That question is a lot like asking "what is a bird"? There are 10,000 species of birds, they all share some defining characteristics that makes them a 'bird' but all are uniquely adapted for their particular environment. Big wingspan and small wingspan, high-flyers and flightless, dull and exotic, the varieties seem endless. The one that is right for you may drive your neighbor crazy, but sometimes that's why you love em. Insurance agents are like that and I'll tell you why.
Captive vs Independent
Captive insurance agents are like birds bred in captivity, everything about their conception is controlled and planned. It's like a franchise, you walk into a McDonalds and you know what you are going to get. The same is true for name-brand insurance agencies, the menu is controlled by the parent company and you probably won't find much variety from one office to another.
Marketing, claims, and technology are mass produced fed to the happy captives, who live in safety behind the walls of corporate protection. Aviaries have nets to keep the birds in or the predators out, depending on your perspective. I don’t know about birds, but some people love that safety net around them. It's the same reason people think inside the box, because it's safe in there. If you are looking for a standard, uncomplicated product, captive may be the way to go.
Independent insurance agents live in the wild, mingling with the predators. Unlike McDonalds, independent insurance agents craft unique menus to suit their local clientele. Some people like escargot, but you wont find that on a drive through menu. Independent insurance agents have the tools to fly above the dangers of living at ground level and possibly relocate if conditions no long suit them. If you are looking for something as flexible and unique as you are, independent may be the way to go.
There are a lot of insurance companies
There are nearly 6,000 insurance companies in the United States, if I asked you to name more than 5, do you think you could? A captive insurance agent works with one of these companies. Independent agents are free to work with as many insurance companies as they like, allowing specialization in certain industries and carving out niche markets for things like high-value home insurance or coastal property. I don’t care for escargot, but as we say on the independent side, "there's a market for that."
2.7 million people work in the insurance industry, which brings in more than $1.2 trillion in premium each year (that's not even including health insurance, don't get me started on health insurance). That's more than the defense budget of the United States and about twice the number of active service members in all branches of the military. So it's a big industry to say the least, maybe bigger than you realized.
There are a lot of good insurance companies you've never heard of. Independent insurance agents know the industry a lot better and can help find the company and policy that is right for you.
What is an insurance agent?
A good insurance agent will get exactly what you ask for as quickly and affordably as possible. But what you ask for isn't always the best thing for you and sometimes it's not the right thing at all. Ask yourself, do you know enough about insurance to know exactly what you need?
A better insurance agent will listen to what you ask for and recommend what you need instead. You may ask to insure a house as a primary residence when really it should be insured as a rental property or you may ask for "full coverage" auto insurance when you meant you want towing, comp and collision, or something else entirely.
The best insurance agent will listen, recommend, and continually advise as your situation changes. The best insurance agent will ask questions about things you didn't think of, get to know you so they can advise to fill gaps in coverage you didn't know existed, and recommend products not only based on price but also the quality of claims paid, ease of doing business, technology, add-on benefits, corporate governance, and long-term forecasts.
Choose what is right for you and don't be afraid to ask around. Captive agents, like the ones you see advertised on TV, can be a great option but it's not right for everyone. Independent agents can be quirky with weird plumage but find one that works for you and it could be a great relationship.
At Norton Insurance we strive to the best kind of agent. We represent over 50 insurance companies and are constantly looking to provide the best products and prices to our customers. Give us a call and we will show you our best feathers!