Being Hispanic in Mexico doesn’t make you a target demographic for marketing campaigns. Latinos in the US often say, “I didn’t know I was Latino until I came to the United States.” Annia Zavala not only identifies with that—she leverages her experience to help New York Life Insurance Company effectively reach the Latino market in the US.
HE: When was your role created within New York Life Insurance Company, and how has it evolved to what it is now?
The Latino market became a board priority for New York Life Insurance Company in 2008. It expanded its Hispanic marketing function from two to more than 70 employees across the United States. We identified a thirst for information about financial protection among the Hispanic community. Latinos on average underutilize financial products and services, and consequently often miss out on the opportunity to generate and protect multi-generational wealth for their families. My role can help guide the Hispanic community toward getting the right tools.
How did you get into Hispanic marketing?
After college, working as a PR director with the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC) in Austin, I had an eye-opening experience. There were organizations like Aetna, Coca-Cola, and New York Life with Latino initiatives. I saw that and thought, “These companies have people who travel to different cities to educate the Latino community? I want a job like that!”
And you knew the market well from your upbringing?
Yes, I was born in Brownsville, Texas, but grew up in Mexico, where my parents are from. It was a small town with limited opportunities, but I come from an entrepreneurial family who taught me the importance of thinking big. During the summers, my parents would send us traveling, and when I graduated from high school, they decided to move the family to the States so we could go to college. To this day, I can’t thank them enough for that decision.
What was your first job in Hispanic marketing?
I stayed at TAMACC for two years, but when my mom got ill and died of cancer, my life changed forever, and I moved back to Mission, Texas, where my father and three younger siblings lived. I stayed for two years, working for a real estate company. In 2009, I got a call from New York Life, which was looking for a Latino marketing associate in San Antonio. It was exactly the position I wanted, but I wanted to move back to Austin, and I was blessed in that the company saw something in me and opened the position in the Austin office. We had twelve agents targeting the Latino community, educating them about financial services, but there were 460,000 Latinos in Austin. My job was to grow our agent base.
How did you go about achieving that?
I made partnerships with local organizations. I was a member of every Latino association you could think of. I’d go to their meetings, educate people about careers with our company, the importance of financial planning, and bring them in to interview. Our Austin office became one of the company’s fastest growing Latino offices in the country, and in 2012 I was approached about the corporate vice president position. Today I oversee the south central region, managing 34 offices in 14 states with a team of seven associates.
What have you identified as good ways to grow the company’s Latino business?
The first thing is, look for cities where there are opportunities. For example, we had an office in Orlando, where there’s a huge Latino presence, but we didn’t have enough Latino agents. We hired an associate who, as I did in Austin, educated the community about our Latino market initiative. Once on our team, we help agents by finding opportunities through marketing resources like seminars and events. With offices that don’t have full-time senior associates, we travel there and work with the local management to get air cover for the Latino market.
Why is the Hispanic market so important to New York Life?
We realize we have to mirror the communities we serve. There are over fifty-two million Latinos in the United States today who represent $1.5 trillion of purchasing power. But often they come from countries that don’t have the products we offer here. Sometimes there’s a certain level of superstition regarding life insurance. They don’t understand that it’s one of the avenues to financial independence. So in 2008, our board made it a mission to educate the community. We have amazing stories in states like Alabama, and there is a great opportunity in heavily Latino markets, like Florida.
What have been some of the challenges?
We have to overcome some barriers. Sometimes people look at insurance and say, “No, thanks, I’m not preparing to die just yet.” And you can’t overcome that through an ad or the Internet; you have to do it in person. I actually hired my sister, who had been an accountant for seven years, into this career, but it was a hard sell. She told me she wanted a change, and when I suggested she work with us, she said, “Me? Sell life insurance? I’d never do that!” And that was my sister. I explained why the job was important; I helped her understand why a family like ours would want someone who spoke Spanish to help learn about life insurance. Today, I’m so proud to see her success in the company. Our agents come from all backgrounds, and most of them never thought they would be in this career.
Is that why you find the job rewarding?
Definitely. When the client calls and says he or she has been diagnosed with an illness or suffered an accident, we can say, “You will be OK.” Losing a loved one is unbearable, as I know myself, but knowing you’ll be OK makes a difference. That’s what makes me and our agents wake up every morning and get out there in the community. We are dedicated to growing Latino leadership in the financial sector, which is much needed in our industry. We change lives. Not a lot of people get to say that.