When the subject of documentation comes up, typically the mindset involves documentation of discussions with your prospects / clients, etc. A good documentation policy in an agency would certainly address these circumstances. However, for some reason, documentation of discussions with your carriers / wholesalers, etc. is often not perceived to be of the same level of importance. It appears that the thinking is that if there is a problem, the carrier will back you up. While one would hope that this occurs, it is definitely not a given.
During a normal business day, there are a host of situations where the agency is going to be contacting the carrier. They include:
- An exception to the underwriting guideline. Agents are provided underwriting guidelines on risk that you have the authority to bind. If the risk is not a perfect fit, typically the agent will contact the carrier underwriter and ask for an exception. If the exception is granted, this should be documented not only on the agency system but also with an e-mail back to the carrier underwriter memorializing the conversation. At the time of a problem, this level of documentation is going to be critical. There is the definite possibility that the carrier underwriter that you spoke with is now no longer with the carrier.
- Questions on how coverage would apply. For as long as I can remember, agents have relied upon the carriers for assistance in understanding how certain coverage would apply (whether that is a good thing to do is debatable). What if the carrier underwriter provided you with an incorrect explanation of a specific coverage and you relied on that underwriter’s assessment and a problem developed? In my expert witness work, I have seen situations where the agent required the underwriter to provide the explanation in writing and even though the assessment was incorrect, the carrier stood behind their underwriter and honored the situation. If the carrier underwriter does not put their explanation in writing then you, as the agent, should. Once again, sending that to the underwriter with a statement that if your understanding is not correct, for the underwriter to please let you know as soon as possible.
As with any type of documentation, the documentation should be handled promptly and accurately. The documentation should not only reside in the agent system but should also include some form of written communication to the carrier.