. That keeps MassMutual from getting a diverse work force.
“There is a customer base that simply wants to see themselves reflected,” Mendoza said. “It goes to a trust factor. There are other customer groups who simply want to be dealing with someone who is learned and has expertise.” Valle-Yanez, said she is working hard to diversify MassMutual’s staff. But it is hard because insurance people tend to hire people with experience in the industry. People in positions to hire also tend to look to the same schools or professional organizations for prospective employees.
“Everyone has their favorite fishing hole,” she said. “And the candidates there all kind of look the same. We want people to try a new fishing hole.” Mendoza said some of the most complex diversity challenges come in dealing with customers from varied backgrounds. For instance, many Asian cultures have taboos around discussing death. That’s something a life-insurance representative has to approach very carefully, or risk getting shut down. “So you talk about the living benefits of our products; all our products have a savings aspect to them,” he said.
Some of the concerns are nuts-and-bolts practical.
In same-sex couples for example, marriage and domestic-partnership laws vary from state to state. MassMutual’s field staff has to know how to set up the beneficiaries in life insurance polices to comply with all those rules.
It’s not uncommon for a professional from an immigrant background to plan to retire back home, commonly in India, Mendoza said.
“You have to make sure their retirement savings will follow them back,” he said. “We have the expertise to do that.” Valle-Yanez said MassMutual’s commitment to diversity starts at the top, including CEO Roger W. Crandall.