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Finding an Insurance Agent for the B&B Innkeeper

May 19, 2006

by Kit Cassingham

Finding an insurance agent who can cover all of your insurance needs can be tricky. You need more than a life insurance agent and a business insurance agent. Don't forget about your auto insurance agent, health insurance agent, and long-term care insurance agent. Do you want an independent insurance agent or a "captive" insurance agent? Are you going with a B&B specialist insurance agent or a local agent? Insurance agents specialize so they can be well educated in their chosen field; that's just the type of person you want to work with. Do your homework and find an insurance agent you can work with comfortably.

How do you pick an insurance agent -- or insurance broker -- for your B&B business or for your personal needs? Do you go with an independent insurance agent (you select an agent and they shop the different insurance companies for the best coverage), a B&B insurance agent (who is a specialized independent agent), or specific company representative insurance agents -- or captive agents -- (where you shop for the company you want to use and then work with one of their agents)? That's a tough question, and a straight-forward answer is not available. Let's look at the options.

First, you are looking for several insurance agents to cover the various issues you have. You need a life insurance agent, an auto insurance agent, a health insurance agent, a disability insurance agent, and business insurance agent. Can one person or company fill all those needs, or will you have to have more than one office involved in your insurance coverage? Research and your personal biases will answer that for you. I frankly think finding one agent or office to handle all of your needs is valuable, to make sure everything is covered well, with no overlaps in coverage for different companies to fight over, nor any gaps that leave you exposed.

There was a time that there were lots of B&B insurance agents to choose from across the country. But as insurance has changed the numbers of agents to choose from has dropped dramatically. As costs have risen, bed and breakfast innkeepers have been faced with tough decisions too, not always feeling they can give their loyalty to a B&B vendor as they would like. Innkeepers are having to shop around to find acceptable rates. The burning question is whether they are getting the same quality coverage, at least on their business insurance as they would if they were with a B&B specialist.

An independent insurance agent has a wide array of insurance companies to shop from in getting you the best coverage and price possible. As coverage and pricing changes, they can alert you and shop for another policy. Insurance agents specialize, or have niches, as do many businesses -- including bed and breakfasts -- so one person may not be able to handle all of your insurance needs, but hopefully their office will have a collection of agents with various specialties so the office can cover you as completely as you want and need.

A captive agent represents one insurance company. I'M talking about someone like a state farm agent or a farmers insurance agent. Historically those two companies haven't been willing to touch bed and breakfast insurance, though you they sure would handle any of your personal insurance needs. But some captive agents work for companies that will bid on bed and breakfast business insurance: Travelers Insurance agent, Aetna Insurance agent, Firemans Fund Insurance agent and Signa Insurance agent being some of the prime examples of good companies who are, or have been, involved in the bed and breakfast industry.

The more an agent knows you and your business, the better they can guide you and help you protect your assets. You want an agent who will make suggestions on ways you can lower your insurance premiums, like by suggesting adequate lighting throughout your inn property or keeping minimal cash in the register or cash box. That advice suggests you use a local agent, or one who will travel to visit your inn periodically.

I like the idea of supporting the community by buying locally, but I also know how important it is to work with people who know the bed and breakfast industry so they can guide you better in your coverage. To balance the notion of knowing your property, I must add the importance of your agent know your industry. You also need an agent who knows different kinds of insurance, not just business insurance. That's a tall order, so finding someone you trust is paramount to a good relationship, and good coverage. You are looking for a professional agent, not just a part-time or hobbyist insurance agent.

How do you pick your insurance agent? Carefully, with the same diligence you used when buying or developing your bed and breakfast. Don't get caught short with your coverage.




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