December 9, 2015 by Chris Kilppenstein
When T.J. McRedmond started at Crossroads Insurance in Winnipeg in 1988, he inadvertently turned away business, or at best didn’t provide ideal service for a growing client segment: newcomers to Canada. “We’d have clients coming in, and there would be a language barrier, and when they left, there would be a really uncomfortable feeling. Did we explain everything properly to them? Did they understand what they just purchased?”
The following year, McRedmond came up with the fix. “We started purposely trying to find people who could service our [foreign-born] clientele in the offices.” Knowing other languages became a central aspect of the firm’s hiring practices to ensure it could effectively serve newly arrived Canadians. “I wish we had done this process sooner.”
Over the past twenty-odd years, McRedmond, now president, assembled a team capable of serving clients in twelve different languages, including Telegu and Kannada, both spoken in India. “We can have someone sit down and speak to [customers] in their own language. It’s easy to see the appreciation they have for that.”
Newly arrived Canadians often live with extended family members, and arrangements vary. Sometimes siblings turn a sprawling detached house into a triplex, sometimes grandparents live in a basement apartment, and sometimes an aunt or uncle lives in a laneway home—a small independent structure in the backyard or parking spot.
McRedmond primarily sees new Canadians sponsoring relatives who then move into their house, which insurers of course need to know about. Rates are typically based on single-family occupancy and increase by about 20 percent when another family moves in.
And those relatives often need health insurance as well, whether for a month-long trip or to fill the gap between arrival and provincial coverage kicking in. It can often be unaffordable or impossible to buy long-term travel insurance in their home country.
Jack Chow Insurance opened its doors in the heart of Vancouver’s Chinatown in 1962 and has since expanded to a second Vancouver location. Back in the 1960s, “the Chinese population was mainly concentrated on doing business solely in Chinatown, where they felt very comfortable,” says president Rod Chow. Since then, he says, most of the the community lives across the Lower Mainland, and there’s also an increasing number of “Caucasian-owned brokers that have Chinese representatives.”
Chow, too, emphasizes the need for bilingual or multilingual employees who can conduct business equally well in different languages. At his brokerage, Mandarin and Cantonese are the most useful to know. When brokers can do that, says Chow, “then it shows you’ve put the effort into it and you will get the respect back [from the client].”
That extends to culturally sensitive practices. When working with Chinese clients, for example, Chow is careful to follow the tradition of handing the business card over with two hands.
Regardless of someone’s background, making them feel comfortable is always good for business. Nobody knows this better than Chow, who is also an award-winning magician. After a business meeting, he occasionally entertains clients with a magic trick—money appearing out of nowhere, a fiver transforming into a fifty, Canadian dollars becoming greenbacks or euros. “I like to do tricks with money because I’m also a financial advisor,” Chow says. “So I make money grow.”
Copyright 2015 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the November 2015 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine
This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.