Choosing Your Agent

As I try to alleviate some of the myths and solidify some of the truths about the insurance industry in this blog, I thought this segment to be one of the most important I will publish. In this article, we will run through why choosing the correct agent is important, as well as a few pointers on how to do so.

 

One of the biggest myths surrounding the insurance industry is that insurance as a product is all the same. Quite bewildering considering no two people are exactly alike, therefore how could two insurances be exactly alike? The same goes for the men and women that broker and service your insurance.

“People buy from people they like”, is the age-old aphorism, and while I am a solid advocate for building relationships with clients, I affirm that this can be a double-edged sword. After all, would you pay a terrible agent to handle your insurance, just because he or she is a nice person? I would hope not.

The choice you make on who is your ‘guy’ is one that will either stick by you throughout your insurance-having life, or come back to bite you pretty nastily if you don’t pay enough attention to it.

The relationship between agent and client is first and foremost a business relationship; whatever happens thereafter is supplementary and situational. Do not forget that you are paying your agent to service your insurance; do not fall into the trap of tolerating inadequate service because your agent is ‘nice’.

It is very had to make a true determination on who is or will be a good agent for you. I will make no secret that there are far too many agents in the industry that are experts at face-value selling, good throughout the proposal process until they have your check in-hand and then you never hear from them again. It is no wonder why consumers think agents are all the same, and I can only apologize for the people in my business who handle it this way. We will get into ways in which this choice can be broken down a little more easily.

What is an agent supposed to do for you? Well, this will change depending on who you talk to (or who is writing the article), as well as what is important to the client. Service should be tailored just as much as an insurance policy itself. That being said, agents are somewhat tailored in the servicing techniques as well, i.e. some are detailed, some have a regimented process that a client has to abide by, some let the client choose how much or how little service they feel is necessary.

Without giving away the magic of what services our agency provides for clients, there are some fundamentals that every single account should undergo throughout the course of an annual term. Services such as policy delivery, coverage review, exposure review, mid-term review, timeline management and bi-yearly market analysis should be the minimum that your agent, and/ or their team, provides for you. The larger the account, the more services I would add to this list, depending on the industry.

I mentioned a client’s choice of agent should include factors on what is important to them; essentially, what are the things that keep you up at night when it comes to your insurance? The answers to these questions should outline what is important to you, or rather, where you would like to have more focus when we talk about your insurance.

Insurance on the home and auto level is viewed as a commodity, a legality that you more or less have to have in order to stay removed from trouble. Knowing that the majority of consumers have this viewpoint is quite unsettling. The impact insurance can have on people’s lives is staggering, arguably the most significant impact of any service one has. Medicine can save lives, insurance can rebuild them. Make sure your agent understands what is important to you, why it is important to you and how best to protect it. If you feel you are not on the same page as your agent, find one who understands what you are wanting.

What are some of the best ways to determine who I should choose to be my agent?

When wrapping up a meeting with a client, I always ask them if they have some people in there lives that could use the same level of service and expertise that they have just received. Usually, everyone knows someone who is unhappy with their insurance or their insurance agent (because that’s just insurance!). Or, if the experience is vastly superior, a client will give you those names, plus a few more of other people who they simply believe I should talk to, even if they love their situation. The point here is that if you are looking for a new agent to service your personal insurance, asking your friends and family who they have as their agent will go a long way in helping you create a shortlist of who is good at what they do. Once you have a strong idea of the best players, then you can decide who you “like” the most.

On the commercial side, there are a few more ways along with the above to help with the decision.

The first stop I would recommend is talk to other business owners. Any business owners, regardless of industry. See what agent or agency pops up most often. Ask who they have used in the past and who they use now. Ask them why they made a change. Ask them have they heard anything about XYZ agency. None of this is anything concrete, but it certainly helps paint a fuller picture by having some general perspectives in the mix.

Next, go to other industry-related business owners. There are many agencies that specialize in certain industry insurance packages, and many business owners like to work with these agencies for obvious reasons. But, if you are a painter, ask other painters who they’re with and why so. Ask them what their agent/ agency does that is more industry-specific servicing. Again, some generalizing to do here but it all adds to the finished picture.

Perhaps you would like to talk to your trade association. Many trade associations will recommend to business owners certain carriers and agencies that they have partnered with, and this can be beneficial. The reason being is that usually the carriers and agencies are tried and tested to the point that the trade association still recommends them, and they can also help with other aspects of whatever the industry may be.

Lastly, you may want to look to the World Wide Web for some final hints as to who may be the best fit for you. Things like the agency website, review pages and social media pages can often help in feeling out an agency culture and how they present themselves to the public.

Once you have completed these steps, we arrive back to the ‘who do you like the best?’ question. The previous steps will help you weed out the part-timers, the pretenders and the prima donnas, but you will still have a list of maybe two, three, four agents that tick all of the boxes of what you want for an agent. Now comes time to meet with said agents and feel them out, but what separates good from great, great from the best?

I said in the decision-making process that you should pay attention to what names of agents and agencies pop up most often; I cannot stress this point enough – for two reasons: The first is that, yes, it can show who is successful at what they do. The second is that it may show you how much service you are likely to receive. Don’t be fooled by a “big” agency; just because they are big does not mean they are the best. Consider, do you think your $3,000 account will receive the same attention as a $100,000 account? If the answer is no, then perhaps it would be a better fit for you to be with a smaller agency. A great agent will set the expectation with you on what to expect in terms of how service is structured within their agency; if it does not line up with what you want, find an agency that does what you want. There are pitfalls for big agencies just as there are for small agencies, it ultimately comes down to what is the best fit for your needs.

An agent’s experience is very noticeable and the best in the business have all the experience in the world. They’ve seen it all, and they’ve done it all. This alone can be enough satisfaction for many clients; having the old guard overseeing things is as sure as it can get. That said, take note, or ask outright, what your agent’s plans are for the next five years. Is he or she going to be around? Who will be taking over? If the agent is the reason you want to make a change but they will be gone in five years, is it still in your best interest to move? I attest that one of my strongest assets is that I can honestly sit down with clients and say that I will be around for the next thirty years to be their guy. Imagine that, having the ability of sticking with the same insurance agent for three decades. Then you can truly say “my guy”. The point here is that experience can be a big deal for a lot of people, but so can longevity. Again, depends what is important to you.

I always like to see what qualifications and certifications people carry within their industry, really only out of my own curiosity. I believe they should be acknowledged, for better or worse, in your process of choosing your agent. I say better or worse because we all know someone we went to college with that missed the majority of classes, didn’t do much homework, skipped finals, etc. that still, somehow, ended up hanging their degree on their wall. Qualifications, certifications, licensing are important, perhaps legal, to have. For example, every agent needs a license to sell insurance at least within their home state, but what can an agent have beyond that? A few examples come from my own agency principals; one has the CPCU (Chartered Property Casualty Underwriting) designation, and the other carries his CIC (Certified Insurance Counselor). I could really get into what these mean, but plainly these are good indicators that an agent knows what they’re doing. The flip side to consider is, an agent has all the certifications in the world, but is their service up to standard?

The process of choosing an agent is not easy, but often underestimated. I encourage clients to really think about who they are working with and why they are working with them. Your agent has a huge responsibility to deliver on what they promise. You pay for your product, you are paying your agent, and you should get what you pay for. You have the power to hire and fire.

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