Keys (from an E&O standpoint) in the development of the agency website

How do most agency websites get developed? Typically, the agency contracts with a marketing firm to build a website that is very impressive and says a lot of great things about the agency and the type of business the agency handles. After all, isn’t the website designed to impress current and prospective clients to induce them to deal with the agency?

Is there the possibility that the website makes statements that technically are not true? Statements such as:
– We will identify your exposures to ensure that you are properly covered.
– We will search the entire marketplace to provide you with the best coverage.
– We will ensure you have no gaps in your insurance program.
– We will annually update your property values to ensure that you are not penalized in the event of a property loss.

These all sound impressive and may assist in the agency landing the account. You are probably wondering “so what’s the problem?”

A problem arises when the website makes a statement that is not correct. Actually, the last statement noted was a key issue in an E&O case I was involved in many years ago. The problem was the agency did not do what the website stated and the client suffered a fire loss that resulted in a $500,000 co-insurance penalty.

Agencies need to understand that the website could be a key factor in determining the direction of an E&O claim. Both plaintiff and defense counsel will be reviewing the website 1) to determine its applicability to the case and 2) to determine whether the agency honored what the website stated.

When looking to have a website designed / updated, the issue may not be what words / phrases to use but instead, what words / phrases to avoid. It is best to avoid words such as “expert” or “specialist” as they have the potential to raise the legal standard the agency could be held to. In addition, the goal should be for the website to accurately state the capabilities of the agency. To state “we will ensure you have no gaps in your insurance program” (this is an actual statement in an agency website) is really not possible. The agency can work with the client to identify the various exposures but at the end of the day, it is up to the client whether they buy the coverages discussed.

Another issue that is often overlooked deals with the communication of your agency objectives to the staff. In many of the cases where I ask a producer about the agency website, their response is “I have no idea what our website says”. All agency personnel should be keenly aware of what the website (as well as other promotional material) says about the agency.

It is very important for agencies to have a strong message on their website. Just make sure that it is not saying things about your agency that really aren’t true.

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