Remember that all insurance premiums are based on the risks involved. The insurance company evaluates the situation to determine the risks - or potential for losses - and bases its rates on the results. Therefore, deliberate steps you take to lower your risks not only can help safeguard your business but also may make you eligible for lower insurance rates. Consider these steps:
- Maintain adequate lighting throughout your business premises.
- Keep electrical wiring, stairways, carpeting, flooring, elevators, and escalators in good repair.
- Install a sprinkler system, smoke and fire alarms, and adequate security devices.
- Keep only a small amount of cash in the cash register.
- Keep good records of inventory, accounts receivable, equipment purchases and the like. Consider keeping a second set of records off-site, such as with your accountant, insurance agent or at home.
- Make sure your employees have good driving records.
- Make sure your employees know how to lift properly and use all necessary safety equipment, such as goggles, gloves, and respirators.
- Consider using the services of a risk manager. Such an outside consultant can advise you of any safety or environmental regulations you may have overlooked or not been aware of and talk to your employees about safety practices.
- You may also wish to raise your deductible where appropriate to lower your insurance premiums. How high to raise the deductible should be governed by how much you can afford to pay out of pocket. Be careful not to raise it so high that you cannot cover it should a loss occur.
- Finally, make sure your agent is familiar with your business and the risks inherent in it. He or she should be able to advise you on risk management techniques and their benefits to both you and the insurer.
Insurance is a heavily regulated industry. Every state has some sort of department, administration or agency that regulates and monitors every insurer operating within the state's borders. In addition to approving rates, your state's insurance department is involved in all insurance matters on behalf of private citizens and businesses. It also issues operating licenses to insurers and agents, based on their ability to meet the state's requirements for conduct and knowledge about insurance issues.
Your insurance company and agent work closely with your insurance department to make sure you are getting the best and fairest possible service within the state's guidelines. If you ever have difficulty settling a claim, work with your agent to resolve the difficulty. However, you can also contact your state's insurance department if you wish to know more about your options and rights as an insurance consumer.
Agents are there to help you. At the most basic level, any agent should be able to answer all of your questions about insurance, provide you a thorough assessment of your insurance needs, and offer you a choice of insurance products to meet those needs. Also, any insurance agency should provide you with prompt, quality service in the case of a claim.
Just as important is the level of professional confidence and personal comfort you feel with the agent. Many people stick with the same insurance agent for decades, even generations. It helps to find an agent you can get to know and trust.
An important, but sometimes overlooked, factor to keep in mind is that there are two kinds of insurance agents: those who represent only one insurance company and those who represent more than one insurance company.
Agents offering through their agencies only the policies of one insurance company often are referred to as "captive agents," because the company they represent does not allow them to offer their customers competitive alternatives.
By contrast, agents offering through their agencies the policies of more than one insurance company are called "independent agents," because they can shop around for their customers for the best insurance values among a variety of competing companies.
A nationwide survey in 1994 showed that Americans prefer to work with independent insurance agents by a 2-to-1 margin over captive agents. You can be sure you are dealing with an independent agent when you see this symbol on the agent's signs, letterhead and business cards.