When you can snag Kathryn Soderberg on the telephone, a very well spoken insurance professional with a slight New England accent greets you. What you may not know is that Soderberg is fluent in Spanish and that her agency, which offers all lines of commercial and personal insurance, boasts a healthy Spanish-speaking client base.
How did it happen? A couple of factors came into play. She’d been involved in her dad’s agency, Soderberg Insurance Services, in Lynnfield, Mass., since she was 19. She had earned a master’s degree in Spanish and lived overseas for many years. And when she finally decided insurance would indeed be her profession, she realized there were few if any Spanish customers at her agency. One day she pointed it out to her dad who, after a bit of hesitation, backed her desire to cultivate Spanish-speaking clients.
Raise your profile
Based on her experience, she believes hands down that when working on building a Spanish-speaking clientele, an advisor’s energy is best spent on becoming visible and staying that way. “I think the most important thing for someone who wants to concentrate on the Hispanic community, or the Cambodian community or any niche marketplace for that matter, is to get to know the community by getting involved in the community and becoming visible in the community,” says Soderberg.
“How we've succeeded, as well as where we've gotten our recognition, is from relationships with established centers of influence in the Hispanic community–with business leaders, accountants, attorneys and real estate agents. If you really want to penetrate the market, stay connected with the centers of influence out there—they are your field force,” she adds.
learning about the need for insurance and the products takes an education—often from the ground up.
Personal and professional
Soderberg recalls a function she attended in Lynnfield. “They put me on a table with another lady. She’s Hispanic, and I eventually became very friendly with her. She started selling real estate, and because we hit it off when we met, when she started selling properties she would refer customers to us.
“They needed insurance, and we could explain complex issues in their own language. It was strictly a personal relationship, but I pretty soon realized that there were strong business reasons to cultivate a friendship with her and other people just like her who were in a position to refer business to us. So we've done things to stay visible and involved. We are surrounded by cities that have Hispanic festivals, and because of our involvement, we were named the official insurance agency of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.”
Teach in their tongue
Once an advisor or agency has caught the eye of the Hispanic community, says Soderberg, a large part of turning Spanish-speaking prospects into clients is education, preferably in their own language. Soderberg Insurance has an eight-person staff. Two of the staff, in addition to Soderberg, are Spanish-speaking.
"It definitely helps to have a Spanish-speaking staff, there's no doubt about it. If the agency doesn't have a person who speaks their language, it's good to hire someone to bring accounts on board,” says Soderberg.
“But,” she points out, “the servicing should be done in English. The customers will want to speak with [Spanish-speaking staff members] Catherine or Louisa, but they're not always here. We are English-speaking, and English is spoken in the office. So the rest of the staff has gotten better at helping our Spanish-speaking clients because a bill is a bill, a claim is a claim, late is late and a cancellation is a cancellation. If you just take the time to explain it, you can still deal with a Hispanic client–or a Cambodian or a Laotian client, too.”
Learning about the need for insurance and the products takes an education—often from the ground up, adds Soderberg. “It gets down to education,” she says.
“We want to teach them about loss and about the relatively inexpensive options to transfer the risk to the company. Hispanics believe in the American dream,” she adds. “They know education will help them advance. They love their family, their children. They really do want to protect against risk, so we talk about their goals. We talk with Hispanic business owners about benefits as well and how they need to provide benefits to attract and retain a good workforce.
“If they're comfortable with you and they understand the product, then it's a much easier sell,” says Soderberg.
Patience is a virtue
Soderberg also emphasizes the fact that advisors will need a bit more patience when working with Hispanic clients. “Expect a little more face time with a Hispanic customer to make it to the sale,” she says.
The patience pays off far beyond just the sale, however. “I cannot stress enough how much they appreciate us,” says Soderberg. “The insurance advisor becomes a member of the extended families of his Hispanic customers.”