Get answers to some of our most commonly asked questions
Here are answers to important questions that will help you make good decisions. If you have additional questions please contact us
+ What are the differences among the major types of insurers in the United States?
The insurance industry is typified by insurers with a number of different organizational forms. Stock insurers are corporations owned by the shareholders of the firm. The shareholders hire managers to run the company and the insurance product is sold to customers who may or may not be shareholders in the firm. Mutual insurers are companies which are owned by their customers. Any policyowner of the company also owns a portion of the company. Reciprocal insurers or reciprocal exchanges are insurance companies where the policyowners of the exchange agree to insure one another. They are very similar to mutual companies.
Lloyd's associations are insurance companies where the manager who makes the decisions for the firm also has his/her own personal wealth at stake in the firm. Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurers are typically nonprofit (some may now be for profit), community oriented health insurance providers. Blue Cross/Blue Shield companies typically offer traditional indemnity health insurance. HMO's or Health Maintenance Organizations are companies which provide comprehensive health care coverage to their customers. HMOs, in their simplest form, provide prepaid health care coverage. Once you pay your premium you can use the services of the HMO at little or no further cost to you.
+ Should I care which type of insurer I purchase insurance from?
Insurers deliver their insurance products to policyowners primarily through independent agents or through exclusive agents. Historically, almost all insurance agents were independent business people paid on commission. More recently, many insurance companies have adopted a system where the agent is a paid employee of the firm rather than an independent business person. These agents are referred to as exclusive agents.
Independent agents have the freedom to shop your insurance for you with multiple insurance companies. The reason some companies have paid employee agents is obvious. The exclusive agent companies do not want their agents to be able to compare their policies with other insurance companies. Also since independent agents are not employees of the company, they have the freedom to offer more objective claims advice and more personal claims service. Many exclusive agent companies require their policyholders to call an 800 number rather than call their agent. Once this number is called, the potential claim goes on a claim record whether or not it is covered by the policy. The personal, customized service provided by independent agents has stood the test of time as the number of independent agencies has grown dramatically in the 21st century.
+ What do I give up by not using an agent to purchase insurance?
Many property-casualty and life insurance products can be purchased without the use of an agent. Typically potential policyholders will either be contacted through mail or Internet ads, or they can call a 1-800 number to apply for the insurance product. These companies claim to have better pricing, but many times they do not. They claim to save you money by “cutting out the middleman”, but what they do not tell the consumer is they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on TV, radio, mail, and newspaper ads on their distribution system, as well as employee expenses. Instead of receiving personal, customized, quality local service from a highly trained insurance professional, the consumer is many times buying an inferior product that is based on price only and impersonal service from distant and minimally trained employees. By purchasing one’s insurance from an independent agent, a consumer can talk to the same people every time.
+ I understand there are organizations that assign financial ratings to insurance companies. Who are they and what do they do?
Insurance is a product where the insurance company promises to make future loss payments in return for a premium you pay today. It is therefore important that you know the financial health of the insurer when you are deciding how much you are willing to pay for the product. For example, holding all other things equal, people should pay slightly more for a life insurance policy from an insurance company with a higher financial rating, or should pay slightly less for the same policy from a company which is not as financially strong.
In order to make this kind of informed purchasing decision, a number of private organizations, called rating agencies, rate the financial stability of insurance companies. Major insurance rating agencies include the A.M. Best Company, Standard & Poor's, Weiss Research, Duff and Phelps, and Moody's. Each of these companies uses data obtained from various sources to rate the financial strength of insurance companies. It should be noted, however, that each organization has its own rating standards and therefore the financial grades from two different rating agencies may be different. The best advice usually given to insureds is to check the financial rating of the insurer from as many rating agencies as possible to determine the range of opinions of the financial health of the company.
+ Where can information be found on the largest insurance companies in the United States?
The monthly publication Best's Review (Life and Health Edition) periodically contains information on assets, premium income and products sold by most of the largest life insurance companies operating in the U.S. The sister publication, Best's Review (Property and Casualty Edition) provides certain statistical information on large property-casualty companies. Both magazines are published by the A. M. Best Company in Oldewick, N.J. Public libraries in cities of medium to large size frequently subscribe to one or both of these magazines.
+ What kinds of questions should I be expected to answer when I am applying for an insurance policy? Why do insurers ask all of these questions?
When you apply for an insurance policy, you will be asked a number of questions. For example, the agent will ask you a number of demographic questions such as your name, age, sex, address, etc. In addition to these demographic questions, you will be asked a number of other questions which will be used to determine what type of risk you are. For example, when an insurance company is deciding whether or not to offer auto insurance to a potential policyowner, it will want to know about the person's previous driving record, whether there have any recent accidents or tickets, what type of car is to be insured and various other types of information.
All of this information will be used for two purposes. First, based upon the responses to these questions, the insurance company will decide whether the profile of the applicant is consistent with the type of risks the insurer is trying to attract. Some insurers specialize in offering insurance to only very safe drivers and therefore will only accept applications from people who fit the profile of a safe driver. Second, once the insurer has decided that your risk profile is consistent with the types of risks it accepts, the answers to the questions will be used to determine which rate to charge you. For example, the insurance company will decide whether you should be offered insurance at the high risk driver rate or the low risk driver rate.
Collectively, this entire process is known as the underwriting process. The primary function of the underwriting department in an insurance company is to decide whether or not to offer insurance to a person who has completed an application. If the answer is yes, then the underwriting department seeks to determine the "quality" of that risk so that the proper premium can be charged. That is, high risk people should pay more than low risk people.
+ What should I do if I have a loss?
Report the loss to your insurance agent as soon as possible, providing date of loss and description. Take photos or videotape of the damage. Keep records of your expenses for emergency or temporary repairs. Separate the damaged items from the undamaged items. The insurance company adjuster will want to inspect the damaged items, so don't dispose of them without the adjuster's consent. Make a detailed list of all damaged or lost property, including when and where they were purchased. If possible, provide the original receipts for each item. Obtain estimates for repairs and/or replacement of the damaged or missing items. Should the loss involve theft or vandalism, contact your police department immediately.
Auto / Car
When possible, report the accident to the presiding police department and forward a copy of the report to your agent. Contact your agent , providing date of accident and details surrounding the incident. Obtain a written estimate for damages from the body shop of your choice. You will be contacted by your insurance company to make arrangements for an inspection of your vehicle. No repairs should be made without the insurance company's authorization.
Contact your agent, providing date, time, description of incident, names and addresses of all injured parties and/or owners of property damage. Also provide names and addresses of any witnesses. Should you be served with suit papers or any other legal document, forward them immediately to your agent.
Provide for immediate medical services as required by workers' compensation law.
Contact you agent for claim reporting procedures. You will need to provide the date, address and Social Security number of the employee, nature of the injury, etc.
Upon notification of the claim, the insurance company will contact you with further instructions.
Note: If the claim involves a death, be sure to file OSHA reports within eight hours.
+ What to do in case of an auto accident?
CIf anyone is injured, immediately render any possible first aid assistance and call emergency services.
Exchange name, address, and insurance information with the driver of the other car. Record the following information: date, time, and place of accident, name and address of owner of the other car, if different from driver driver's Social Security number and driver's license number, names and addresses of passengers and witnesses, license number of the other car and the cars of witnesses. Report the accident to the nearest police station and file any necessary reports. Cooperate fully with the police, but do not make any admissions about your liability. Don't sign any statements for anyone other than an authorized representative of your insurance company. Promptly report the claim to your agent. Note: If you plan to travel by car in Canada or Mexico, check with your agent for insurance requirements.
+ What to Do in Case of a Property Claim?
If anyone is injured, immediately render any possible first aid assistance and call emergency services. Take appropriate steps to avoid further damage to the property. Promptly report the claim to your insurance agent.