When shopping for insurance policies, you have two choices: you can either work with an insurance broker (someone who represents a variety of insurance companies), or you can choose to buy directly from a captive insurance agent (someone who represents a single insurance company).
As a consumer, you are most concerned with the cost of your premiums and the level of customer care that you can anticipate, so do research before making your selection.
Brokers - Because a broker is solely focused on your unique needs, he or she can help with comparison-shopping, honing in on the best prices for the coverage you need. They can even advise you on how to best bundle or customize your policies in ways that agents might not be able to do (either because they are restricted in their policy offerings, or simply because they lack the insight into your specific needs).
Because brokers work with a variety of insurance companies, they tend to have a broader understanding of companies’ offerings and key benefits. They are commission-based, which is a double-edged sword: they may be more motivated to earn your business year after year by getting you the best deal possible; or they may try to sell you a policy with unnecessary bells and whistles since that would pay them a higher commission. Regarding the double-edged sword: the best way to nail down the best deal possible is the annual review and re-shopping of coverage. The best way to avoid unnecessary “bells and whistles” is to remember that your needs guide what you purchase. If you don’t need “bells and whistles”, don’t purchase them. Approaching insurance this way is always the best way forward. Consider this: having options placed in front of you and explained in detail allows you the opportunity to hear about the newest “bells and whistles,” some of which may be just what you need or were looking for, but simply never asked about. Policies change, and new options are added by carriers all the time.
Independent Agents - Independent insurance agents function identically to insurance brokers in that they represent multiple insurance carriers. The primary difference between brokers and independent agents is that insurance brokerage companies are often larger than independent insurance agencies. However, independent agents and brokers approach the business in the same way, which is that they represent the customer.
Captive Agents - Captive insurance agents represent just one insurance carrier. In essence, they are employees of the carrier. The upside of working with a captive agent is that he or she has exceptionally thorough product knowledge. The downside is that he/she cannot provide access to products or pricing from outside their respective company. For this reason, you must have a high tolerance for carrier-specific terms, since each carrier and its in-house representatives may use language that is tough to compare across several companies that you encounter. Nevertheless, tap into that exceptional product knowledge and get smarter along the way as you search. The surge in online insurance websites offers consumers yet another option to use as part of their selection strategy. It is easy to find an insurance agent online, particularly one from a national insurance provider. Moreover, with 24-7 online access and quick comparison of policies, these web services are convenient, quick and a great way to ballpark quotes and to give you exposure to a wide variety of insurance providers. When you find one that is appealing to you, give them a call or fill out an agent request online.
Of course, there is nothing stopping consumers from utilizing all of these resources — other than the time it takes to conduct research and compare policies. Regardless of which route you take, it is always worthwhile to check with organizations such as AAA or the Better Business Bureau, as well as your personal network for referrals, recommendations and reviews, to find the insurance professional that is right for you.