Agents have a crucial role protecting their clients, but not just by providing the right coverages. Do not get me wrong, selling the right coverages is of paramount importance for professional agents (and I don’t know what amateur agents are even supposed to do).
Another key service professional agents can provide clients is protecting them from insurance companies. A great example is reading forms, yes–actually reading forms, to distinguish whether coverage actually exists! I think cyber might be an excellent generic example of verifying true coverage is actually being provided or if true coverage just appears to exist.
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Another example, and a great way to prevent E&O claims, is careful policy checking on E&S policies. By and large, surplus lines does not have to provide the coverages promised in their proposals. Neither do they have to notify agents or insureds at renewal if they reduce coverages. This is why they include their disclaimer stating they do not have this responsibility. It is one reason this is surplus lines and not an admitted market. An insured will not know the coverages have been stripped without careful review, and, even then, they may not understand. I know far too many agents who do not understand, so I don’t know why anyone should expect the normal insured to understand. This is a job for professional agents!
A third example is provided by a recent court case. Joseph Beith provided the details in his blog (and if you care about insurance companies treating insureds fairly, I highly recommend you subscribe to his blog). A long-term care (LTC) provider included a sentence (used by at least one other carrier, too) that, “Your premiums will never increase because of your age or any changes to your health.” My bet is that 95 out of 100 insurance veterans would not recognize the problem with this “guarantee.” Beith recognized and pointed out the problem. The guarantee does not prohibit the company from raising rates on a class basis (and, as people age, their class ages).
If an agent has a choice of selling two policies, one with this tricky language and another without it, then, all else being equal, even if the policy without this language is more expensive, a professional agent will point out this crucial language issue. Insurance policies are, after all, legal contracts, so policy language matters, A LOT!
This is maybe an extreme example of arguably (and it is arguable since it is part of a large lawsuit) crafty language, but important differences exist between carriers’ policies in virtually every instance. Whether it is simply a material difference in ordinance and law limits between two homeowners policies or huge contractual liability differences between two policies, professional agents will point out the differences. Doing so is crucial to helping insureds understand that insurance IS NOT a commodity when sold by professionals (again, I don’t even know what to call insurance when sold by amateurs other than disasters waiting to happen).
Pointing out differences in coverage shows clients you are actually working to help them rather than just working to make a buck. Pointing out differences gives clients the power, and, if they have the power, your relationship will likely be much stronger over time. Conversely, when they feel screwed because they were not educated and given the opportunity to choose, they are more likely to sue you or at least tell everyone they know not to do business with you.
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A problem with LTC and life insurance is that, when the events that trigger a claim occur, the agent may be long gone. P&C policies typically have a shorter lifespan, meaning more ramifications, good and bad, for professional agents. A good professional agent who makes these distinctions with good clients can achieve considerable success. I am not sure about the future of people selling coverages they do not know and do not communicate to clients. The future for absolute professionals is, however, so bright they will need shades.