Selecting an Agent or Broker

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Dealing with a Broker / Agent

In the United States, insurance brokers are regulated by the states. Most states require anyone who sells, solicits, or negotiates insurance in that state to obtain an insurance broker license, with certain limited exceptions. This includes a business entity, the business entity's officers or directors (the "sublicensees" through whom the business entity operates), and individual employees. In order to obtain a broker's license, a person typically must take pre-licensing courses and pass an examination. An insurance broker also must submit an application (with an application fee) to the state insurance regulator in the state in which the applicant wishes to do business, who will determine whether the insurance broker has met all the state requirements and will typically do a background check to determine whether the applicant is considered trustworthy and competent. A criminal conviction, for example, may result in a state determining that the applicant is untrustworthy or incompetent. Some states also require applicants to submit fingerprints.

Once licensed, an insurance broker generally must take continuing education courses when their licenses reach a renewal date. For example the state of Indiana requires license renewals every 2 years, which is accomplished by completing continuing education courses. Most states have reciprocity agreements whereby brokers from one state can become easily licensed in another state. As a result of the federal Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, most states have adopted uniform licensing laws, with 47 states being deemed reciprocal by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. A state may revoke, suspend, or refuse to renew an insurance broker's license if at any time the state determines (typically after notice and a hearing) that the broker has engaged in any activity that makes the broker untrustworthy or incompetent.

Because of industry regulation, smaller brokerage firms can easily compete with larger ones, and in most states, all insurance brokers generally are forbidden by law from providing their customers with rebates or inducements.

Insurance brokers play a significant role in helping companies and individuals procure property and casualty (liability) insurance, life insurance and annuities, and accident and health insurance. For example, research shows that brokers play a significant role in helping small employers find health insurance, particularly in more competitive markets. Average small group commissions range from two percent to eight percent of premiums. Brokers provide services beyond procuring insurance, such as providing risk assessments, insurance consulting services, insurance-related regulatory and legislative updates, claims assistance services, assisting with employee enrollment, and helping to resolve benefit issues.[4] However, some states consider the provision of services that are unrelated to the insurance procured through the broker to be an impermissible rebate or inducement.

Negligence on the part of insurance brokers can have severe effects upon clients when they discover their insurance coverage is worthless, which in turn illustrates why retaining a competent insurance broker is so important. In one case, Near North Entertainment Insurance Services provided alternative rock band Third Eye Blind with a commercial general liability (CGL) insurance policy that excluded coverage for the "entertainment business." After insurance coverage for a lawsuit was denied because Third Eye Blind was and is, after all, in the entertainment business, the Indiana Court of Appeal ruled in a published opinion that the broker had a duty to advise the band it needed something more than a basic CGL policy.[5]

Insurance broker vs. agent in the United States
Though not an absolute separation; an insurance agent is an insurance company's representative by way of agent-principal legal custom.

  • Agent's primary alliance is with the insurance carrier, not the insurance buyer.
  • insurance broker represents the insured, generally has no contractual agreements with insurance carriers, and relies on common or direct methods of perfecting business transactions with insurance carriers. This can have a significant beneficial impact on insurance negotiations obtained through a broker (vs. those obtained from an agent).