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When The Community Diversifies, So Must The Practice

If you exit the north side of the White House and drive straight up 16th Street, you will cross the District of Columbia city line and into the suburb of Silver Spring, Md.

It’s a town that some may sneer at as being “inside the Beltway,” but it’s also an ethnically vibrant community filled with towering office buildings and retail complexes. With more than 76,000 residents, it’s the fourth-most populous place in Maryland.

Brian Haney, 38, has called this area home his entire life. As a native Washingtonian who grew up in the bordering suburb of Chevy Chase, Brian said he is a rarity in this mostly transient metro area.

“Almost everyone you meet here is from somewhere else,” he said.

But although Brian was born inside the Beltway, his father P. Allen Haney remains an Indiana farm boy at heart. Allen instilled in his family a passion to serve others, and Brian continues that passion by serving members of communities that are very different from his own.

Brian was presented with the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors Diversity Champion Award in September. He was honored for his efforts in working with two population segments — the LGBT community and the Hispanic community.

He is founder of The Haney Company, a financial services firm in Silver Spring. Allen joined the company after a lengthy insurance career of his own, and Brian’s younger brother, Scott, also is a principal with the firm.

“For as long as he has worked in the financial industry, Brian has had a practice that cuts across barriers,” Scott said in a statement on Brian’s diversity award. “Working alongside him now, I see how much he cares about serving all of his community, not just parts that might be considered more appealing based on industry standards or affluence … Brian has made efforts to break down social, ethnic, gender and economic barriers, both personally and professionally.”

Brian credited his father with keeping the family grounded and attuned to the needs of others, even as they lived among the privileged classes in Chevy Chase.

“My dad never forgot his roots — he was the son of parents who lived through the Great Depression, and he grew up around farms,” he said.

Brian said his family participated in a number of community service activities and church groups. These service activities brought Brian into contact with people outside the family’s social circle.

Although Brian’s father was a strong influence on his belief system, Brian had no plans to follow him into the insurance industry. Instead, he studied journalism at Indiana University, acting on his interest in writing and humanities.

But after graduation, Brian became disillusioned over the career opportunities available in journalism.

“My dad said if you’re not stuck on journalism, I’ll open some doors for you,” he said. “One of those doors was an opportunity in banking. I jumped into that and fell in love.”

His initial job was with First Union, which eventually became Wachovia and is now Wells Fargo.

Brian’s work with the bank brought him into contact with segments of the community he might not otherwise have crossed paths with. The common thread he had with them was what Brian calls “the universal language.”

“I’ve always felt that the financial services industry is one of the best industries in the world,” he said. “Because money is the universal language.  Everyone has it, everyone needs it, it’s a medium of exchange but it is required to function in any form of society.”

It’s A Family Affair

Brian left the bank after five years and ran an independent practice through MassMutual. He started to lay the groundwork for what eventually became The Haney Company.

Meanwhile, Allen had sold his own multiline company, JZA Inc., to another firm. But he wasn’t ready to spend the rest of his days on the golf course.

“We were together at Thanksgiving, and I asked him how he felt about the sale. He said something like, ‘I’m not excited about it,’” Brian recalled. “So I told him, ‘If you have any gas left in the tank, let’s work together.’”

Brian’s brother Scott was living in Atlanta at the time, working in video marketing and production. Brian invited him to move back home and join the family business as well, and he agreed.

An added bonus to that arrangement was that Brian and his wife, Kelly, would be able to have “Uncle Scott” spend more time with their 9-year-old daughter, Jordyn. 

Allen’s practice had focused on the association market, which has a large presence in the Washington area. Brian’s practice had focused on families and small businesses. “It was a nice marriage between our two marketplaces,” Brian said. They continue to serve small-to-medium-sized associations, as well as families and small businesses.

The Haney Company is in its sixth year of operation, and “we’re really having a good time,” Brian said. He said the three men manage the family dynamic and the work dynamic well. 

“We’re at that stage where we’re adults,” he said. “So it’s as much a peer-to-peer thing as it is a junior-senior thing.

“My dad has 40 years of wisdom and experience in this industry. We learn from him every day.”

Getting The Tide To Rise

When Brian worked for the bank, he was assigned to open a branch in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, a neighborhood that is home to a large LGBT community.

“I was out there building the branch, out in the community, building relationships,” he recalled. “That was what connected me to the LGBT community.”

Brian soon recognized that the LGBT population was underserved by the financial industry compared with other population groups in the Washington metro area.

Financial worries are a major hurdle with the LGBT community in the U.S., compared with the non-LGBT population. A recent Gallup poll showed LGBT Americans are 10 percentage points less likely to be thriving financially than their non-LGBT counterparts. In addition, research from the University of California at Los Angeles showed the LGBT population is at a disproportionate risk of poverty and food insecurity.

Brian said his mantra is, “If a rising tide lifts all boats, then focus on trying to get the tide to rise. Because your boat, as well as everyone else’s, is going to sail.”

He said he went into the community not necessarily to figure out the best business angle, but to figure out the things the community needs to get the tide to rise.

Eventually, one of Brian’s clients invited him to attend a networking event held by the Capital Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. That led to a long relationship with the organization.

“I wasn’t looking for it — it found me,” he said. “The invitation came out of my asking my client what he was doing to grow his business and how that was working.”

Brian came to know the chamber’s influencers and sponsors. He participated in chamber events and eventually was elected to the chamber’s board of directors, and served as the group’s treasurer and vice president. Through his church, Brian provided outreach and support to the LGBT community as well.

The relationships he made through CAGLCC led to his introduction to members of the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He became involved in that organization, too.

Brian also served as president of NAIFA-Greater Washington and forged partnerships among his professional association and the two chamber groups. The result was an ongoing series of diversity forums for local professionals. 

The Hispanic community in the D.C. area has its own diversity, he noted. “There is diversity of heritage. Are you Mexican, Central American, Puerto Rican? It’s also diverse in terms of generations. There’s a big difference between second-generation Hispanics and early first-generation Hispanics.”

The Columbo Approach

It can be intimidating to begin serving a demographic that is different from your own. The first step, Brian said, is to conduct a survey.

“Take a little time to understand the demographics of your community, and pay attention to the underserved portions of it,” he said. “Do you have a personal passion or desire to help them?”

Next, he advised, ask yourself whether you have any connections or passions that would help you develop those relationships. “If that exists, perfect,” he said. “Then you’re not going in just because you’re trying to make that business case. I can make a business case for any community, but I don’t want to start there.”

Brian observed that there have been too many instances when well-intentioned people attempt to make business inroads into a diverse market, and “they blow in, they blow up, they blow out.”

Chambers of commerce are great places to meet people, Brian said. He advised breaking the ice by taking what he called the “Columbo approach,” after the TV detective who solved crimes by asking a litany of questions in an attempt to find out “just one more thing.”

“Get to know the board members, the sponsors,” he said. “Go in and just ask questions. How long have you been a sponsor? What made you decide to do that? Two things will happen: You’ll make a better impression, and you’ll learn a lot.”

Brian said when he was introduced to the president of the chamber affiliate, “I wanted to know about the board dynamic, how the chamber functioned, what areas of need it had, how I could help.”

As Brian continued to develop his relationship with the chamber and its members, he submitted his name for consideration to the organization’s board of directors. He recommended board service as another way to gain credibility and trust with a diverse demographic.

Another good way to become established in a different community is to volunteer, Brian said. “Do things you might otherwise do, but do them specifically for this particular community, and in doing so you will develop relationships. And you will really get to know the community better,” he said.

Above all, he said, be patient in making inroads with diverse groups.

“You have to play a longer game because you might not get an immediate benefit,” he said. “But you’re making a community commitment, so give yourself a longer measuring rod for success.”

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. Follow her on Twitter @INNsusan. Contact her at [email protected].

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