Most consumers consider anyone that sells insurance to be an agent. To some degree that is true. But if you look a little closer, you will see that there is a clear distinction. Insurance sales professionals fall into two defined buckets. Insurance salespeople are either agents or brokers. Understanding the differences should be the starting point for insurance consumers.
Classifying agents is based on their relationship to the insurance company. In the strictest sense, to be considered an insurance agent, one must be an employee of the company. These individuals are also referred to as captive agents or exclusive agents. As employees of the insurance company, agents tend to have increased authority.
For the typical insurance consumers, the lines between agents and brokers aren’t clear. Today we often refer to insurance brokers as independent insurance agents. This group represents insurance companies per specific contractual guidelines. As a result, the employee agent is able to write new business with less red tape than the broker.
The term non-captive agent is often used when referring to insurance brokers. Relative to his captive counterpart, the broker has options.
But, beware. Brokers come in varying degrees of captivity. Some derive a significant amount of their income from one insurance company. In some cases, this occurs because it is a requirement of the insurance company. In these cases, it is not uncommon to see 70 to 80% of the non-captive agents premium with one company. The numbers might go even higher. Some carriers demand exclusivity. If their company has a product that will fit, then the agent cannot show anything else. Under these circumstances, the agent has more in common with the captive agent than the non-captive.
¬†Other non-captive agents must meet specific goals as required by the carrier. Annual new business requirements, yearly predefined premium targets¬†and more. While a step in the right direction, it will still be challenging to provide trusted advise.
Brokers, independent agents, and non-captive agents, each have the potential to offer options. Regardless of what they are called finding a good insurance agent for you is a personal decision. For me the answer is simple. I seek the services of a trusted advisor that can present me with multiple options. While some will laud the benefits of free markets, I insist that it is the number of options and not free markets that truly protect consumers.