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Insurance is a necessity of life, but it can feel burdensome to business owners. Not only do they have to pay high premiums for good coverage, they have to carry multiple personal and business policies. If you’re like most business owners I know, you feel “insurance poor.” However, if you understand the distinction between a captive vs independent insurance agent, you can actually reduce the cost of your insurance.
- 01:01 – How Business Owners Can Reduce Their Insurance Expenses
- 02:27 – Captive Agents vs. Independent Agents
- 10:31 – When to Use an Agent and When to Use a Broker
- 19:08 – Captive Agents
- 20:25 – Brokers
- 21:31 – Wrap Up
To know how to reduce your insurance costs, you must understand the way insurance is sold. Yes, I used the word, “sold.” Unfortunately, no one wakes up in the morning and says, “I need to buy insurance.” No one thinks that way. So instead, insurance companies hire agents, or brokers, to go out and pitch or sell their policies and products to you and me.
The basic difference between a captive vs an independent insurance agent is how many companies they represent. I use the word “captive” because this type of agent typically represents one insurance company like State Farm, All State, Farm Bureau, etc. In fact, these agents are often employees of the company they represent. They’re not allowed to go out and represent other agencies. Instead, they represent that one particular company, and they are there to sell that one particular company’s products or services. Because of that, captive agents usually get paid a salary or a salary plus commission.
Unlike captive agents, independent agents represent multiple insurance companies. They do not receive a salary from one company. Instead, they receive commissions when they sell different companies’ policies and products. Essentially, their job is to broker a deal between you and an insurance company that provides you with the best coverage for the best value.
Are Insurance Agents Fiduciaries?
Although captive and independent insurance agents are trying to meet your needs, they are not fiduciaries. In other words, they are not required to act in your best interest. Honestly, as employees of insurance companies, captive agents are encouraged to act in their employers’ best interest, not their clients’. They may have two, three, or four types of policies, but they don’t necessarily have to offer you the most affordable policy. They can find and offer you one that will suit your needs and give them a big commission. Similarly, insurance agencies often incentivize independent agents to sell certain products and services by offering higher commissions on those policies.
Now, I’m not saying that insurance agents only offer you policies and products that make them the most money. That would be nefarious in nature. Yet, insurance agents are salespeople. Many only make money when they sell products and services, or they make extra money when they sell certain products and services. Obviously, they want to make a “good sale.” In general, though, insurance agents also want what’s best for their clients. They are good people who represent good companies with good quality controls in place. However, since they are not fiduciaries, they work on the premise of suitability rather than fiduciary. In other words, they will find you a product or service that will “suit” your needs.
The Suitability Premise
Let me explain how suitability works.
Let’s say that I ask my wife for a cup of coffee. If I’m getting on the tractor, Emily will put my coffee in an insulated cup with a special lid on it that seals and prevents spilling. If I’m going for a walk, she’ll put the coffee in an insulated cup with a lid on it, but she won’t necessarily use the super tight lid she’d give me if I were going on the tractor. Yet, if I’m just going to sit at the kitchen table to eat my grits, eggs, bacon, and toast, Emily will hand me my coffee in a porcelain or ceramic mug. When we have lots of guests over, she’s even been known to hand me my coffee in a red SOLO™ cup. Essentially, Emily is going to try to put my coffee in a cup that will be “suitable” for my needs.
If I went to a captive agent for this metaphorical cup of coffee, I’d say, “I need a cup of coffee.” He might reply, “Well, we have a SOLO™ cup that’s insulated in nature, or we have a porcelain mug, or we have a mug with a lid. It doesn’t seal, but you can put a lid on this mug.” Well, what if I really needed an insulated cup with a lid that seals? The agent may or may not offer that type of cup. Instead, he’s providing me with a “suitable” recommendation.
At that point, I might ask an independent insurance agent for the cup of coffee. She would say, “Well, if you’re going to be on your tractor, you’ll be bouncing around. You need a coffee cup that has a lid that can seal and will stay locked. Let me see which company offers you that product.” Since she’s representing multiple companies, she will probably find the type of “coffee cup” I need. It will suit my needs. However, it might come at a higher price than the policy the captive agent offered me.
Captive vs Independent Insurance Agent
So before you can decide which type of agent will save you the most money or offer you the best policies, let’s nail down the differences between captive and independent insurance agents.
- Representation – As I’ve already discussed, captive agents represent one company while independent agents represent many insurance companies.
- Policy Options – Since captive agents work for one insurance company, their policy options are limited to whatever the one company provides, and their knowledge is limited to that company’s policies and products. Conversely, independent agents have access to multiple insurance agencies and products. If they work with 20, 30, or 40 insurance companies, they can offer customers almost any type of policy, and they will have a more extensive knowledge of types of insurance products available.
- Risk Coverage – Similarly, since captive agents have limited product offerings, their products may not cover your specific risks. Maybe you have a swimming pool or a trampoline in your backyard. Maybe, like me, you’ve put a metal roof on your house. Some insurance companies just don’t cover risks like those. You may have to work with an independent agent to find a company with a policy that will cover your specific risks.
- Pay – Insurance companies will often pay their captive agents a salary or salary plus commissions. However, independent agents work solely on commission. Oftentimes, the way agents are paid affects the type of customer service you receive or the price of the premiums you pay.
- Policy Fees – Typically, captive agents have lower policy and service fees than independent agents have. Independent agents are searching for the policies that provide you with the best coverage and lowest premiums. Many times, those policies come with higher fees.
Which Should You Use? Their Pros and Cons
If you understand the way insurance agents are paid and their responsibilities, then you understand when to use certain ones. Let’s boil it down:
When to Use a Captive Insurance Agent
- If you have time to shop, then you might want to use a captive insurance agent. You can go to the different insurance agencies yourself and get product and pricing quotes from each of their agents. Oftentimes, you’ll find that one has the “perfect” policy and price for you.
- Another instance when you might want to use a captive agent is when you’re trying to avoid brokerage fees. Since captive agents aren’t allowed to charge brokerage fees, you won’t have to pay those fees.
- If you’re looking for a discount, try talking to a captive agent. Many times, you can bundle multiple policies (business and/or personal) with one company and receive a discount.
When to Use an Independent Insurance Agent
- If you need to save time, then you might want to use an independent insurance agent. As a business owner, your time is valuable, and you may not have time to “shop” the insurance market yourself. If you don’t have time to research the companies yourself, you may want to use a broker to do the research for you.
- Another time you might want to use an independent agent is when you’re trying to save money. Even though they may charge brokerage fees, they often have the ability to find you lower prices than you would pay with a captive agency. Additionally, many have the ability to strip things away from policies that you don’t need in order to save you money.
- If you have a complicated risk that will need specialized underwriting, you might want to talk to an independent agent. Most likely, you’ll not find the products you need at one agency. You’ll have to shop multiple agencies. And higher risk usually means higher insurance premiums, so you want multiple insurance companies competing for your business.
Ultimately, when insurance agencies compete, you win. If you have time to comparison-shop, do that. If you don’t, let an independent agent do the shopping for you. You want to find policies that cover your specific personal and business risks, but you don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for those policies. Obviously, search for the products you need first. Then, compare prices. Doing that could save you time and money, and business owners are always up for that.
This article is part of the Risk Management area of our constantly growing series: Personal Finance for Business Owners. Expand your wealth-building knowledge by heading over today!