What’s the Best Approach to Insurance Shopping for You?

How do you buy your insurance? The traditional method involves going through an insurance agent.  Some people deal directly with an insurance company. In the last 5-10 years purchasing coverages through internet websites has gained popularity. Debate is on as to the long term impact the internet will have as a sales option for your insurance needs.

If you choose to get your coverage through a traditional insurance agency, you have to decide between a Captive or Independent agent. The captive agent is usually limited to selling that insurance carrier’s policies. Allstate, Nationwide and Farm Family are local examples of captive agencies. The independent agent is not limited to selling the products of one insurance company; they can search all of the companies they represent for the product that is right for you. The number of companies they represent will vary by agency.  Bud Balfour, Apple Valley, and Charland Insurance are a few of the local independent agencies.


Dealing with a local agent has many advantages that include offering the opportunity to meet face to face, they are located in your community, and they know the area.  A consideration to be aware of is that, in RI, the person you talk with you about your coverages must be licensed. That is not always the case of internet sites, 800 numbers and direct writing insurance companies. Some companies base their operations, or call centers, in states where licensing requirements are less stringent. You don’t want a minimum wage telemarketer advising you on your insurance coverages.


When you go through an internet based website, it is commonly operating much like either a captive or independent agent – without the personal contact. If it is an insurance company’s website, it operates like a captive agent.  If the site searches out multiple companies, it is operating like an independent agent.  Some have the perception that this will save them money. They still have most of the same expenses as the local agent, so pricing is unlikely to deviate dramatically.


If you are going directly to an insurance company, whether through the internet or through their 800-phone line, they are operating much like the captive agent; they are limited to offering the policy their company sells.


When shopping for insurance you need to consider your priorities which are tied to three focal points:   Availability, Customer Service, and Price.



The location of the property to be insured has a big impact on the willingness of insurance companies to write that policy. If you own property in our coastal communities, you are facing an availability issue. With near certain claims expected from every policy holder following a tropical storm, the few insurance companies willing to write in coastal communities are requiring special protective equipment, limiting coverages, imposing high deductibles, and charging high prices. Other availability issues may focus on a community’s fire protection limitations, local crime issues, or drought trends as is occurring in California.


Customer Service:

A few weeks ago I met a divorced woman who was buying her first home. She was upfront in advising that she had to get the lowest price and would be shopping it. But she was quick to express that she didn’t know what she really needed. We met so I could better understand her needs, we prepared a few home and auto quotes from the companies we represent, and then presented them to her.  A few days later she called to advise she was surprised to find that the best internet quote she had gotten for her auto and home policies was going to save her just under $100. Because I had taken the time to explain the coverages being quoted, she opted to go with my agency. She liked the idea that she could call me when she needed me. Customer Service earned her business.


When a customer’s house burned in January I was there in the early morning hours arranging to get the claim in motion, taking pictures and securing the house before the couple were released from the hospital. Their claim was paid within 45 days and their new home is well on its way to be rebuilt.  If they had gotten their coverage through the internet or an 800 number, who would have interceded on their behalf and how long would it have taken to get their loss paid?


I’m not alone in being there for my customers. Chris Caluori at the Nationwide Agency in North Scituate is a respected competitor.  I know he has held the hand of a few of his clients after a fire loss. Being there when our clients need us, allows an agent to stand out above any internet or 800 number for your insurance. Customer service starts when we quote your policy and does not end until you opt to terminate your coverage


For years articles have been written predicting the internet would bring the demise of the local agent. Of recent articles have been changing that focus. A January 18, 2015 article in the New Your Times by Conor Dougherty, he indicated “Online insurance comparison is still a nascent business; it has yet to make a dent in the armies of intermediaries that are the backbone of the trade.” It went on to say that people readily go to the internet to confirm they are paying a competitive price for their insurance but then rely on traditional means to purchase their coverages. Their reasons cited trust in the local agent to look out for them.



We are all looking for ways to save money; it’s the only way to survive in this economy. Price differences vary between each of the companies we represent.  We watch and move our clients between companies as price disparities grow. But we are also very concerned about changes to the coverages provided between companies.  You may be able to find a cheaper price for your insurance. That possibility is true no matter how you purchase your insurance.  It is usually not dramatically cheaper when comparing quotes on an “apples to apples” basis. Your biggest opportunity for savings is to look at dwelling values, coverage limits, and deductibles.


Always before making a final decision about who to buy your coverages through make sure you are confident that: The price difference is worth the giving up the ability to sit down with the agent you are working with. The person you are dealing with is licensed.  When you have a loss, you know who you will call in the middle of the night. The carrier you are selecting is financially sound?