An insurance company is taking steps to market annuities to Asian and Hispanic minorities in an effort to get a toehold in these growing ethnic communities.

ITT Hartford Life Insurance Cos. is making available brochures for its best-selling fixed annuity both in Spanish and in two Chinese dialects. Officials at the company said the move was only the first in an effort to make its retirement programs more accessible to these groups.

"The Hispanic and Asian-American markets are among the fastest growing in the country," said Stephen T. Joyce, director of bank and thrift sales for the Simsbury, Conn.-based insurer. "We see a tremendous opportunity to market to these segments because of their strong tendency to save for the future."

Mr. Joyce referred to a 1992 study by Yankelovich Partners, a Norwalk, Conn., consulting firm, that said the U.S. Hispanic community is expected to grow from 24 million in 1990 to 40 million by 2010. The same study also found that Asians saved more for retirement and education than did the mainstream population, he said.

While many experts agree the country's up-and-coming ethnic communities offer a great opportunity to banks and investment marketers, one said Hartford's initial effort may be too small to yield substantial results.

"Putting pretty literature into someone's hand is not the answer; it's only the first step," said Vicki Thomas, president of Thomas & Partners, a Westport, Conn., consulting firm.

Ms. Thomas, who counsels several insurance companies on how to market effectively to affinity and minority groups, said banks and financial service companies need to be more aggressive in tailoring information and services to minority customers.

Companies "need to look beyond brochure translations and focus on putting the frontline people in place to bring in these sales," Ms. Thomas said. "There is a rapport that people have with others of their own background."

Hartford's current program is confined to translations of its fixed annuity brochures. Mr. Joyce said banks and other vendors are primarily responsible for translating disclosure forms and other informational material.

"We're simply arming (investment) representatives with brochures in the language of choice of some of their customers," he said. "There is certainly more that can be done, but this is an appropriate first step."

The insurer also has a toll-free telephone line with operators who speak Spanish and the Mandarin and Cantonese dialects. Translating prospectuses for variable annuities is also being considered, Mr. Joyce said.

While offering information in languages other than English is uncommon, experts say, some banks and annuities marketers have been doing so for years. Chemical Banking Corp. and First Union Corp., to name two, make available some translated investment information to customers.

Florida-based Barnett Banks Inc. and Great Western Financial Corp., Chatsworth, Calif., have gone the extra step and translated all of their marketing material, disclosure forms, and proprietary mutual fund prospectuses into Spanish.

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