The life insurance industry has a chance at a “moon shot” this year in terms of expanding its investment in underserved communities.
That was the word from Bruce Ferguson, senior vice president of state relations for the American Council of Life Insurers. Ferguson and two other ACLI executives spoke on the organization’s Economic Empowerment and Racial Equity Initiative on Wednesday during NAIFA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Impact week.
As part of the Obama administration’s economic recovery program, life insurers invested heavily in Build America Bonds, Ferguson said. These bonds were aimed at improving infrastructure at the municipal level. The bonds raised funds to improve roads, bridges and schools as well as to upgrade water systems.
“A lot of that money helped improve financial and economic well-being in our country,” he said. “A lot of that was aimed at underserved communities.”
Another round of Build America Bonds is being discussed as one way to fund President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion Rebuild America infrastructure bill. Ferguson said a reiteration of the bonds would give the life insurance industry another chance to make a major investment in communities around the U.S.
“We have a chance at a moon shot this year,” he said. “Through collective actions, how can we improve investments that would close the racial wealth gap in this country? We have a group of chief investment officers looking at ways to do that. Probably the best way is to take the investment capital insurers have and partner with foundations and community groups that have close ties to underserved communities.”
ACLI’s Economic Empowerment and Racial Equity Initiative has four pillars, Ferguson said. They are:
- Determining what the industry can do to advance and expand access to affordable financial security in underserved communities.
- Advancing diversity and inclusion within insurance companies and their corporate boards.
- Achieving economic empowerment through financial education.
- Expanding investments in underserved communities.
Camille Simpson, ACLI’s regional vice president of state relations, expanded further on these four pillars.
She said ACLI is working with different insurance companies as well as the National Association of Insurance Commissions to address proxy discrimination. ACLI also is looking at ways to remove unnecessary barriers to employment or licensing for people of color who seek jobs in the insurance industry.
She added that ACLI is working with The American College on the college’s Four Steps Forward initiative aimed at moving more households out of poverty. ACLI has partnered with LIMRA to conduct a survey of where the industry is in terms of diversity and inclusion on corporate boards.
Lauryl Jackson, ACLI’s vice president of federal relations for financial income security and diversity and inclusion, said that last year, all of ACLI’s Board of Directors had signed on to the CEO Action on Diversity & Inclusion pledge, which commits CEOs to several concrete steps toward building more diverse and inclusive workplaces.
This pledge sets in motion processes for organizations to follow that promote a better understanding of the needs of diverse employees from all underrepresented groups, including Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities, veterans and women.
“The pledge isn’t about hiring – it’s about training, making people feel included, and making them a part of the promotional cycle,” she said.
Susan Rupe is managing editor for InsuranceNewsNet. She formerly served as communications director for an insurance agents' association and was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @INNsusan.
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