CHINESE AMERICAN INSURANCE ASSOCIATION
Grassroots organization advances members’ interests and educates community
By Christopher W. Cook
In early 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, I attended the Big “I” Level Up Agent Summit, which focused on diversity and inclusion. At one of the first net-working events, I met a few individuals from an organization that, prior to that evening, I didn’t even know existed. After returning to the office the following week, I reached out and discussed the idea of writing an article about their group, highlighting their annual event, which like everything else was cancelled a few months later.
Time passed. Spring turned to summer, turned to fall, turned to winter, and repeated the cycle. And now three years later, now that we’re in a new-normal that includes gathering in person again for industry events, it’s time to write that article and introduce our readers to the Chinese American Insurance Association.
Founded in 1989 in Greater New York by insurance industry executives of Chinese heritage—Chon Chen, Dan Ting, Ray Guei, and David J. Louie Sr.—the Chinese American Insurance Association (CAIA) is a nonprofit grassroots group that focuses on advancing the interests and discussing the concerns of Chinese American professionals in the insurance industry. In addition, the group also educates the Chinese American community on purchasing and understanding insurance coverages—brochures are bilingual in both English and Chinese—while encouraging more individuals to develop careers in the industry.
The association, which is led by a group with diverse backgrounds, consists of over 700 members, primarily in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The current leadership team consists of:
- Pamela Corey, president
- Vince Vitiello, vice president
- Henry Kwan, treasurer
- David Louie Jr., secretary
“Our lunar New Year banquet is a premier networking event hosting between 500 and 800 insurance professionals. We come together to celebrate the new year, honor those who have excelled in the field and welcome new professionals with scholarships.”
Vice President and National Marketing Manager
Seneca Insurance Company
“Anyone can join CAIA; we only require you be part of the insurance community,” says Pamela Corey, vice president and national marketing manager of Seneca Insurance Company. “The information is readily available on the website, or you can reach out to any board member for assistance.”
Members have access to additional resources, bridge programs for P-C and life/health license requirements, CE credit courses, job fairs, career seminars, and networking opportunities. “The association’s networking events create a forum for members to exchange market perspectives and to promote mutual understanding among agents, brokers and insurance companies,” Corey explains. “This year, we hope to expand our offerings through our partnerships with The Korean American Insurance & Financial Association (KAIFA), The National African American Insurance Association (NAAIA), the CPCU Society, and the Excess Line Association of New York (ELANY).”
While the COVID-19 pandemic put CAIA’s annual event on the shelf for a few years, the association’s Annual Banquet returned in 2022. Celebrating Chinese New Year, this year being the Year of the Rabbit, “our lunar New Year banquet is a premier networking event hosting between 500 and 800 insurance professionals,” Corey says. “We come together to celebrate the new year, honor those who have excelled in the field and welcome new professionals with scholarships.”
This year’s honoree, Michael Chang, head of corporate risk and broking, North America, at WTW (formerly Willis Towers Watson), has a degree in multinational business management and is a strong believer that inclusion and diversity can be used to develop and retain talent in the industry.
As for the scholarship, it was created to honor the memory of James Ying, one of the original charter officers of the CAIA Board. It is given to university students of Chinese descent who demonstrate academic success with a dedication to insurance-related studies, while also participating in additional extracurricular activities. This year the association will award three scholarships.
“Our agency participates in nearly all the CAIA events, including the annual banquet, job fairs, continuing education courses, and networking events.”
—David Louie Jr.
David J. Louie, Inc.
For agency owners contemplating joining CAIA, Corey recommends attending an association event and meeting with members of the board and partners of the organization. “The diversity of the group and breadth of insurance acumen will not only impress but leave an indelible impression,” she says.
David Louie Jr., a member of CAIA’s Board of Directors, serves as president of David J. Louie, Inc., a P-C agency founded by his father, one of the original founders of CAIA. While attending high school and college, he spent his summers working for his father’s agency. In 2016, he began working there full time and became a member of CAIA.
“Our agency participates in nearly all the CAIA events, including the annual banquet, job fairs, continuing education courses, and networking events,” Louie says. “Membership with CAIA has increased our agency’s exposure with a multitude of carriers, brokers, and third-party administrators. It has also given our team members opportunities to engage with the Chinese A
merican insurance community. Additionally, CAIA has helped connect our agency to numerous industry resources over the years.”
Louie urges any agency contemplating joining to do so now. “The connections alone make the membership worthwhile,” he says. “If you’re interested in learning more, reach out to any of our board members and we’d be happy to discuss.”
HL Lee Insurance Services, formerly known as Harold L. Lee & Sons, Inc., was founded in 1888, starting as a foreign exchange and trading company. It evolved into providing insurance coverage and services in the Chinese American community in New York City since the early 1940s. As one of the first Chinese American-owned insurance agencies in New York and the United States, it was natural for the firm to join CAIA, which it did in the early 1990s. (Note: The agency was featured in the August 2002 and September 2011 issues of Rough Notes.)
Agency President Steve Boon was an active member of the CAIA Board and had served as past board president, spearheading its annual scholarship program. “Over the years, HL Lee has introduced and encouraged many of its long-standing insurance carrier partners like Chubb, Travelers, CNA, Liberty Mutual, Amtrust, Seneca, Hartford, and others to participate in CAIA activities,” says Boon. “Being active in the association is an opportunity for insurers, fellow agencies, underwriters, claims adjusters, industry associations, and regulators to come together to serve the Chinese American market and community.”
“Being active in the association is an opportunity for insurers, fellow agencies, underwriters, claims adjusters, industry associations, and regulators to come together to serve the Chinese American market and community.”
HL Lee Insurance Services
Eva Chan, vice president and general manager of Lee Insurance, who joined the CAIA Board several years ago, emphasizes that “our agency principals and team of agents and CSRs participate in CAIA events throughout the year, including CE courses, workshops, career fairs, networking receptions and the annual New Year banquet.” Managing Director Jonathan Kao adds: “Our involvement in CAIA and other insurance associations also raises the agency’s profile to lead to more business opportunities, access to markets and resources, which is a benefit to the agency.”
Lee Insurance’s CEO and Principal Sandra K. Lee explains, “We have the unique role of educating carriers and mainstream agencies on the culture, customs, and sensitivities of the Chinese American market so our community is better served. Our mantra has been to join and stay involved in industry associations to contribute, learn and to make sure our community’s insurance needs are met and our voices are heard.”
The Lee Insurance team has also worked with other diverse associations like NAAIA, KAIFA, and LAAIA (Latin American Association of Insurance Companies). They have been active leaders as well in mainstream industry associations such as IIABA (the Big “I”), IIANY (Big “I” New York), PIA, and the Insurance Federation of New York. Agency Principals Sandra Lee and Stephen Boon have both served on the Big “I”’s Diversity Task Force (now Diversity Council) for over 10 years in leadership roles. They have paved the way for the Lee agency’s next generation of managers, Eva Chan and Jonathan Kao, to continue the tradition of leadership in the industry and building bridges in the Chinese American community.
For more information:
Chinese American Insurance Association