That’s not just a farm-to-table rally cry from your town food co-op. It’s the answer I reliably give when someone asks me whether they should buy insurance from a locally based agent, or from a national direct carrier.
And I get asked this all the time. As a public adjuster, I’m uniquely positioned to see first-hand the value of each option. I work closely with agents and with large “direct writer” insurance companies, and I understand the advantages each can offer to an insurance consumer.
THE LURE OF ONLINE RATES
It’s an especially timely question now, as consumers are more empowered than ever before to compare rates and arm themselves with inside industry information. The big carriers are benefitting from web and mobile services that allow anyone to conduct a simple search at any time and get an immediate quote for their general insurance needs.
This is where the big carriers often score with consumers. If you go online and punch in some basic information, you’ll receive a very reasonable quote from Large Insurance Company X. Take that quote and compare it to what you get from your local insurance agent. Maybe the quote from the big guys is a little bit cheaper. For many people, that’s the end of the analysis. They bottom-line it, see a few bucks saved, and go with the big national carrier.
But if that same insurance shopper talks to me, I’ll encourage them to look again. More specifically, I’ll explain to them the numerous advantages of going with the local insurance agent – several of which lead to eventual bottom-line savings. Others may be harder to quantify – what price do you place on peace of mind? – but are just as valuable to you as a home or business owner.
A PERSONALIZED POLICY
When you sign up online, you get only what you identify as a need for you. The agent experience, on the other hand, is much more tailored to your particular needs. S/he will ask you the right questions to determine exactly what coverage you need, and as a result your policy will be much more comprehensive and individualized.
Think of it like a well-informed waiter guiding you through the “fresh catch” section of a seafood menu – you need guidance and expert recommendations to ensure you place the right order. Face-to-face discussions with experienced local agents can provide creative strategies and options for your exact needs. You might realize that installing loss-free credits is a money-saver, for example, or that you can bundle your auto and home insurance to save money. Compare these thoughtful solutions to the check-the-box approach you get online.
And what happens when you suffer a loss? With a local agent you’re not stuck calling a 1-800 number call center – you have a dedicated service team member who picks up the phone directly and responds to your individual questions. This is one of the benefits of the personal rapport you build with a local agent: you’re not just a number. In the event of a claim, this relationship means that you have an advocate who can navigate the claim experience for you.
Moreover, many consumers who buy online don’t even know what their policy is lacking until it comes time to file a claim. Then they have a rude awakening when they realize that the online enrollment left them with inadequate coverage – and without an advocate to help them with the process.
SHORT MONEY MEANS SHORT-SIGHTED
When dealing with a loss, having a local agent greatly expedites your claim. As a public adjuster, I often witness delays and disconnects that occur because the direct carrier is located out of state and must ship in adjusters and other claims team members who don’t do a lot of work in my geographical area. They often don’t know the local construction codes and inspection services, or the types of housing specific to this region.
This lack of local expertise draws out the claims process – and is why local agents excel in comparison. The local agents know how to fix on-the-ground problems, because they have the right relationships with key players in the area. They know who to call and how to advance the claim while the out-of-staters are flying blind.
THE VALUE OF THE IN-PERSON EXPERIENCE
When you walk into your local insurance agent’s office, you will likely see a wall bearing a host of logos. These are from the many different insurance companies the agency represents. This provides a great advantage to you in getting competitive rates, since they can quickly check numerous prices and types of coverage. Given the complicated nature of insurance, it is invaluable to have someone local who can break down all the details of your policies and ensure there are no hidden surprises should you ever need to make a claim.
“Buy local!” It’s not just for community-supported agriculture – it also makes sense when purchasing your insurance coverage.