Benefits of An Independent Insurance Agent; Not Because I’m Dumb

I must be dumber than a caveman!

I’ve been working in the insurance industry for over forty years. I started in 1970 with a two-year corporate training program, served as a Lloyd’s of London correspondent, priced and evaluated risk at several underwriting desks, started a self-insurance pool for political subdivisions that is twenty-five years later still one of the most successful in the nation, and won numerous national honors for production and underwriting expertise.

And yet, I don’t place my own automobile insurance.

It’s not because I don’t have an insurance agent’s license, I have been licensed for decades and own a fairly substantial insurance agency.

It’s not because I don’t have a contract with companies who can do a good job with my personal insurance. My agency was named the Midwest Region Agent of the Year by Travelers Insurance last year – out of roughly 1,800 agencies. My insurance is placed through Travelers, but not by me.

I Place My Insurance Through a Local Independent Agent for Two Reasons:

1) I don’t feel qualified.

The insurance industry is a vast landscape. Over the years I’ve developed expertise in insuring everything from equine mortality to general liability for pumpers and gaugers liability in the oil patch. I know enough about insurance to know that insurance requirements change daily. If I was working every day with auto and homeowner’s insurance I would place my own insurance, but I don’t.

Because I don’t, I’m not abreast of the changes in the market regarding coverage that is available. Every company strives to have product differentiation. Good insurance agents spend 20-30% of their time learning at seminars how to best handle complex insurance situations.

My personal situation doesn’t seem all that complex. I have a car and a home. On the surface, maybe a caveman could do it, but in reality I’ve needed the advice of my agent several times. First was in properly handling the insurance for the personal use of the car I drive, which is owned by my business. If you’re a small business man you might want to check your commercial auto policy. Many of them provide coverage only when the driver of the car has your expressed consent. If your daughter allowed one of her friends to drive your car and a costly accident happened, there could be trouble.

I also needed my agent’s advice with the handling of a claim. Claims are an every day occurrence in his agency. He was very helpful working with the company on my behalf.

The right advice can be very important. Years ago when I graduated from college with a large amount of student loan debt, I foolishly carried low liability limits on my auto insurance. My thought process was that I had nothing to lose. I was buying insurance to meet my statutory requirement and to satisfy the loss payee. It was my local independent agent who talked me into higher limits. He told me that if I had an accident that resulted in a huge judgment against me, that court order could follow me around for the rest of my life.

2) Mistakes happen.

When a mistake occurs and there is an agency involved, their professional liability carrier will provide coverage. If a mistake occurs between you and your online carrier, who will be your advocate?

I want someone I can hold personally responsible, not a nameless, faceless person at some far off call center.

I’ve known my agent for years. He cares about placing my coverage in the right company for the right reasons. He knows enough to ask the right questions to help me make decisions about what is best for me. He lives in the same state I do, so I know he understands our laws.

No. A caveman can’t do it.

Why Independent Insurance Agents Enjoy Placing Auto Insurance

Several years ago a young man in southwest Minnesota caused a serious auto accident in which his car went out of control on ice and struck another vehicle. The court ruled that the accident was his fault and awarded an amount to the injured party that far exceeded the state required minimum liability limits he carried on his policy. The young man had thought he had obtained proper limits, because he was meeting the state law and he had almost no personal assets to lose. He had purchased his insurance online and received almost nothing in the way of advice.

What he didn’t take into consideration was his potential future earnings. He didn’t realize that for the rest of his life . . . or until he paid off the huge award . . . his financial world would be under a cloud.

When an accident occurs, bad things can happen. If your car stalled on a train track and you were fortunate enough to get out, but you caused several railroad cars to derail, imagine the potential property damage liability loss. Even a slow moving two-car accident could result in life-long, soft tissue injuries. Someone has to pay; independent insurance agents do whatever they can to make their customers aware of the need to carry high limits.

Car insurance is a lot more complicated than picking a box of cereal off a shelf. Each time an independent insurance agent provides advice about coverage requirements and options that their friends and neighbors can rely upon, they experience a strong sense of fulfillment.

They also have an obvious profit motive. Insurance agents can’t make money unless they retain a large percentage of their clients. Some experts say that they need to retain more than 90% from year to year. They expect to lose nearly 10% a year through people moving out of state, or dying, or going out of business. Even with just 10% attrition they need to find one new customer for every one who left before they can start to grow their business. They can’t afford to lose very many through dissatisfaction.

That’s a good system. It keeps your agents on their toes and opens the door for them to gain new clients through referrals, which is how they find most of their new customers.

Jim operates an insurance agent network called Insurance Partners, aggregating agents in the Midwest for over 20 years. He was National Agent of the Year for Metropolitan in 1993 and Midwest Agent of the Year for Travelers in 2011. He serves as a founding board member of Surplus Lines Association of Minnesota.

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