Insurance Brokers – Bridging the Divide

The term broker traditionally refers to a person or entity that acts on behalf of a buyer or client which is known as the principle. The broker uses their knowledge and expertise to advise the client on certain decision usually pertaining to purchasing and trading. The broker can either play an advisory role or may also have complete purchasing and decision making power in order to act on behalf of the client or principle.

The most commonly found form of brokers are investment brokers and commodity brokers. People who wish to invest their money and trade in commodities seldom have the knowledge and time to manage their investment portfolio’s closely so they employ broker’s such as these who have a lot more insight and expertise to act on their behalf. There are however many other forms of brokers who also provide people with their inputs of knowledge and expertise. Other examples of brokers include business brokers, Forex brokers, real estate brokers, insurance brokers and many more.

The term insurance broker is however a very vague one. In the past insurance brokers were just like any other broker, but specialising in insurance policies. They would act on behalf of the principle/individual who employed them in order to investigate various insurance options from various insurance companies in order to secure the best deals for the principle, as well as help interpret certain formalities within insurance contracts. A trend eventually developed in which insurance brokers did not necessarily look out for the best interests of the principle and would favour certain insurance companies. In fact many insurance companies posed as brokers in order to obtain the preference of deceived and uninformed individuals. As a result the term insurance broker has developed into one with a much broader meaning. Today an insurance broker is essentially seen as any person who acts as an agent to insurance on behalf of the principle, irrespective of whether the agent is acting in the interest of the principle or in the interest of a particular insurance company.

In reality the term insurance broker is hardly ever used to refer to an agent who is hired by individuals seeking the best insurance offers. Today it is more accurately applied to employees of insurance companies who represent the clients of that company. Insurance brokers still represent insured individuals, but instead they are hired by the insurance company itself to handle the claims, legalities and transactions between the insured and the insurance company. Therefore most brokers represent only one insurance company and act in the interests of the insurance company which they represent. The broker essentially acts as an intermediary which communicates the interests of the insured to the insurance company, manages the procedures of coverage and ensures that the insurance contract is adhered to.

In conclusion, the existence of an broker is very necessary to both the insurance company and the insured individual, as they insure that neither party breaches the insurance contract and make sure that procedures are followed. The insurance broker also makes it easier for insured individuals to communicate their interests to the company and successfully make claims should the need arise.

The Role of Car Insurance Brokers

The role of a car insurance broker is to act as an intermediary between the customer and the underwriting Insurance Company. Within this role there are various functions that they carry out in interaction both with the car insurance buying public and the Insurer with who they place the business.

When a broker places car and motor insurance risks on cover, their role has a major difference to other types of insurance in that the spread of risk is smaller. This is because a very high proportion of motor business is eventually placed on the basis of ‘one risk, one underwriter’ – that is to say, a Lloyd’s underwriter or Motor Insurance company.

When a member of the public goes to a motor insurance broker they expect that the broker should be fully aware of all the covers available and offered in a standard car insurance policy and a commercial motor policy. A broker also should be knowledgeable about the differences in policies and prices offered by the various Insurance Companies and underwriters with which his brokerage does business.

The Car Insurance Brokers role does not just stop with the supplying and purchasing of the insurance. They should be available to act as an intermediary with the Insurer at any time, acting upon the client’s behalf should there be any changes to the policy mid-term of the contract period, or to deal with any claims that need to be made.

The two main insurance areas dealt with by the car insurance broker are the private individual’s motor policy and the commercial fleet motor policy.

A marked tendency in the large broking house during recent years has been to concentrate more and more on the commercial motor insurance fleet placings, and less and less on the private sector of the market.

Many large international insurance brokers view the private motor insurance as uneconomic for a fully sustainable business, and so specialist sub-brokers or large provincial and regional brokers are dealing with a greater proportion of this class of motor business.

Car Insurance Brokers receive commissions for their role as intermediaries which are received from the Insurance companies with which the business is placed. The commissions available in the motor market varies somewhat and the recent ‘soft market’ where premiums and commissions are low, have also led the high street insurance broker to seek more profitable business in insurance classes other than Motor. Commissions for a car insurance policy may range from 7½ per cent to 20 per cent although with commercial vehicle contracts and large fleet business, brokerage may be agreed on a fee basis which is often charged over the whole portfolio for that particular client. In the past a standard rate or tariff which was agreed and reviewed by the Association of British Insurers professional body (ABI) was used in the UK car insurance market. This is no longer the case, but this approach still influences some underwriters in some specialist car insurance areas.

In recent years, however, many larger brokers have developed what is known as a ‘direct dealing account’. This is where the broker introduces a sub-broker to underwriters and then permits him to deal directly with them under a fronting agreement with their own marketing. The accounts, however, will still pass through the main broker. The commission is split between the main broker and the sub-broker, with the sub-broker usually commanding the higher percentage. An important restriction applied to the sub-broker within the fronting agreement is that he must pass the premium on to the main broker within 30 days of inception of the risk.

The role of the motor broker has changed somewhat in recent years with the development of Internet based quotation systems.

In particular the insurance comparison websites who have taken over the role of the broker to some extent. These quotation systems have been used successfully however by some car insurance brokers who have adapted and embraced the technology and now offer full on-line comparison quotes from their panels of insurance providers. The benefits are a very quick service, although it may still be advantageous for the broker to ‘shop around’ for the best deal for one’s client, particularly if the cover is for a non standard driver or car.

Whatever the changes in the technologies and methods of Car Insurance delivery there will always be clients who want a human face and to talk to someone directly about their insurance needs. The role of the broker is ultimately communication.

The Different Types Of Commercial Insurance Brokers

To the average man or woman on the street, the world in which commercial insurance brokers live and operate will be little more than a mystery. The field of insurance in general is still barely understood by laymen and women, and with commercial insurance being one of its most specialised branches, this effect is felt several-fold.

Few people seeking to take out this type of insurance will be aware, for instance, that there are several types of commercial insurance brokers on the market, each with its own specific ways to operate, strengths and limitations. At best, most of these men and women will be aware of the existence of the main, larger insurance companies, with the countless smaller operators being known to only a minuscule portion of the overall demographic, mostly through research or word of mouth. Yet, on occasion, these alternative types of commercial insurance brokers may actually be more suited for what an individual or business is after than the more ‘mainstream’ alternatives; it is with that in mind that the present article seeks to introduce prospective clients to the different types of commercial insurance companies available, so that they may assess which will best suit their specific situation.

Insurer-Owned Brokers

Insurer-owned companies are perhaps the most widespread and prolific sub-section of the commercial insurance market, and many of the most popular and best-known commercial insurance brokers fall under this category. As the name indicates, these outfits are owned by large insurance companies, who typically dictate their standards and practices. In certain countries, this model was considered the industry standard for commercial brokers for decades; it has, however, recently begun to lose ground, as the effectiveness of these types of outfits began to dwindle. Nowadays, many experts make a case for the model being outdated, and it is predicted that insurer-owned commercial insurance brokers will continue to lose market space in years to come.

Broker Networks

Broker networks comprise several small commercial insurance brokers, all of which share resources, assets and market opportunities between them. In its ideal form, this is considered to be a beneficial model for companies that choose to join one of these networks, with many of them advertising better commissions for individual brokers and service conditions for the companies as a whole; however, adhesion to this type of network remains uneven between countries.

Consolidated Brokers

Consolidated commercial insurance brokers result from one company assimilating, buying out or otherwise consolidating any number of smaller ones, in similar fashion to a corporate merger. At one point, these types of companies were the most common type of commercial insurance brokers in certain markets, with consolidations happening as frequently as once a week. The practice has significantly lost steam since then, however, mainly due to the fact that the exact benefits to be reaped from consolidation processes are not always clear. This has caused many brokers to sour on the practice, and much like insurer-owner brokers, it is thought that this type of brokerage firm may lose even more ground in years to come.

Independent Brokers

The fourth and final type of brokerage firm are independent brokers, that is, brokers which are not associated with either of the three types described earlier in this article. These tend to be smaller, often family or owner-run companies, with smaller and more personalised client bases, and frequently focused on more specialised or less explored areas of the field. Customers resorting to an independent broker can expect a more personalised service, with a higher rate of face-to-face interactions and more time devoted to each case. This type of company is less prevalent in the modern landscape than any of the previously listed ones, but there are still a few independent commercial insurance brokers left, and they tend to attract a small yet loyal customer base.

These are, in broad strokes, the main types of commercial insurance brokers available to customers. It is, therefore, up to each individual to work out which business configuration would be most suitable to their specific needs, in order to avoid disappointment down the road.