I have been a member of this board for a little less than a year, I was directed to this board by my boat salesman when I was in the market for a new bass boat. I appreciate all the comraderie, compassion and friendships this forum & Al allow us all to have that we would not have otherwise. (The Internet is an amazing invention!) That being said, I plan to offer my help on this string as my time permits (I usually log on daily) and provide my knowledge to those of you who may be an expert plumber, mechanic, or air force pilot but nothing of the sort when it comes to insurance and its related coverages.
As for my qualifications and background, my extended family has been in the insurance business for over 50 years. I personally own 2 large insurance agencies for a well-known company in the state of Illinois (that sometimes gets verbally bashed on the BBC) . I have been in the industry for 19 years. My father, 2 younger brothers, brother-in-law, and multiple uncles/aunts and cousins all are in "the business". My family started, owned and ran the largest independent insurance agency in the Midwest - we sold and serviced policies for over 65 different companies throughout the U.S. (until it was decided to sell roughly 5 years ago). I also own three boats...one of which is a 08 Bass Cat Sabre FTD.
I have seen the industry from a variety of departments: customer service, claims/adjusting, underwriting, rating, marketing and sales.
The industry itself is ever-changing. There is no way to know EVERYTHING as the companies, their underwriting policies, coverage and claims handling tends to change - almost daily sometimes - in response to the marketplace, economy, natural disasters, and finally the companies bottom line revolving around their profit.
What I will offer to you guys here is a short synopsis and MY OPINION on different kinds of "agents" and companies, a basic description of each and some pointers on what to look for in an agent/broker and lastly, some advice.
are agents (like myself) that work for and/or are employed by one company that are only able to place their insureds (customers) with that ONE company they reperesent ONLY. Everyone you deal with (Agent, Claims Rep, Adjuster, Customer Service Rep) is associated with and works for that company - they tend to be more customer centric because of this: Companies like State Farm, Country Companies, Allstate, Farmers, and American Family have captive agents.
BROKERS/ BROKER AGENTS:
are employees or agents who work for an "agency". These can be along the lines of an ABC Insurance Group, USA Insurance Agency, Insure One - or for those of you in the Illinois/Indiana area probably have seen the goofy commercials for Eagle Insurance ("Wow! Look at those low rates!" -As a large fake bird lays an egg, which cracks open to reveal a rate sheet based on the drivers age). Brokers generally do not advertise a single company they write or place business with. Rather often, they offer quick ID Cards and "SR22" or what's known as "financial repsonsibility filings" (these usually are the result of a driver's license suspension that the state requires you to provide them with continual proof of coverage). Brokers can sell for multiple companies. Generally the more business they write, the more contracts they can get with additional companies to write business for them as well. Some well-known "preferred" companies that are usually sold through brokers are Progressive, SafeCo, Travelers, and Pekin.
These are easy to describe as most of you know of/have heard of Geico & e-surance, and seen their commercials. They do not have agents, just "insurance professionals" or customer service representitives that handle your policy. Unlike Captive Agents and Brokers, they have no "personal interest" (compensation) tied to your policy, whether or not your happy, you cancel your policy, etc. They are generally paid a hourly salary based on being at a call center and either providing quote comparisions and/or handling current customer service issues: policy changes, answering questions or forwarding a person to claims.
For starters, I honestly believe having an agent is an absolute must have. But, as a footnote to that, not all agents are created equal - there are inexperienced and unethical agents out there.
I personally would choose a captive agent (with a large well known company) or a large well-known broker that has been in business a number of years. Granted, some may call me biased being that I am an agent - but having seen and spoke to people the industry for a large number of years, I stand by that statement. Now don't get me wrong - not ALL agents are good, just like all companies are not good. You can have an agent provide you with outstanding service and coverage, only to find the company the coverage is provided by and the way they handle your claim is not worth the paper the policy is printed on. I think agent experience goes a long way, and an agent that listens to and answers your questions is something to look for. Also, an agent that if he/she does not know the answer to a question, tells you they do not BUT finds out the answer for you is important quality as well. No two customers/insureds are the same - everyone has different needs and it is important as an agent to tailor a policy to fit the individual and their coverage needs. One that sells you a "cookie cutter" policy because "everyone else carries those limits/coverages" should raise a red flag...your agent should ask you some personal, probing questions about what you do, and what is important to you when it comes to recommended policy coverages. A good agent will often times offer additional riders/coverage in case you have a need for them and also suggest different limits and some info as to why it may be a good idea to carry it. If your agent doesn't tell inform you a coverage is available to you, and it happend to be something you would need or want how would you find out? Unfortunately, when you need to make a claim on something that the extra coverage would have provided coverage for, but instead - since your agent didn't tell you about it, you find out it IS NOT covered.
Captive Agents generally have the most pull/influence (but not always) when it comes to saving an insured from being cancelled, intervening when a claim is not handled to the satisfaction of the customer, and assisting the insured when problems arise. They are working with underwriters, and claim persons who all work for the same company. Some companies nowadays, the agents have less ability to get things done for a customer, instead there are guidelines in place as to when a customer's policy will get non-renewed, etc. but for the most part they do not get paid unless you are their customer so they tend to be more customer-centric in their efforts to keep you happy and satisfied.
Brokers can be just as good (and sometimes better) than Captive Agents as they have the ability to move a customer from one company to another for a variety of reasons: cancellation, a cheaper rate than what you may be currently paying with another company they write business for, being a couple. But, most have little to no pull when it comes to intervening on your behalf if you have problems with a claim or coverage. Most refer you to the 1-800 number or "transfer you" to the company directly and then you deal with a customer service rep at the company (who I remind you has no $$ incentive to keep you happy). This is the biggest drawback to dealing with a broker. You want to help and assist your customer but your hands are tied as you simply place customers with the best company at the best price for the insured when you write their business. Brokers at their worst, sometimes can place you with a more expensive company than another company they offer or a "high-risk" company that provides terrible claim service - simply to meet required sales goals or bonuses/commissions that company provides to them.
As for 1-800 companies, I personally would never insure anything I own with them. You have no representation of YOUR interests there. Everyone that you deal with has no incentive to try and keep you happy, or assist you - that's not to say that you won't find someone that is helpful and knowledgeable - but most likely they have little to no experience in the field, and are basically there to collect a check. Most offer quick policy coverage, and cheap rates - but the reality is when it comes to covering claims (what you're paying for) most leave you short-changed.
Some things I would put out there to all of you that frequent this board and are looking for advice on insurance...
First and foremost, I always tell my customers <U>"good insurance isn't cheap and cheap insurance isn't good". </U>Now there are times when my companies policy and its price are the cheapest in the area - but that's most often not the case. But, when you have the need to file a claim you will have a better experience, hopefully be completely satisfied with the outcome and how professionally & quickly the claim was handled.
The "high-risk" companies, these are companies that most of you do not know the difference between, but those of us in the industry know of as companies that frequently have a large number of customer complaints with the state Department of Insurance and Better Business Bureau. They offer bare bones coverage at rock bottom prices...they are great so long as they get your monthly payment and you do not have to file a claim. But, you buy insurance for CLAIMS and when you actually need to use your coverage to file one - that's when you find out what you have been paying for!!! So, when you go to file a claim with one of these "high risk" insurance companies - it tends to feel like pulling teeth: trying to get someone to call you back, schedule a time for someone to come out and take a look at your damage, and lastly and most importantly - deal fairly with you when cutting a check for that damage.
I find it disheartning when I see some of you posting on the BBC about bad experiences with company A or B...but I also know you need to be dilligent in asking about coverage, how it works, what is not covered - don't be afraid to ask questions and talk to your agent. Most people do not know what is covered (or if it is covered) until the moment they pick up the phone to call in a claim!<U></U> Then when they find out something is not covered, or not covered to their liking they complain about that company, their agent, etc to anyone that will listen. Some agents admittedly drop the ball, some are inexperienced - but often times the customer just doesn't understand how the policies work and provide coverage.
I would suggest buying a policy from somebody that has knowledge in the specific area you need insurance for like RV's, motorcycles, etc. For instance, buy a boat insurance policy from an agent that boats and owns a boat him/herself. (this is in NO way a solicitation, either) But, most likely, they will be well-versed on the best & most complete coverage for boats because they insure their own, and they will tend to suggest "riders": (coverage that is not automatically added unless you pay extra for it) and extra coverage to you that you may not be aware of and in general provide you with a better experience and more complete coverage because of it.
I tell my customers that "I treat people how I wish to be treated" - the Golden Rule. I look at my job as having a responsibility to explain and educate my customers both during sale of a policy but also during the time they may consider filing a claim. I try to explain the ramifications of filing a claim as to how it may affect the policy, its discounts and the price if they choose to do so. But most importantly, I am my customers advocate - being the person they pay (through the premiums they pay) to get things done for them.
When choosing an agent (for anything: home, auto, boat, RV, life, business) make sure it's somebody that you feel comfortable talking to, that you feel will go "to bat" for you when assistance is needed and most importantly suggests coverage and updates you on changes in the marketplace that may affect how your policy affords you coverage.
Lastly, please note this info comes from my many years and experiences with ALL of the above type of companies and "agents". I welcome any other insurance agents/owners who have something to add to this, or feel that one or more of my opinions is off base to chime in. Again, this is not the end all be all when it comes to insurance simply my suggestions...but hopefully it enlightens and educates some of you!
Hope this helps you all.