December 18, 2017
Promoting Diversity

New association to recruit more African-Americans to CT insurance industry

HBJ Photo | Steve Laschever
HBJ Photo | Steve Laschever
Ngozi Nnaji is the first president of the National African American Insurance Association's newly formed Greater Hartford chapter. Nnaji and the group's charter members recently celebrated their founding with a holiday party at The Hartford's main campus.

By the Numbers: Connecticut's Insurance Industry

1,449
The number of domestic and non-domestic insurance carriers in the state.

58,705
The number of full-time workers employed at insurance companies in Connecticut.

$85,466
The average annual wage of an insurance company employee in the state.

Source: PwC

During her 21 years in the insurance industry, Ngozi Nnaji has often found herself the only African-American in the room. It's not something she wants the next generation of black insurance professionals to experience.

So when a colleague suggested founding a Greater Hartford chapter of the National African American Insurance Association (NAAIA), she jumped on board immediately. The potential benefits of a local chapter were obvious: it could foster diversity, mentor current and future black insurance professionals, assist professional development and educate the community, she said.

"I don't want others to look around the table and feel uncomfortable because they were the only African-American in the room," Nnaji said. "There's a need to bring in more diversity."

After two years of hard work, the efforts of Nnaji and her colleagues have borne fruit. Last month, the NAAIA certified Greater Hartford as its 16th chapter and the first in the Nutmeg State, home to a larger portion of the nation's insurance industry. The new group's approximately 25 charter members held an event Dec. 5 at which they officially launched the chapter and impaneled the group's board of directors and officers.

Nnaji, who will serve as the chapter's first president, has big plans, including promoting diversity in the local insurance industry, workshops and mentoring sessions and outreach to the community. Nnaji, who describes herself as "passionate" about insurance, wants to get African-American Millennials interested in an insurance career. She wants to inform them of the industry's diverse and interesting career paths as well as its excellent compensation.

"We want to bring sexy back to insurance," said Nnaji, who has worked in a variety of roles in the industry and now owns and operates her own business, Ako Insurance Consulting LLC in Middletown. "We want to make it one of the professions of choice for (black) Millennials."

Educating the black community about premiums, policies and deductibles is also high on the chapter's agenda, Nnaji said. African-Americans tend to have a poorer understanding of insurance than other groups, something she aims to remedy. Insurance, she said, touches virtually every aspect of life, and the black community needs to understand it better, she said.

"I just think it's the coolest profession ever," Nnaji said. "From whatever perspective you look at it, it's supportive of our society."

Nnaji noted that African-Americans make up a huge part of the insurance market. It's important for insurers to have professionals "who look like our customers," she said.

Mentoring and networking

Mark Perkins, a former insurance professional who later became a lawyer and is now a partner at Hartford law firm Halloran & Sage, will serve as the chapter's general counsel. Perkins said he knew at the first chapter meeting he attended that he wanted to be involved in a major way. He marveled at the talent in the room — which included prominent black insurance professionals from large companies and agencies — and immediately envisioned the rich mentoring and networking opportunities.

"When I went to the first meeting and looked around the room and listened to the people in the room, I thought this is a great opportunity," Perkins said. "I wish I had that when I was younger, had gotten to know other African-American individuals who had great positions who probably would have helped me develop my career."

Perkins said attracting more blacks into the business will be a major focus of the new Hartford area chapter. He was especially interested in expanding the chapter's rolls, leading him to volunteer for its membership committee.

Le-Keya Daniels, a claims adjustor for The Hartford, is another charter member. Daniels, who has spent more than a decade working in the industry, said she was attracted by the opportunity to network with fellow African-American insurance professionals from outside her company and immediate circle.

Like Nnaji, Daniels is unabashed in her love for insurance, a business others might falsely think is boring or cold. Insurance, Daniels said, is ultimately about helping people in their hour of need. That is what she loves most about her chosen profession.

"We restore lives," Daniels said. "We're helping someone to get back to where they were before going through a calamity."

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