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This new-found “buddy” was a voice on the phone when I called a very popular direct insurance marketer. You know, one of those companies with the cutest commercials?! Who doesn’t love a talking reptile? Anyhoo, we in the independent insurance agency world LOVE to compete against these companies. We love any chance we get to expose their weaknesses – which are many.

Yes, direct insurance marketers are increasing their market share of the auto insurance market, and some believe they are a threat to our independent insurance agent model. If you are comparing apples-to-apples, they are NOT a threat. Yes, I still want you to buy my products because I don’t think, I KNOW, we will ALWAYS do a better job. But how do you know that? Better yet, I ask the question, how do WE, independent insurance agents KNOW we are better? Since you cannot watch your favorite TV program, listen to the radio, or do just about anything without seeing their ads, I decided to see what the buzz is about. I contacted this insurer earlier today to ask for a quote. As I start to write this paragraph my phone rang for the sixth time from that friendly reptile’s 800 number (ok, I think the lizard is a tad angry with me right now).

The conversation starts out cordial asking the appropriate questions, awkwardly congratulating me on my bachelor’s degree in business from Xavier University. Hey, I’ll take a compliment, even if it’s patronizing. Then we get into the sales pitch:

REPTILE REP: “Why are you looking to switch insurance companies?”

Fair question, we ask it at our agency too.

ME: “Well, I have an insurance agent and I don’t know that it’s very convenient. I can’t do everything online. I am from a younger generation and feel like I need to be more savvy with my insurance.”

OK, I’m baiting her a little based on what insurance industry marketing experts tell us, “millennials” want.

She tells me she just switched her mother over from an insurance agent (LOVE the inference that her “mother” had an agent, so it’s “old school”) because whenever her mother called him, he took too long and had to have his assistant do everything. Throughout the call she kept stroking me with, “You seem really responsible!” “You and your husband are successful people!” “I’m sure you have excellent credit.” I don’t know about you, but I know when to call bull**** (the excrement of fiercely angry male cows).

So let’s get to the meat of this call. When asked about my limits of liability coverage, I gave the standard answer that we hear often.

ME: “I’m not sure, but I know I don’t have state minimum limits.”

She proceeds to give me options, which I like. However, options are not good when buying something with which I’m unfamiliar (remember, I work in an insurance agency, but I’m presenting her with the same questions and concerns we get every day). I don’t mind making a pathetically uneducated decision, on things that don’t matter, like- “Would you like the Cabernet from the local winery, the Syrah from Northern California, or the aged Chianti?” Did you say wine? I’ll take all three! Ahhh, but I digress, when you are not informed or a professional, or educated in this field, options are scary. Insurance is something you usually want someone with a technical, educated, experienced background to advise you on. How do you know if you don’t know? After waiting on hold 2 minutes, she gives me a quote with lower limits than I actually have, not surprising.

ME: “I just found my declarations page. I have something called a “Combined Single Limit” with a $500,000 liability limit. Do you offer this?”

REPTILE REP: “No we do not, but the limits I quoted you are the limits I gave to my mom. I don’t advise any of my callers to take anything higher. You really don’t need it.”

Fascinating! How can she say this? Can she see into the future? I push her to quote higher liability limits. She puts me on hold again and comes back with a comparable limit to what I have, except for a property damage liability limit of $100,000. I must ask her why this is lower than the other limits:

ME: “Why is the property damage liability $100,000?”

REPTILE REP: “That’s for property you would damage if you caused an accident (true), like to repair someone’s damaged vehicle (also true), so you don’t need anything higher than $100,000 because you live in Ohio and it’s not like you see people drivin’ around in Bentleys every day!”

My head just did an exorcist-like 360 spin around my office. I couldn’t speak for a minute. After I regained my composure, readjusted my brain, and turned my great-grandfather back over in his grave, I responded with, “I need to talk to my husband before we move forward.”

Ohh no, this “buddy” just transitioned into used car salesman with pitch 101! She said that he knew I was shopping, she could set everything up for me now with an effective date next week and I can talk to my husband later (I’ll give her credit, she must know that man wouldn’t question me if I came home with a flamingo tattooed on my face.) I told her I would be more comfortable if I talked to him first. She kept pushing to get my checking account information. I kept avoiding and refusing, but she would not back down. So, I hung up. Six missed calls later I got a message saying she would call tomorrow, “since we are buddies.”

The moral of the story folks: you don’t need a “buddy.” You need someone who is educated, experienced, has office hours, has an office you can SEE, licenses you can verify, and a face to recognize. I get it, their model is “convenient,” but my question is, “Convenient at what price?” Insurance and being properly insured are NEVER something you should take for granted. I know, the question I have not answered yet, “What was their price?” It’s not about price, but I will indulge the critics. It was $24/year more than my current policy. I don’t need a buddy that badly and you don’t either.

– Colleen Miles