The insurance world is full of jargon. There are many terms, phrases and abbreviations that can be confusing if you're not an insurance professional. The aim of this series is to clarify and explain common insurance concepts to empower you, our client, to understand the full depth of your insurance coverage and purchasing options.
One of the most fundamental but overlooked concepts in the insurance industry is the difference between an independent insurance agency like Chalmers Insurance Group, and an insurance company (or carrier) like Geico or Statefarm.
In this article, “insurance company” and “insurance carrier” mean the same thing and will be used interchangeably.
When people talk about buying insurance, whether it’s homeowners insurance, renters insurance, or car insurance, it tends to be the insurance companies like Geico or Statefarm that get the most attention. This is understandable given the amount of money they have to spend on advertising campaigns.
So, let's start with the basics. There are essentially two ways to purchase an insurance policy:
1. You can buy insurance directly from an insurance company who underwrites and originates the policy.
What does it mean to “underwrite” a policy? Underwriting is an evaluation of the risk that exists when insuring people or assets. An “underwriter” works on behalf of the company that is considering taking on the risk by providing a policy. Using the client’s individual risk factors, the company will calculate how much premium to charge for the policy term. There are too many risk factors to list here, but a few examples are age, marital status, credit history, driving history, location, etc.
The insurance company can only provide their own policy offers. Meaning, if there is a policy from a different carrier that provides more or better coverage for comparable or sometimes even less premium, you, the client, would never know.
2. You can buy an insurance policy through an independent insurance agent.
The agent functions as your insurance placement specialist by gathering the same risk factoring data. Instead of pricing the risk, they use these factors to select from a range of insurance carriers who can offer a policy that best matches your specific needs. Clients are able to choose a policy or portfolio combination from multiple carriers rather than being limited to the one option offered by the single carrier.
It also allows the client to change their insurance company without having to start all over again. They keep the relationship built over time with their agent who can facilitate that switch for them. This is why using an independent insurance agent can be extremely beneficial. You are partnering with the agent using their expertise and the multiple policy options they can provide to make informed, affordable insurance choices.
It might help to think of the agency/company difference like this: the insurance carrier is the manufacturer. The insurance agency is the retail store. Even more simply put, an insurance carrier creates the product. An insurance agency sells it.
An independent insurance agency, like Chalmers, provides:
- Local perspective and regional knowledge
- Informed, relative, client specific coverage recommendations
- Communication preference by offering in-person, telephone, or the latest technological options
- Detailed explanation of policies and coverage both before and after purchase
- The ability to compare carriers in-house and facilitate the change should a better option become available
- Versatility to adjust coverage, billing, or policy limits based on individual circumstances
- Claims support
An insurance company provides:
- An insurance policy to review on your own to confirm what is (or isn’t) covered
- An out-of-area 800 number to contact in the event of a claim
- A user id/login to help yourself for everything else
We expect understanding these concepts to take time and it may even require additional explanation before you are comfortable with the terms or their meanings— and that’s okay!
Stay tuned for additional future articles, which will include helpful tips and other relevant insurance topics. In the meantime, please don't hesitate to reach out to your Account Manager or a Sales Associate to learn more. That's what we're here for!