If you’ve ever asked the question, “How do I find the best insurance agents near me?” you’re like a lot of people who are trying to navigate the maze of getting clear information in between all of the funny insurance ads that are competing for your attention. Insurance brokers and agencies range in terms of the types of insurance they offer as well as the quality of the agency, so due diligence is required if you want to find the best agent and insurance for your needs.
The best insurance agents are important partners when it comes to protecting your most valuable assets. Afterall, insurance is one of the cornerstones of a healthy financial plan. The goal is to not be over-insured or under-insured.
It’s worth taking the time to find the right insurance agent or broker for your needs. Afterall, the right agent is one who will look out for your interests, whether it’s from a premium cost standpoint, helping to manage disputes, or ensuring you have a policy that will pay claims quickly in an emergency. The following are some important qualities to look for when searching for the best insurance agent near you. This post will focus mainly on home- and property-related insurance.
Types of Insurance Agents and Companies
Before shopping for the best insurance for your needs, it’s important to understand the different ways that insurance is sold and the types of agents who sell it.
Essentially, there are four types of insurance agents. These include:
- Independent Insurance Agents
As their name implies, independent insurance agents work independently and sell insurance for a variety of providers. The independent agent will advise you on the best insurance for your specific needs, at the right price, by understanding the plans offered by different companies. In order to sell insurance for a specific company, the independent agent must be approved by the insurance provider.
- Insurance Brokers
Broker agents are similar to independent insurance agents in that they do not work for one insurance provider. Instead, they research the market of competing insurance offerings and present their clients with the best options for their needs. However, unlike independent agents, broker agents are not appointed by the insurance providers. Because of this, insurance brokers must post a $10,000 bond before they act as a broker.
- Captive Agents
A captive agent is an insurance salesperson who represents a single insurance company and sells policies only for that company. If the company denies a policy to the captive agent’s client, the agent can sell the client a policy from another company. However, the original insurance company has first rights to accept or refuse providing insurance to that individual or organization.
- Direct Writer Agents
A direct writer agent is an employee of the insurance company and only sells the company’s insurance. They can do so via phone, the Internet, mail, retail kiosks, or other direct means.
There isn’t one particular role that is better of worse than the other. However, as insurance companies compete with each other for your business, when it comes to choosing the best insurance agent for your needs, it’s important to know how they are compensated and who is compensating them.
How to Find the Best Insurance Agent
When selecting the best insurance agent near you, here are some qualities to look for:
- Types of Insurance Offered
Because agents can be limited in the types of insurance they offer and from which provider, it’s important to be clear on what you need before you go about selecting an agent. You may just need homeowner’s insurance, but it’s important to consider situations that are unique to you, such as the type of property you’re insuring, the types of natural and other disasters that are typical for your area, as well as the value of the assets you need to ensure.
- Licenses and Professional Designations
Insurance agents and brokers must be licensed in the state in which they operate by the state’s department of insurance. The state’s insurance department will have a website and/or a phone number where you can verify if an agent’s or broker’s license is current. Once they have their license, insurance agents and brokers must take ongoing continuing education courses to maintain their licenses.
You can also look for advanced professional designations that the agent holds. You might find these credentials in the insurance agent’s or broker’s email digital signature, on their website, in a professional social media profile, and/or on their business card.
Examples of professional credentials include:
- Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU)
- Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC)
- Accredited Adviser in Insurance (AAI)
- Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU)
When agents have these advanced designations, it’s a testament to their commitment to their profession and their desire to expand their knowledge with advanced training.
- Financial Rating
An insurance company is only as good as their ability to pay their clients’ claims as soon as the client needs it. Therefore, when selecting the best insurance agent for your needs, be sure to ask them about the financial ratings of the insurance companies they represent.
As with other professional services, experience and expertise matter when it comes to finding the best insurance agent or broker. Look for agents who have experience handling clients with situations similar to yours, whether that’s the types of property they own or their economic situation. Experienced agents and brokers will be able to make the best recommendations for your unique needs and be able to advise on policy types and changes over time.
Most of us can list at least three property insurance companies off the tops of our heads simply because of brand awareness in the marketplace. And generally, the large insurance companies can afford that kind of marketing because they’ve built a stable, long-term business with satisfied customers. However, even among the largest providers, every company is unique. An agent or broker should be an expert on the insurance products for the companies they represent. Don’t hesitate to ask them why the products they sell are better than the competing brands’.
In addition, when interviewing agents or brokers, if they sell insurance for companies you’ve never heard of, think twice before working with them.
Furthermore, consider the reputation of the individual agent of broker themselves. Pushy sales people may not have your best interests in mind, whereas agents or brokers who act in a more consultative way and are patient about answering your questions are more likely to have your best interests in mind.
Independent review websites, such as Yelp, can provide valuable insights into what customers think about a particular agent. In addition, social media profiles, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook, can reveal clues about an agent’s reputation and how they interact with clientele.
You can also research any complaints about an insurance agent, broker, or insurance firm via the Better Business Bureau, the state insurance department, or on the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) website.
Having the right amount of insurance to cover your needs in the event of an emergency yet not being over-insured is an essential aspect to good financial planning. The best insurance agents of brokers will be long-term partners who understand your unique needs. They’ll also state up to date on how your life and financial picture changes over time. When looking for the best insurance agent near you, treat the situation as if you were interviewing potential employees for your company or a business partner. Taking the time to find an expert in their field whom you trust to look out for your interests is the best way to build security for the long term.