A Plan For Future Of African-American Agents

By Mark E. Ruquet

NU Online News Service, Sept.22, 4:08 p.m. EDT, Las Vegas?African-American insurance agents seeking ways to gain visibility and clout in their industry were urged to connect with other African-American insurance professionals by a speaker at the National African-American Insurance Association conference here.

Motivational speaker and author, George Fraser, said African-Americans as a group must begin a new fight toward closing the income and wealth gap that exists today. He said that this journey will take 100 years and requires the “joining of the dots” between existing African-American groups to form a web of common interest.

“There is an old African proverb, ?When spider webs unite they tie up the line,’” Mr. Fraser said.

As the end of slavery and the battle for civil rights and equality were generational battles, this too will mean a generational commitment to improvement that the African-American community must commit itself to, including members involved in the insurance industry, he advised.

“We have come a long way, but we have much further to go,” Mr. Fraser said.

He said that while many cultures have joined together in America to improve their overall economic standing, the African-American community has failed to do so. He noted that NAAIA, based in Washington, D.C., is one organization that is beginning the trail toward connecting a web of interests.

“Good ideas take time to grow,” he said of NAAIA, noting that it has laid the cornerstone to growing a network with other African-American insurance executives and agents throughout the country to “lead our people in this critical industry and guide us and those who follow in your footsteps.”

He admonished those who might believe they cannot succeed in the United States. In America things are far better than for those of African decent anywhere else in the world, he said.

“In case you think you can’t succeed, you must be a wimp,” he declared.

A major portion of his discussion centered on the need for networking, which is one of NAAIA’s objectives. He said business success is all about relationships. Having positive relationships with others builds a positive infrastructure that leads to success.

The author of “Success Runs in Our Race: The Complete Guide to Effective Networking in the African-American Community,” said successful business is all about networking and treating people with respect.

“Business is all about relationships,” Mr. Fraser said. “If you have no relationships, you have no business.”

“Effective people spend 14 percent of their time cultivating relationships,” he observed. “But the top people spend 54 percent of their time cultivating relationships–at home, at work, and in their communities.”

He added that it is important for those in business to understand that in order for all African-Americans to succeed, individuals must look beyond what is in it for them.

“The key to building effective relationships is giving,” he said. “If you want to get business give service.”

He added, “If you ain’t giving, you ain’t getting.”

Understanding ways to promote NAAIA’s message became the central focus of a diversity discussion by a panel of association and industry members.

Andre Urena, chief executive officer of the Latin American Agents Association based in El Monte, Calif., said carriers have taken notice of his association because it has grown in number to a few hundred members. Progress in getting noticed also came through his group’s efforts to show insurance companies that the Latin-American community offers two things they desire–better loss ratios and high retention, he said, adding that his association had the facts to back up their claims.

Mr. Urena said that his group was able to succeed in bringing more insurance agents into the association, in part, by making meetings interesting– with music and entertainment that spoke to their heritage. He warned, however, that if the meetings lacked substance, the associations would be “dismissed” by carriers.

The biggest problem is getting people united and reaching out to one another in their communities, said Wendy L. Brown, president of the Atlanta Association of Insurance Professionals and an operations manager with Zurich.

“There is too much ?What can I get out of this’ or ?What’s in it for me,’” she said. “There are too many who don’t understand that there is strength in the numbers.”

Roosevelt Haywood III, NAAIA chairman of the board and president of Haywood and Fleming Associates in Gary, Ind., observed that for agencies to strengthen themselves they must reach out and build relationships. But they also need to recognize their strengths, he said.

“Image is everything,” he noted. “An agency must look the part before it can assume the part it looks to play.”

Alejandra Garza, head of emerging markets for Aetna, Inc., said that carriers clearly see minority populations as a growing market and are moving to service them by providing the products and services customers want and need. Companies also see the need to develop relationships with associations representing minority insurance executives and agents because of their influence over the buying public, she said.