July 18, 2018 by Brooke Smith
Canada has two official languages: English and French. But in our multicultural country, two languages don’t always cut it—particularly when it comes to understanding complex matters.
Take insurance, for example. Once new immigrants have settled in Canada, they may eventually look to buy that first home or purchase a new car. While understanding insurance is a challenge for many Canadians, it’s even more of a challenge for newcomers. That’s where brokers can help.
Serving the immigrant community means brokers have to go beyond the typical broker role, says Royale Leung, CEO and president of BrokerTeam Group of Companies. “We have to be an educator [and provide] a lot of reminders. We have to be very patient,” he says. “They don’t have too many friends in Canada.”
“Our retention usually is very high because we are not only acting as a broker; we are acting as a point of reference for many things,” he continues. “We communicate more with the client so they refer a bit more when you help them out, especially in a difficult situation, such as claims.”
“If you’re in insurance, to win your market, you need to hire the market. If you’re working in a diverse city like Toronto and you have no diversity [in your workplace], why would people want to purchase insurance from you?”
At BrokerTeam’s office in Richmond Hill, Ont., about 95% of its insurance professionals are immigrants from Asia. “We are immigrants serving immigrants for the first and second generations,” says Leung. The firm serves new Canadians mainly from Hong Kong, China and Taiwan, and some from Korea.
More than 60% of BrokerTeam’s clients are first-generation immigrants, and English is not their first language. While many of Leung’s clients from Hong Kong read English well, they prefer to converse in their native tongue. “If they want to see a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant, they would rather use their own language,” he says. “It’s the same with insurance.”
Excess Markets is similar, serving residential and commercial clients in the Chinese-Canadian community in Richmond, B.C. The Chinese population in the province is about 465,000, representing about 10% of the total population, says K.S. Leung, president of Excess Markets. “This is a big and growing market,” he notes.
Costen Insurance in northeast Calgary serves mostly an Indian community, with roughly 70% of its clients coming from India or Pakistan. Clients of Costen, as well as Excess Markets and BrokerTeam, are not just new immigrants (in Canada less than five years); some have been in the country for 20 or 40 years.
While brokers like Costen and Excess Markets have employees who speak their clients’ language, it’s not always easy. Typically, explaining insurance to new Canadians takes some time.
Royale Leung says that explaining one simple transaction with an English-speaking client may take about five minutes, but 10 or 15 minutes for a Chinese client. “Even when we talk about the insurance terms, we need more time with Asian clients than with English clients,” he says. “There are more questions.”
There’s not only the language barrier, but also the concept of insurance itself. Immigrants have had insurance back home; however, insurance in Canada is different. “In North America, we buy insurance for protection and peace of mind,” says Royale Leung. “They have difficulty getting this concept right away when they’re first in Canada.”
The cost of insurance in China, for example, is usually relatively low compared with the living standard there, says Royale Leung. For example, if an immigrant buys a new car here for, say, $10,000, the insurance maybe be $5,000 for the first year. “They will find that unacceptable the first time. However, this is the fact that they have to know,” says Royale Leung.
“Our retention usually is very high because we are not only acting as a broker; we are acting as a point of reference for many things.”
“We need a lot of time to educate them on this concept; otherwise, they will think insurance is a waste of money,” he says. “There’s no right or wrong; it’s how you perceive it.”
He also notes that it’s not simply understanding insurance but the idiosyncrasies that go with it. “In many cases, something that looks like common sense in North America isn’t in China.” For example, he points to not keeping the temperature too low in winter so pipes don’t burst. Clientele originally from a warmer climate wouldn’t think about this. “As a broker, we have to remind them. Usually, that advice comes from the insurance broker, not from the real estate agent.”
It can sometimes be challenging to find insurance professionals who speak the language of recent immigrants.
Excess Markets tries to find employees from the Chinese community. “We have advertisements in Chinese TV, magazines and the phonebook, and we have sponsored some activities organized by various Chinese Associations,” says K.S. Leung. He adds that he does get a few job applicants contacting the company directly.
Although Nirmal Lombsar, insurance broker at Costen Insurance, has advertised in Punjabi magazines and newspapers, she mostly finds her employees by word of mouth. Currently, she is looking for an assistant who speaks either Punjabi or Hindi, but at press time, she still had not filled the position.
But should it simply be left to the brokers to communicate with new Canadians? “Most insurance companies don’t have adjustors who can speak Hindi or Punjabi or other languages—only English,” says Lombsar. “When the insurer asks something, if the client can’t understand the question, how they can answer it properly?” While Costen can intervene and be the go-between, she still thinks it’s important that insurance companies have employees who can speak not only English but all kinds of languages.
Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in the September 2017 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine
This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.