Insurance industry experts say having multilingual employees is an important part of conducting business with clients who have an increasingly diverse workforce and global locations.
Insurers and brokers said that employees who can speak more than one language are a crucial part of doing business with domestic companies that have diverse workforces, U.S. firms that are expanding their operations into other countries, and foreign businesses looking to expand their U.S. footprint.
A spokesman for Austin, Texas-based Texas Mutual Insurance Co. said about half of the 25 employees in the insurer's call center speak more than one language. Several of the workers compensation insurer's loss prevention consultants and claims adjusters also speak more than one language, typically English and Spanish.
Having such diversity in Texas Mutual's staff has been helpful when working with business owners who don't speak English as their first language, the company spokesman said.
In a statement, Zurich Insurance Group Ltd. said that the insurer has 60,000 employees worldwide, and that the company's corporate headquarters in Zurich has employees from nearly 60 nationalities.
“Language skills are ... the key for success,” according to Zurich's statement. “As we live in a multicultural environment, the strong command of the local language and at least one other foreign language are important in order to provide customers with (the) best service.”
While the ability to talk with clients in their native or preferred language is useful in sales or claims-related interactions, sources say multilingual employees also tend to have knowledge of cultural nuances that can accentuate business relationships.
“Having the ability to communicate in a language other than English is incredibly important, but it's also important to have overall knowledge of a variety of cultures in order to be most effective,” said Darcy Kerr, vice president of human resources for Lansing, Mich.-based workers compensation insurer Accident Fund Holdings Inc.
Bo Young Lee, New York-based senior vice president and global diversity and inclusion officer for Marsh Inc., said having multilingual employees is “tremendously important” for the brokerage, particularly in units that conduct international business.
For example, the company's Asian client services group includes many employees who are fluent in multiple Asian languages in addition to English.
“A lot of these individuals who are multilingual also are cross-culturally competent,” Ms. Lee said. “So it's not just that they can speak the language, but they can also understand the different cultures.”
The opportunity to work with international clients often is a key recruitment factor for workers who can speak multiple languages, sources say.
“Bilingual colleagues and workers are looking for a place where they can put not just their language capabilities, but also their global business awareness, into practice,” Marsh's Ms. Lee said.
“I think because we are a global company, because we do offer that ability to work with global clients, it certainly is an incentive to join us as an organization.”
Aon P.L.C.'s Global Client Network allows employees who speak more than one language to work on international accounts and has been helpful in attracting multilingual employees to the brokerage, said John Peterson, Chicago-based co-leader of U.S. national sales for Aon Risk Solutions.
“English remains the international language of business, but the value of being able to communicate in a client's native language cannot be underestimated,'' Mr. Peterson said.
“We make a concerted effort to hire employees with capabilities and skills, including language skills, to match the demographics of our clients.''