Tips for choosing an insurance agent

Monday, April 19, 2010

With the variety in carriers, agents and types of coverage available, shopping for insurance can be a daunting task. Business Today asked local insurance experts for advice on finding an agent who will truly be your ally.

"I think your best route is to find someone you know or ask friends for a referral," says Angie Umfleet, insurance executive for Chap Arnold Insurance in Cape Girardeau. "That way you know it will be someone you can trust."

Umfleet also recommends finding an agent with access to different markets so you have more cost and coverage options. Be sure to ask how long the insurance company has been in business -- you want one with a solid history that will be around for much longer. Ken Oberlohr, an agent with American Family Insurance in Cape Girardeau, suggests doing an Internet search to make sure a company is highly rated and financially strong. An A+ rating by a company like A.M. Best is ideal, says Oberlohr, and insurance agents should also have this information available.

Jill Wicks, an account manager with The Daniel and Henry Co. of Cape Girardeau, says price should not be the only determining factor when shopping for insurance -- study the types of coverage available and what's covered under each policy. While federal and state laws mandate certain types of coverage, companies may pull or rearrange other areas to cut costs. Also note whether the carrier has a lifetime maximum -- some companies limit coverage or put caps on how much you can spend in areas such as preventive care or hospital in-patient care.

"Make sure you look at the nitty-gritty guts of how things are covered," says Wicks.

Once you find a carrier you like, focus on finding an agent with whom you can build a good relationship. Do you want an agent to help you every step of the way, or do you feel confident that you can take care of everything yourself? Your own needs and comfort level are important to consider, says Wicks. Remember that an insurance agency, unlike the average customer, can often call the carriers and speak to a real person right away.

"We have direct-line communication with the carriers. It's not 1-800-insurance," says Wicks.

Umfleet believes a good insurance agent should be trustworthy, honest and willing to work one-on-one with you to explain your policies.

"They should take the time to go over your coverage with you and answer your questions throughout the year, not just when it's time for a renewal -- and they should always return your phone calls," says Umfleet.

Oberlohr says that too often, people don't understand the importance of finding a trustworthy, accessible agent until they actually have a problem. Be prepared from the start by talking with the insurance agent and office staff and making sure you feel comfortable with all of them.

"You should be able to believe that when they tell you something they're actually going to do it, and that it's something they can do," says Oberlohr. "You need someone aggressive enough to follow through."

Interview your agent

Jill Wicks, account manager with The Daniel and Henry Co., suggests asking these questions before choosing an insurance agent or broker:

* How long have you been in the insurance industry?

* What markets are available for the benefits I am interested?

* What is your procedure for renewals?

* What if I get a large increase in premium at renewal time?

Credit scores and insurance: One more reason to keep your credit score in check

Can my credit score affect my insurance quotes?

"For business insurance, the credit score can affect a premium if the business is a sole proprietorship," says Rob Johnson, agent and consultant with The Daniel and Henry Co. "If the business is very small, new and set up as an LLC or corporation that has only one or two members/owners, the credit score can also affect premium.

Research shows that people with higher credit scores tend to be better risks from an insurance standpoint and more likely to succeed in business. Each insurance carrier has different guidelines, and each case can be different."

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