A Newark, N.J., insurance agency that Summit Bancorp bought three years ago owes its success there partly to a Julio Iglesias concert 13 years earlier, a company executive says.
That concert awakened Henry Gomez, founder of Patgo Insurance Agency, to his Hispanic heritage, says his daughter, Lisa Galante, who followed him into the business.
That business is nestled in a Portuguese enclave, and Mr. Gomez, who is now retired, used his Iberian background to build a loyal customer base, his daughter says.
Though Mr. Gomez's father was Spanish, he died when the boy was in his teens. The insurance agent knew little about his Spanish heritage, his daughter says, and did not speak the language.
If not for the Iglesias concert "we wouldn't have truly been part of the community, speaking the language, enjoying the food, and participating in local activities," said Ms. Galante, who is now a senior vice president of Summit Insurance Advisors of Cranford, N.J., and also works with the banking side of the business.
At the concert, the Spanish crooner sang movingly of an old neighborhood whose name rang a bell for Mr. Gomez. And the program included songs that Mr. Gomez had heard his father sing.
Mr. Gomez "saw someone on Iglesias' staff and begged him to let him ask the singer a few questions about the area he was singing about," Ms. Galante said. "They let him come backstage, and the two of them ended up friends."
Mr. Gomez had never been to Spain. But later Mr. Iglesias found some of Mr. Gomez's relatives there and invited him to come meet them.
"He went over and met a guy who looked exactly like him," Ms. Galante said. "Since then the whole family has gone back and forth, and we've learned at least some of the language."
Today, Summit Insurance Advisors' Newark office, successor to the company that Mr. Gomez founded in 1971, writes 90% of its policies to Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking clients. Part of the marketing strategy for the Newark area is cross-selling banking and insurance products to Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking people.
"We're making Spanish and Portuguese fliers to place in our agency, and we're also running Portuguese television ads on local cable networks," said Ms. Galante, who now speaks Spanish and is studying Portuguese.
In Newark the insurance agency writes mostly personal property and casualty insurance, but a chunk of the $7 million in commissions it generates there comes from commercial insurance sales.
Summit's marketing to this community could give it a competitive edge, said Carmen Effron, president of C.F. Effron, a consulting firm in Westport, Conn.
"Like any other affinity marketing program, it increases the chances of a successful sale," Ms. Effron said. "The idea of trying to understand other cultures is something Americans in general have not been very good at. Something very innocuous in one culture could be very damaging in another."
Ms. Galante said ethnic identity is not the only way Princeton, N.J.-based Summit Bancorp is divvying up its customers for affinity marketing.
Summit Bank is evaluating its 150,000 commercial accounts "to see what segment of our clients is underserved" in insurance, she said. "Then we'll meet with insurance underwriters and attempt to create a customized product for them.
"We have to create an insurance program that fits our client base," Ms. Galante said.
Ms. Effron said insurance carriers will be glad to help design a product for Summit. After all, insurers also want to reach more clients, she said.
"It's essential to know the background of your commercial clients," Ms. Effron said. "Every bank should research that."