The Benefits of an Independent Insurance Agent

In this internet age of immediate access to wholesale prices and discount merchandise, many consumers may be tempted to buy insurance the same way they buy music: immediately downloaded from the source. While with some purchases it can make sense to cut out the middleman, so to speak, insurance is not the same as a new mattress or a DVD. Would you dispense with a lawyer at a real estate closing? What if you’d been unjustly arrested? Expert advice is important and your independent insurance agent can provide that, along with a layer of protection you can’t get in any other way. We’ve spoken about the value of local, independent insurance agents before, but it’s always worth rethinking.
Most people realize that insurance can be purchased in three separate ways:

  • Directly, from an agent of the insurance company
  • From an internet or telephone agent who may represent several different companies
  • Through an independent insurance agent in your community.

Purchasing directly from one insurance company means that you’re not getting any comparison to other policies that might serve you better. It’s not in the company’s best interest to steer you to another company, after all.
Internet and phone agents may represent several different companies, but they are not members of your community. Not only does this mean that they simply may not be aware of specific state and local conditions and laws, it also means that they are just not as accountable as someone you can visit at any time. If you’re purchasing insurance directly, you’re also directly responsible for the level of coverage you may or may not have. That can mean that you’re not covered when it counts, because no one can be an expert in every field.
A local independent insurance agent is an expert and is your representative. They are licensed professionals who know local conditions intimately. They can recommend the coverage that will keep you, your family and your property safe. It’s in their best interest to keep you happy and they can shop around several different companies to find the policies to fit you best. When your life changes, they can help you change your insurance policies to reflect your new circumstances. Your agent knows you and will recommend policies that suit your lifestyle. All too often, people shop for price and sometimes unknowingly sacrifice coverage, a point this writer for Insurance Agents magazine makes. How good is it to save a few dollars if you risk a loss that costs you thousands?
Your insurance agent can also help when you need to file a claim. They act as your agent and not for the company. That can offer a lot of peace of mind at a time when you may need it most.
Don’t have an agent? Here’s a list of New England independent insurance agencies.

Why buy auto insurance through local, independent agents?

Plymouth Rock Assurance has a consumer information blog that offers tips on safe driving, saving money, and understanding auto insurance. Recently, they featured posts on the value of independent agents when it comes to purchasing auto insurance. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves! The following are links to their posts, along with a excerpts highlighting a few points that we think are important.
The Value of the Independent Auto Insurance Agents – Part 1

Independent agents are local businesses located in the community where insurance shoppers live and work. Independent insurance agents offer the convenience of one-stop shopping for a full range of insurance products – auto, home, boat, business, life and disability – since they typically represent multiple insurance companies and products.
Independent insurance agents also bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and helpful resources to selecting the correct level of insurance for each customer’s individual needs. They are licensed under rules set by the state(s) in which they do business, and are required to complete continuing education courses to maintain their knowledge of industry trends and regulations.

The Value of the Independent Auto Insurance Agents – Part 2

An independent insurance agent has a broader perspective on the insurance marketplace in a local area. He or she can provide helpful insights about a policy, from discounts that apply to a given situation, to unique service programs that can save time or money, to extra savings by bundling more than one type of insurance (auto and home, for example) with a single company. Independent insurance agents not only help with shopping but also provide valuable advice to help make a more informed decision.
Additionally, most independent insurance agents provide services that online companies don’t, such as complimentary paperwork and fee processing with your state Department of Motor Vehicles. They also provide an annual coverage review and personal assistance in the event of an accident or claim. An independent insurance agent can advocate for the consumer in ways that an insurance company cannot, such as facilitating settlement of a claim or acting on the consumer’s behalf to resolve a problem with a insurer.

Why Use an Independent Insurance Agency?

by Joe Harrington, Markham Priest Insurance
For some people it does not matter where they buy their insurance. That decision could be costing them money, service and proper protection. Buying insurance is not like buying gasoline at a gas station. It is an important financial decision in protecting those things that are important to you such as your family, home, autos and business.
Independent agencies differ greatly from direct insurance carriers or the internet based insurance companies. In brief, here are the three ways to buy insurance:
Captive Agents: Insurance agents that sell you the insurance policy of one (1) direct carrier.
Internet Based Agents: Agents who potentially represent multiple insurance carriers, but are unable to provide the best customer service and personal knowledge to properly protect you with your changing needs.
Independent Insurance Agents: Agents who represent an average of six – eight insurance carriers. Independent agents are able to research these carriers to find you the best combination of price, coverage and services to properly protect your assets.
Your Independent Insurance Agent:

  • Is a licensed professional with strong customer and community ties
  • Provides excellent customer service and competitive premiums because your agent can access coverage from multiple insurance carriers
  • Because an independent agency represents multiple carriers, the agent can provide flexibility as your insurance needs change. If your insurance needs no longer match your present insurance carrier, the independent agent can easily transition you to another carrier
  • Assists you when you have a claim
  • Is your consultant, working with you to determine your proper insurance needs
  • Saves you premium by looking at the best combination of price, coverage and service
  • Provides full service by offering a full range of insurance products such as home, renters, condo, auto, business, life and health
  • Knows you by name and not by a policy number. An independent agent treats you like a person

Survey reports higher customer service satisfaction with local agencies than with call centers

The J.D. Power and Associates 2008 Insurance Customer Contact Study recently surveyed nearly 12,000 home and auto insurance customers to assess satisfaction. Survey participants had interacted with their current insurer within the past 12 months, either through an agency, call center or Web site. The results show that insurance customers who interact with a local agency tend to be more satisfied than customers who interact with their insurer’s call center. According to the study, “…routine service interaction is the most important element driving customer satisfaction, accounting for 38 percent of overall customer satisfaction with their insurer.”
Regardless of which method customers use, quick resolution through a single channel is an important element of satisfaction:

“Having a streamlined contact process is most ideal for customers, and in particular, those interacting with their insurer’s call center often have higher expectations than those interacting with an agency,” said Bowler. “For instance, call center customers are most satisfied when their issues are resolved the same day they contact their insurer, while agencies can take slightly longer before customers become less satisfied. Similarly, customers expect an agent to retrieve their information in two minutes or less, while call center representatives have only one minute before satisfaction declines drastically.”

The survey also reports that one-fourth of a customer’s overall impression of their agent, agency staff, or call center representative is driven by their perception of the service channel’s courtesy and friendliness.