No, I’m not talking about the ride at Disneyland and Disneyworld, the legend of which is that if you ride it, the song will stay in your head forever. What I’m talking about is providing financial services in a multi-cultural and multi-national business environment.

Back in the day, our clients were “doctor plans,” “dentist plans,” and small U.S. manufacturing companies. We still have the doctor clients but many of them now are foreign-born physicians practicing in the U.S. We also still have the manufacturing companies but some of them are non-U.S. companies with facilities and employees in this country. As for the service companies, some of them also have first-and second-generation employees.  

So, if you’re anything like us, you’re going to be challenged to explain complicated arcane financial concepts and rules whether they’re about 401(k), health care, or voluntary benefits.

Here’s a couple of suggestions – not rocket science – just common sense, courtesy, patience, and curiosity that may help:

  1. Understand that for individuals with whom we interact, English may not be their first language or even their language of choice.
  2. Have a basic understanding of their cultures to be able to engage in appropriate greetings and physical contact.
  3. Remember that cultural and religious differences can extend to holidays, work day, and even different time zones.

The bottom line, and there is bottom line, is simply this: Don’t assume that practices, policies, and organizational structure successful in one culture can be translated (pun intentional) into another.
Jerry Kalish is an Advisory Board member for Employee Benefit Adviser and President of National Benefit Services, Inc., a Chicago-based third party administrator. He is a Guest Lecturer at John Marshall School of Law LLM Program in Employee Benefits and services on the Great Lakes IRS Advisory Council for Tax Exempt and Government Entity Plans. Jerry has been publishing The Retirement Plan Blog since 2006. He can be reached via email at and followed on Twitter.

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