disability insurance: why is locating an independent agent so difficult?

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OakPhilliesFan
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Location: Oakland, CA

disability insurance: why is locating an independent agent so difficult?

Post by OakPhilliesFan » Sat Apr 16, 2016 1:11 am

I've been shopping around for a long-term DI policy and have posted here a couple times already. With a bit of persistence and luck, I've finally managed to locate an independent agent in California that I trust to guide me through the rest of the process. But it's taken a lot of my time to get this far and I have to wonder, why was it so incredibly difficult? For term life insurance you have term4sale. For health insurance there are the online exchanges as well as various independent agents around. But for DI it's different.

The first thing I did was look on Yelp, Google things like "disability insurance agent bay area", and so on. That didn't really lead anywhere. So I went to the websites of various carriers such as Guardian, Principal, MassMutual, Ameritas, and Standard, and filled out their forms requesting a quote. This resulted in a lot of calls and emails from local agents. I guess they were independent, but for nearly all of them insurance seemed to be a side business. Their main focus was managing investments. They wanted to build my trust by selling me insurance so that they could work up to managing my money. I would have maybe just held my nose and ignored that sales pitch, but the problem was they weren't really as knowledgeable about DI as I wanted, because they had bigger fish to fry. I've also learned that an agent's working relationship with the underwriters can make a real difference; they may have been lacking there as well.

In the end, I got lucky. One of the email responses I got was from a firm that exclusively does disability insurance. In fact, their main business line is in training insurance agents to write DI policies from several major carriers, so they must know the policies inside and out. They also write policies directly. The only downside is they are not local, but they are still in California so it should be no problem. We haven't finished the process yet, but I feel very comfortable with them so far.

If this firm had not written to me I never would have found them unless I was looking all over the state, not just locally. I really don't understand why it should be so difficult. Independent, knowledgeable, unconflicted DI agents may be few and far between, but there could still be a list of them somewhere, or an association, just like there's the Garrett Planning Network for fee-only advisors. The only explanation I can think of is that individual DI is a sufficiently "niche" product (rightly or wrongly) that no one has bothered to do this.

Anyway, I thought I'd share this experience, in case anyone is just starting the process like I was a couple weeks ago. I'd also appreciate any thoughts on how to find a good independent insurance agent, for DI or in general. Thanks!

Tamarind
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Re: disability insurance: why is locating an independent agent so difficult?

Post by Tamarind » Sat Apr 16, 2016 6:15 am

OakPhilliesFan wrote:The first thing I did was look on Yelp, Google things like "disability insurance agent bay area", and so on. That didn't really lead anywhere. So I went to the websites of various carriers such as Guardian, Principal, MassMutual, Ameritas, and Standard, and filled out their forms requesting a quote. This resulted in a lot of calls and emails from local agents. I guess they were independent, but for nearly all of them insurance seemed to be a side business. Their main focus was managing investments.


It's possible that the Bay Area is different from my neck of the woods where there are several independent agents downtown running their own unbranded shops, but also your search phrasing seems off for your task. The standard Google-speak would be "independent insurance agent" and adding "near me" or a state name. Did you always include "disability" in your searches? Individual disability is relatively uncommon to write even for independent agents, so they might not put it on their websites.

Did you encounter http://www.iiabcal.org/? That's the California organization the corresponds to the one my agent is a member of.

Not sure why there isn't something like a term4sale for DI. But I do know most independent agents are small businesses and commonly not web-savvy. On the other hand it sounds like you found an unusually good match for your particular need after all the emailing was done.

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simplesimon
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Re: disability insurance: why is locating an independent agent so difficult?

Post by simplesimon » Sat Apr 16, 2016 6:32 am

Policy Genius was the closest thing to terms4sale that I could find online when I did research. http://www.policygenius.com

I ended up using an agent recommended by EmergDoc on his blog who lives in NY while I live in MA.

OakPhilliesFan
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Re: disability insurance: why is locating an independent agent so difficult?

Post by OakPhilliesFan » Sat Apr 16, 2016 3:02 pm

caticind wrote:It's possible that the Bay Area is different from my neck of the woods where there are several independent agents downtown running their own unbranded shops, but also your search phrasing seems off for your task. The standard Google-speak would be "independent insurance agent" and adding "near me" or a state name. Did you always include "disability" in your searches? Individual disability is relatively uncommon to write even for independent agents, so they might not put it on their websites.


I think I also googled San Francisco, Oakland, searched Google Maps, etc. Didn't realize that Google would recognize "near me". Anyway, we have independent agents, but it seems they mostly write health and life insurance. I didn't consider that some agents might write disability policies but not list it on their websites. I was only able to locate one local agent who lists disability on his website. He seems perfectly trustworthy (no conflicts of interest) but doesn't have the in-depth knowledge of the policies or personal relationship with underwriters that I was hoping for. So if that's the experience with someone who does list disability, it's hard to believe it would be better with someone who doesn't list it.

Tamarind
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Re: disability insurance: why is locating an independent agent so difficult?

Post by Tamarind » Sun Apr 17, 2016 8:28 am

OakPhilliesFan wrote:
caticind wrote:Did you always include "disability" in your searches? Individual disability is relatively uncommon to write even for independent agents, so they might not put it on their websites.


I didn't consider that some agents might write disability policies but not list it on their websites. I was only able to locate one local agent who lists disability on his website. [...] So if that's the experience with someone who does list disability, it's hard to believe it would be better with someone who doesn't list it.


I guess what I'm pointing out is that an exceptionally good insurance agent may be a terrible web designer and advertiser. You have to be a good searcher to find small specialist businesses online.

An example: The independent agent I work with specializes in commercial insurance. I'd never even seen his website and just checked it out..... Looks like it hasn't been updated since the mid 90s. Generic metadata, relevant search terms buried two or more pages below the main site. A Google search for "commercial insurance" does not show him at all. He gets crowded out by results from national franchises that have marketing departments. But they are specialists in commercial insurance including business disability. Just also terrible search optimizers.

OakPhilliesFan
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Re: disability insurance: why is locating an independent agent so difficult?

Post by OakPhilliesFan » Sun Apr 17, 2016 1:05 pm

caticind wrote:I guess what I'm pointing out is that an exceptionally good insurance agent may be a terrible web designer and advertiser. You have to be a good searcher to find small specialist businesses online.

An example: The independent agent I work with specializes in commercial insurance. I'd never even seen his website and just checked it out..... Looks like it hasn't been updated since the mid 90s. Generic metadata, relevant search terms buried two or more pages below the main site. A Google search for "commercial insurance" does not show him at all. He gets crowded out by results from national franchises that have marketing departments. But they are specialists in commercial insurance including business disability. Just also terrible search optimizers.


Hmm. True, I hadn't thought about the fact that good insurance agents may not have good websites. It's probably in their long-term interest to hire a good web designer, but maybe word of mouth is responsible for so much of their business that it doesn't matter. There seem to be other factors as well, specifically when it comes to disability insurance. See this article: Why Agents Are Reluctant To Sell Disability Insurance.

closenough
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Re: disability insurance: why is locating an independent agent so difficult?

Post by closenough » Thu May 18, 2017 10:50 pm

Thanks for bringing this up. I'm in the bay area as well and having a heck of a time finding an independent agent. Do you mind sharing who you found? Feel free to message me.

pintail07
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Re: disability insurance: why is locating an independent agent so difficult?

Post by pintail07 » Fri May 19, 2017 8:35 am

Very few disability only independent agents in my experience. Most independent agents must offer other types of insurance to survive. Many independent agents will use a disability wholesaler that only does disability to do all the leg work and then they present the best option to the client.

BruDude
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Re: disability insurance: why is locating an independent agent so difficult?

Post by BruDude » Fri May 19, 2017 9:21 am

Most agents don't sell DI because it is a very niche market and they don't have a consistent clientele for it. Re-inventing the wheel by learning DI product benefits/quoting/underwriting/etc once or twice a year when you have a case pop up is often more hassle than it's worth, and many cases go down in flames after a lot of work because of the applicant's health history and how conservative the underwriting for DI can be, especially for people who are 40+ years old that are more likely to have past health issues. That said, the good DI agents are really good at what they do which is why they are so successful. I know the top agent for Guardian has something like 2000 policies on the books, which is probably 1998 more policies than the average agent.

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