Ariel Rodriguez Mercado, a partner at New York Life Insurance Company (NYL), has always been motivated by challenges. Whether on the court during his sixteen years as a professional volleyball player in Puerto Rico or working as a mediator for the Puerto Rico Department of Education, he was helping develop successful strategies and solutions.
It wasn’t until eight years ago, though, that he discovered his calling. That was when he moved to the continental United States and interviewed with an insurance company where a friend worked. When he started at the company, Rodriguez Mercado found what he was meant to do: help individuals in the Latino community and their families plan for the challenges that may arise in their own lives.
“The work that we do helps protect families,” Rodriguez Mercado says. “The Latino community traditionally focuses on hard work, but we want to make sure they also understand how financial services can provide benefits in many areas.”
When he eventually joined NYL, he was immediately struck by the organization’s commitment to working with the Latino community.
“Other companies might have a brochure in Spanish so they say they’re working with the market,” Rodriguez Mercado points out. “At New York Life, I met people who are involved in the community and are very successful—and there are many Latinos on the company leadership team. That clearly demonstrated to me that the company does much more than just pay lip service to the markets it serves.”
In addition to the Latino community, NYL’s cultural markets include nine other markets: South Asian, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, African American, women, young professionals, and LGBT. This broad range is very different from what Rodriguez Mercado experienced at a previous company. Whenever he requested additional resources to help reach his market, he was told that it was too much of a risk. To this day, he believes that that response represented a tremendous missed opportunity for the company to have helped many people.
The diversity of NYL’s markets is reflected in Rodriguez Mercado’s own team. In addition to Latino members, it also includes Indian, Korean, African American, and white financial services professionals.
“Empowering individuals from different backgrounds and cultures provides a wealth of different ideas,” Rodriguez Mercado says. “We embrace that as a competitive advantage and make sure that we have an environment where it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what language you speak. Part of my mission is to develop the unique value each individual provides so they can reach their full potential.”
Before moving permanently to the continental United States, Rodriguez Mercado attended Rutgers University on a volleyball scholarship. Although it was the most time he had been away from Puerto Rico and he spoke little English, the team environment helped him feel like he belonged. Now, he’s worked hard to create similar bonds and a feeling of family among his team at NYL.
He stresses a collaborative approach, where agents are measured on their own efforts and accomplishments, but he also continually emphasizes the overall success of the entire team. To help facilitate a cohesive culture, Rodriguez Mercado is quick to let others lead if they have more knowledge or experience than he does on a particular subject. He also provides ample opportunities for everyone to contribute so they are engaged and feel that their contributions are valued. Additionally, the team frequently participates in shared events, such as meals, celebrations, and other social activities.
“A mentor once told me that people leave jobs, but they don’t leave families,” he says. “My goal is to create that kind of connection within my team.”
Each new agent goes through thirty-six months of mandatory training through New York Life University, an accredited school that also provides continuing professional education. Additionally, Rodriguez Mercado mentors his team through weekly one-on-one performance review and planning sessions and twice weekly group meetings, where they exchange marketing ideas and best practices. He and a colleague also teach a Spanish class for agents in the Latino market.
One resulting success story is Rosani Hernandez, who has become the Greater Washington office’s first Latina partner in less than twelve months after joining NYL.
“To accomplish what Rosani has done in her first year is both outstanding and very unusual,” Rodriguez Mercado says. “She makes me so proud, and I feel honored to have had her as part of my team. I want to see more like her reaching those kinds of goals.”
He attributes his own success to being motivated by his wife, Anissa, and their daughters, Leyla, Skyla, and Aria. Without a moment’s hesitation, he says that everything he does is so he can ensure that they will have a secure and better future.
With that in mind, he is driven to help other financial services professionals so they can to do the same for their families.
“This career changed my life, and my mission is to help provide the same opportunity to others,” Rodriguez Mercado says. “If I can give the tools and resources to someone else who wants to realize their own dreams, that’s where I get my professional satisfaction.”