If you live in the United States and speak Chinese, you may have been insured by the "Everlasting Health and Happiness Mutual Life Investment Company." Or perhaps you're investing with "Trustworthy, Well-Established Asset Management." Or maybe you'd rather your broker be from "Beautiful Forest." These pithy names carry more significance when they're written in Chinese, but they belong to companies more commonly known by their English names-respectively, John Hancock Mutual Life. Insurance Company, Charles Schwab & Co. and Merrill Lynch & Co. More and more, financial services companies are adopting Chinese monikers and advertising slogans with an eye for the ever-growing wallets of the Asian-American community. Metropolitan Life Insurance has gone so far as to garb its mascot Snoopy in traditional Chinese apparel.This move to serve the Asian-American population is part of a wider ethnic marketing push to reap the increasing wealth of minority populations. Only last month, Merrill Lynch announced a program in which it said it would make available $159 million in loans and outreach services to companies and individuals in Asian, Latino and African-American regions of California. In response to skyrocketing ethnic populations and financial institutions scrambling to meet the marketing challenge, London-based research company Datamonitor released a study earlier this year that charts the best practices in ethnic marketing among major financial companies.Minority populations are growing rapidly, accounting for 25% of the total population, yet only slightly more than a quarter of all major financial companies have adopted ethnic marketing campaigns, says Justin Megson, a Datamonitor analyst and author of the study. Minorities are a largely under-served, untapped population with an estimated $1 trillion in purchasing power, according to Datamonitor.Ethnic marketing has been around for some time, says Noel Capon, professor of marketing at Columbia Business School, and predicts that it's likely to "gather steam" as competition for the consumer dollar toughens.But marketing specifically to ethnic groups is not easy, and some companies that had aggressive programs have pulled back because they found the resources required were greater than the profits they produced.John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company has found it more cost-effective not to specifically target ethnic groups and early last year dropped its adopted Chinese name, "Everlasting Health and Happiness Mutual Life Company," as well as its effort to target the Chinese-American community. John Hancock's retailing management found it preferable to provide its sales people with sales materials designed for the general population, which includes ethnic minorities, says Melissa Simon, a spokesman. "Fundamental financial needs don't vary that much for each ethnic group."Yet, banks and other financial institutions are coming under growing regulatory as well as financial pressures to aggressively go after ethnic populations. A key issue is the need to meet the tough minority lending requirements of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that impacts banking companies and the new financial holding companies.Despite negative conclusions drawn by companies such as John Hancock, others are confident that substantial profits could be made by courting minority groups. In fact, Asian-Americans are a particularly appealing segment of the population for investment firms and banks largely because they possess the highest median income in the United States, Datamonitor reports. As a group, Asian-Americans also are the best-educated group in the country and are one-and-a-half times more likely to have a bachelors' degree than whites, according to the report. And, like other minorities, Asian-Americans have a younger and rapidly growing population than do whites.
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