Life insurance agents and real estate agents have very different jobs. But one thing they share is the ability to shape their clients’ expectations in order to produce good outcomes. When customers hold beliefs that aren’t consistent with reality, they often are disappointed with the results their agents deliver. For some, disappointment may turn to fury, which can spark a dispute that ends up in court. E&O insurance coverage is tailor-made for this situation. But it’s better to avoid the dispute in the first place by setting the right client expectations during your initial meetings. Here are some tips for doing just that.

  • For starters, both life insurance agents and real estate agents can make their respective sales processes completely truth-driven. Agents who are selling life insurance or annuities should never promise a benefit that isn’t spelled out in the insurance contract. Meanwhile, real estate agents should never lead sellers to believe they can sell their property for more than local market conditions suggest or buyers to be able to purchase their dream home at substantially lower-than-market prices. Regardless of whether you’re a life or real estate agent, stretching the truth will always establish incorrect expectations that can spark problems later.
  • In addition, agents must use advertising and sales literature responsibly to set appropriate expectations in the minds of their prospects. Life agents should never use illustrations that violate the NAIC Life Insurance Illustration Model Regulation. Meanwhile, real estate agents should always obey their state’s real estate advertising and solicitation rules.
  • Also important is your full commitment to educating your prospects and clients about the details of your services. Life agents should work hard to educate prospects about any contractual element that might generate a financial penalty or extra cost in the future. Real estate agents must be explicit about what they will and won’t do for buyers and/or sellers during a transaction.  Then they must document those activities in a written agreement. Promising to do something you have no intention of doing will be a recipe for disaster in most real estate engagements.
  • Because life insurance agents sell highly complicated products, it’s crucial to define appropriate expectations about things like exclusions (what a policy won’t cover), the possibility of future premium increases, and the conditions under which a policy might lapse. Also crucial is explaining the importance of truthfully and completely answering all questions on the insurance application. Failing to do so can lead to insurers challenging or refusing to make good on future policyowner claims.
  • For their part, real estate agents owe their selling clients a full discussion of the status of the local real estate market and how that will likely affect how long their homes will take to close and at what price. Agents should then help their clients settle on a rational sales price that flows from hard data, not emotions. From the buyer perspective, agents should also help their customers establish appropriate expectations about how much home their budget will allow them to buy and how competitive the buying process will be. For example, a tight market means buyers may wish to avoid low-ball first bids, which may do more to annoy sellers than produce a successful transaction.

In short, by educating your prospects and clients, you will likely head off dashed expectations before they become a complaint or a lawsuit. Still, despite your best efforts, it’s likely that a few of your customers may become disgruntled and take you to court. If you have maintained your E&O insurance in force, you will have a framework in place for responding to the client and protecting your interests.

The first thing to do is to promptly file a claim with your E&O insurance company. It’s important to do this as soon as you suspect a client will file a complaint or lawsuit. This will cause the insurer to open a claim file on your behalf, to appoint an attorney to defend you, and to assign an internal claims adjuster to manage the process of resolving the dispute. During this process, it’s important to let your attorney and claims adjuster do their jobs without interference. Let them handle all conversations and correspondence with the plaintiff and follow their advice in terms of what to say and not say during legal proceedings. Also, be sure to share your entire customer/case file with them. This will help them fully understand what led to the dispute and decide how to best defend you.

With a competent attorney and claims professional in your corner, it’s likely any lawsuit against you will either be dismissed, settled out of court, or adjudicated in a legal proceeding in a reasonable time frame. If your documentation was good and you cooperated fully with your defense team, chances are the legal outcome will be satisfactory. And most importantly, if the court deemed you responsible for paying a judgment, your E&O insurance coverage will provide you with a financial backstop. Without insurance, the cost of losing can be significant, perhaps even forcing you to declare personal bankruptcy.

However, the good news is you can almost always prevent disputes by carefully setting expectations early in your customer relationships. Even a modest amount of discussion will go a long way toward defusing future problems. And any time you spend on client education will be preferable to time spent sitting in court. Right?

Do you own or operate an insurance or real estate agency? Are you a solo insurance agent or real estate agent or broker? Then you’re likely familiar with the potential risks you face from customers who claim you’ve done them financial harm. However being aware of these risks and actually protecting yourself against them are two different matters. Awareness doesn’t cost you anything; protecting yourself involves purchasing errors and omissions insurance, otherwise known as E&O insurance or professional liability insurance.

When faced with the costs of buying E&O insurance, some insurance and real estate professionals opt to remain uninsured. Perhaps they think they’ll never make a mistake or if they do,  they can make amends outside of court.  Or they may decide to self-insure their errors and omissions exposures, figuring that any claim that arises will likely be small enough to finance out of operating revenue. Wrong on both counts!

First, no human is perfect. Most real estate agents or insurance producers will make a serious mistake at some point in their careers. In fact, many E&O insurance brokers quote the statistic that one in seven agents will be sued at some point in their careers. Whether that statistic is still accurate is hard to say. However, we can say that betting your financial future on the belief that you’re perfect is not a sensible risk-management strategy.

Second, it’s true that many errors and omissions claims never amount to more than a few thousand dollars. But many add up to much, much more. According to research from an errors and omissions insurer serving life and health insurance agents, the average claim costs for various lines of business can be significant. Here’s how they stack up:

  • Group life: $10,808
  • Individual life: $40,479
  • Annuities: $20,386
  • Disability insurance: $149,116
  • Pension products: $71,068
  • Financial products: $12,270

But here’s the rub. The figures above are averages, so outlier claims can involve much higher costs. Would you like to be the life insurance agent facing a $250,000 disability insurance court judgment . . . without errors and omissions coverage?

For this reason, we encourage you to seriously think about the risks you face when doing business without adequate E&O insurance. Here are three of the major ones:

#1: The risk of bankruptcy. The most important benefit of E&O insurance is that it provides a financial cushion in case a court renders a big judgment against you. Depending on the size of this order, you might be forced to liquidate all of your business and personal assets. If these aren’t enough to make good, you might even have to declare bankruptcy. Given the disruption a bankruptcy can bring, doesn’t it make more sense to carry sufficient errors and omissions insurance instead?

#2: The risk of selecting the wrong attorney. Without having E&O coverage, you might end up having to hire your own attorney. Since this is something you don’t do every day, you might retain someone who will make your case disappear via sheer legal brilliance. Then again, you might end up with a loser who bungles your case due to incompetence, inattention, or lack of experience. Not only will you have to pay for the latter person’s legal fees, you will also be out of pocket in terms of any judgments or court expenses the court levies. Now, had you purchased E&O insurance, your insurer would be required to provide you with an attorney.

#3: The risk of having to represent yourself. If you opt to self-insure your errors and omissions risks, you might not have the money to retain a smart attorney. In that case, you might be forced to defend yourself. This is a spectacularly bad scenario. Why? Because you are an insurance or real estate professional, not an attorney! Representing yourself will likely result in you making mistakes that can sabotage your case. As the truism goes, someone who represents himself in a court of law has a fool for a lawyer. So given the alternatives of being your own attorney or having your E&O insurer provide you with one, which is the more sensible option?

Given the risks you’d face as an uninsured insurance or real estate agent, wouldn’t it make more sense to assign your operating risks to an insurance company in exchange for paying an E&O insurance premium? Doing so will provide you with four key benefits that are well worth the cost:

  • The reduction of financial uncertainty.
  • Assistance with handling a financial dispute (via access to a company-appointed attorney and E&O claims adjuster).
  • Stress reduction, since being insured will help you to worry less about losing your case.
  • Bankruptcy protection, so that a large court judgment won’t necessarily spell the loss of all your financial assets.

Assuming these benefits make sense, consider the added benefit of purchasing your errors and omissions policy online from a provider such as EOforLess.com. We are the pioneer in online click-and-bind E&O insurance, with substantial experience working with the top insurers and program administrators. Plus, our long track record of providing insurance and real estate professionals like you with affordable and high-quality E&O coverage is second to none. To check out your errors and omissions insurance policy options, please visit our website today.

What’s the best way to keep your life & health insurance business protected against client lawsuits? The most important, obviously, is to have E&O insurance. But close behind is making sure your business practices don’t make you vulnerable to common E&O insurance claims. According to a major E&O insurer, they are most likely to arise from the following causes:

  • In the top position is misrepresentation, accounting for 25 percent of all claims filed by members of a major life insurance trade group. Misrepresentation occurs when you make a statement about a product you sell that is false or misleading. For example, you might claim an annuity has no surrender penalties when, in fact, it does. When your client discovers that he can’t get all his money back within the first seven years, he may file a regulator complaint against you or bring suit in court.
  • In position #2 is failure to provide, which accounts for 13 percent of claims. This refers to an agent not providing necessary insurance coverage even though it was (or should have been) clear that the client needed it. A common situation is when an agent conducts an initial fact-finding interview that uncovers a host of insurance risks that need to be addressed. However, because of the press of other business, the agent fails to address one of the risks on a timely basis, and the insured suffers a loss before she can purchase the needed insurance. Bringing an E&O insurance claim in this situation is a common client scenario.
  • The third most common claim is known as “failure to explain,” representing 11 percent of reported losses. This occurs when an agent sells an insurance or financial-services product or rider, but fails to fully explain how it works. Here’s one possible example: a husband purchases a hybrid life insurance/long-term care policy, which is designed to not only provide a death benefit, but also a nursing-home care benefit in the event the husband needs custodial care. On the surface, such policies are attractive because they cover two risks simultaneously. However, sometimes agents fail to explain that receiving long-term care benefits will reduce the amount of life insurance benefits that can be paid later. That’s because the LTC benefit is essentially an accelerated death benefit. If an agent doesn’t explain the nuances of how such a life/LTC combo plan works, the surviving spouse may be surprised to learn she will receive a much lower death benefit than anticipated because of LTC benefits already paid out. Surprises such as this often lead to disappointment, anger, and, ultimately, lawsuits.
  • In fourth position are so-called office errors, a catch-all term referring to various clerical errors that can result in lower than expected insurance payments or no benefits at all. Examples of office errors, which account for 11 percent of claims, include botching client policy-change requests, not apprising clients that they unintentionally let their policies lapse through non-payment of premiums, or sloppy handling of life insurance applications, which result in claims being denied because clients failed to disclose a material fact to the insurer.
  • Finally, the fifth most common claim, representing 6 percent of lawsuits, are premium errors. These happen when agents and clients cross wires and premiums aren’t remitted to insurers on time, resulting in coverage not being available after an insured suffers a loss. If this ever happens to you, you can be certain you will have an angry, frustrated, and litigious client on your hands.

Given the wide range of claims life & health insurance agents are susceptible to, what are the best ways to protect yourself? The first step is to adopt a risk-management approach to running your business. Take a look at all of your customer-facing processes and make sure they are in good shape. If they are running inefficiently or generating too many errors, then re-engineer them as soon as possible.

The second step is to purchase a comprehensive E&O insurance policy from an online provider such as EOforLess.com. Having your own E&O insurance means you’ll have a financial backstop in the event a judge orders you to pay a large settlement or judgment to a client who beats you in court. It will also provide funds to retain a defense attorney, for expert witnesses, and for court expenses. Without E&O insurance behind you, you will always be one lawsuit away from potential bankruptcy and always beset with stress and worry about your future.

Wouldn’t you rather do business without always having to second-guess your decisions from an E&O perspective? Of course, you would. Which is why you should consider purchasing E&O insurance from EOforLess, the online pioneer of click-and-bind insurance for financial professionals. Contact us today to learn more about our coverage options.

When it comes to E&O insurance, surprises are the last thing you need. For example, if a client begins to threaten you with a lawsuit, you want to know your E&O insurer will stand behind you, not that there isn’t enough coverage left in the policy to protect you. Similarly, there are many nuances in E&O policies that may catch you by surprise if you haven’t uncovered them ahead of time. Here are seven common examples.

  1. Did you know that all “claims made” policies aren’t made equal? Some policy forms are a purely claims made design, while others are “claims made and reported.” The difference? The latter provide coverage only if you file a claim within the policy term or within a short period thereafter. If you try to file the claim after either of those two-time frames, you may find yourself without coverage. Solution: read your policy to confirm which type you have.
  2. Does your policy cover your specific duties? To find out, read your policy’s insuring agreement to see how it defines professional services. It will typically be quite explicit about whom and what it covers. For example, one life insurance agent E&O policy has this definition: “Coverage is limited to general agents or agents with valid licenses in a client’s state or jurisdiction, as well as the general agent’s or agent’s state or jurisdiction, and who are involved in the sale or servicing of life, accident, and health insurance, disability insurance, and indexed or fixed annuities. Covered duties also include financial planning and supervision and training of agents.” The key point? Your actual duties must align precisely with the policy language in order for you to have coverage under the policy. For example, if you have a sideline real estate business, you will not be covered under this policy because those activities aren’t listed in the insuring clause.
  3. Are you familiar with your policy’s exclusions? One of the most common ways E&O policies surprise agents is when they file a claim and the insurer tells them an exclusion applies. If this has ever happened to you, you know how infuriating it can be. Solution? Whenever you purchase a new E&O insurance policy, immediately read the exclusions list. Doing so, for example, will show you’ll have no coverage for claims arising out of litigation that occurred before the policy’s effective date or were in process on that date. Or that E&O claim payments that benefit a family member won’t be covered. Or that financial advisors will not be covered for E&O losses if they use or disclose confidential client information or non-public information. There will be a dozen or more scenarios in which you might assume coverage, but that your policy, in fact, excludes. Study your contract so you know exactly what exclusions apply.
  4. Are you aware of the nuances of coverage limits? The first is the difference between per-claim and aggregate limits. As its name suggests, the former establishes a maximum dollar amount that can be paid on a given claim from an insured. The aggregate limit refers to how much coverage is available for multiple claims from one insured in a given year. However, shared limits introduce a further complexity. Here multiple people within a firm may be covered under one master policy with a limit that applies to every agent and/or advisor insured under the policy. So if the firm suffers a large number of E&O insurance claims in a year, which consumes the entire shared limit, you will be out of luck if you need to file a claim later.
  5. Did you know that some E&O insurance policies apply the stated deductible for all claims filed in a policy period? So if you have five claims and your deductible is $1,000, you will be on the hook for $5,000. Other policies provide for an aggregate deductible for multiple claims. In the example given, this might limit your deductible to only $2,000 in E&O claim outlays in a given year.
  6. Have you heard of E&O policies that apply your deductible to legal fees as well as to claim payouts? Policies with so-called defense-and-loss deductibles make you pay for legal fees up to the deductible amount even if the claim is ultimately proved groundless. Compare that to E&O insurance policies with first-dollar deductibles, which only require you to pay if you’re found liable and a claim payout is required. Obviously, the latter type is more appealing.
  7. Finally, does your claims made E&O policy have an extended reporting period or “tail” provision? This will allow you to file a claim even after your policy expires, as long as the wrongful act happened prior to the end of the policy period. Although most E&O policies have this feature, the length of the period can vary. EOforLess’ life/health agent E&O policy has an unlimited extended reporting period. This can be important if you are planning to sell your business.

E&O insurance policies for life and health insurance agents, P&C agents, registered investment advisors, and real estate agents and broker/owners have many other nuances. To make sure your business is fully protected, carefully read your policy’s fine print. This way, in the unfortunate event you need to file a claim, you will avoid nasty surprises that put you at risk.

But here’s the good news. Many of these surprises can be avoided entirely by purchasing the right policy in the first place. By reading specimen policies before you buy, you can select one from a company that doesn’t impose restrictive provisions. Shopping carefully can literally save you tens of thousands of dollars or more at claim time. Worth the extra work? You bet!