How to Choose a Great Insurance Agent

By Diane Tait

Image courtesy of A&B Insurance
Everybody needs insurance at one time or another.  If you drive a car or own a home, you are required to carry insurance.  If you and your family need adequate healthcare, you need to health insurance.  Want your family to be protected in case something untoward should happen to you?  That’s what life insurance is all about.  Whether you are single, married, an employee or a business owner, there are 101 reasons why you will seek out insurance coverage.  That being said, how do you go about choosing which insurance agents to work with? 

That’s a good question.  In 2016, there were 2,648 property/casualty insurance companies registered in the US.  To make matters worse, there were 1.1 million licensed insurance agents in the country.  While major broadcast campaigns costing hundreds of millions of dollars are used to try to sway consumers to choose one insurer over another, trying to pick the company that can give you the best coverage for the best price is a tricky proposition.

What’s even worse is the fact that if you choose wrong, you could quickly find out the policy you thought would protect you from fire, flood or other acts of misfortune could contain a clause that allows the insurance company to avoid paying you.  Just as you want to verify the credentials of a surgeon before an operation, if you want to make sure you have what you need when it comes to any insurance policy, you need to find an insurance agent you can trust.

What Flavor is Your Agent?

Image courtesy of A&B Insurance
When it comes to insurance agents, there are several flavors.  Some are ‘captive,’ which means they work directly for one insurance company.  All the major insurance companies use captive agents to sell their policies.  The downside to using a captive agent is that he or she can only tell you about the policies their company carries.

If you want a bit more flexibility, you can also find independent insurance agents and brokers.  These insurance professionals have the ability to sell policies from many different insurance companies.  This means they can compare prices and coverage to help you find the policy that best fits your needs.  The difference between an independent insurance agent and an insurance broker is that a broker only works with independent agents, while an independent agent works with consumers.

You Can’t Tell the Players Without a Scorecard

With hundreds of independent agents from which to choose in any major municipality, how do you sort them out?  While they all claim to offer tons of choices and superior customer service, how are you to know which agent is the best to work with?  That’s where the Internet can help.  Input the name of an agency or individual agent followed by the word “complaints” and you could be surprised at the information posted by past and present customers.   Finding out about the experience of others who have come before can help you avoid agents who say one thing and then do another, or who are slow to follow up on and process claims.  Review sites can also be helpful in your effort to weed out the superlative agents from the also-rans.  Sites like Google, Facebook and Angieslist post reviews and complaints on all kinds of businesses.  

Image courtesy of A&B Insurance
Testimonials from current and former customers are also helpful, provided they are legitimate.  Since it’s all too easy to create written testimonials that sing an agent’s praises, be wary of these.  On the other hand, video testimonials posted by customers are much more difficult to fake and are therefore much more reliable. (Once you call an agent, don’t be afraid to ask for referrals so you can take your inquiry even further.)


What Kind of Insurance Do You Need?
Since most agents specialize in certain types of insurance coverage, you need to find an agent that is an expert at writing the kind of policy you seek.  This is why sometimes it’s a good idea to work with an agency as opposed to an agent, if you are seeking multiple kinds of coverage.  Whether you’re looking to establish a long-term relationship with an agent or agency, or are only looking for competitive quotes, you still need to find someone who is more concerned with making sure their customers get the right coverage at the right price, than an agent who is only after a fat commission.  To help you weed them out, I have created a list of questions you should ask any agent you are considering.

       1.       How long have you been an agent?
       2.       Are you a captive or an independent agent?
       3.       How many insurance companies does your agency work with?
       4.       Are you the right agent to talk to about life insurance? (health, auto, boat, homeowners, etc.)
       5.       If I should ever need to file a claim, how will you assist me?
       6.       If I should cancel a policy mid-term, is there a minimum premium?
       7.       Can you send me a list of referrals I can call from people you have done business with?

While these generic questions are good to start with, in upcoming blogs, I will give you specific questions to ask depending on what kind of insurance you are after.  The reason it’s important to interview prospective agents is to find an expert, as opposed to a run of the mill agent.  The reason you want to find an insurance expert is because insurance regulations change and you want to make sure you don’t fall through the cracks that could cause your claim to be denied.  Don’t hesitate to ask for a copy of an agent’s license, as well as any advanced certifications they may possess.

How Low Can You Go?

Image courtesy of A&B Insurance
While everyone wants to get the best deal on their insurance policies, shopping for the lowest price isn’t always the best policy.  By paying a little more you can sometimes get far superior coverage that you will need in the future.  For instance, saving a few dollars per year on uninsured motorist coverage isn’t going to be worth it if you are involved in an accident and the at-fault driver has no auto insurance. Instead of merely concentrating on the price of the policy, a better bet is to have your agent determine the coverage you’ll need and then let him or her shop the policy for you. 

The bottom line is when you need to file a claim, saving a few bucks isn’t going to matter to you.  What is going to matter is whether you are covered.  If you are working with an expert agent, chances are the answer is going to be Yes.

Diane Tait is owner of A&B Insurance in Jacksonville, Florida.


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