If you've fallen behind on the premium payments for your car insurance policy, you're going to start getting nonpayment alerts and notices of impending cancellation from your insurance company. But there's one person you probably won't hear from on the matter: your insurance agent. That's because agents aren't required to notify a policyholder in the event of an impending cancellation. "The parties to the insurance [policy] are the carrier and the policyholder," explains insurance agent David Hulcher, an assistant vice president of Agency E&O Risk Management at Big I Advantage in Alexandria, Va. "State regulations require carriers [to have] specific time frames and methods to notify policyholders of cancellation. The agents are not a necessary party to this direct communication." In other words, letting you know that you forgot to pay the bill is the responsibility of the insurance company, not the agent. Your agent will probably receive a copy of the notice, and there's nothing to preclude him or her from also giving you a heads-up. Yet many will deliberately stay out of it, preferring to let the insurer handle the task of informing you of your delinquency. Hulcher, who is in the business of protecting the practices of insurance agents, says that this decision is partly a matter of limiting the agent's professional liability. "The concern is really about taking on an additional duty that is going to potentially raise the standard of care for customers, which in turn increases exposure," he says. If agents get in the habit of calling up their less-conscientious clients every time they forget to send in their monthly payment, they run the risk of establishing that as the norm. And that means that if the month comes when the agent forgets to call with their usual reminder and the client loses his or her coverage, that agent could be sued if the client later gets into an accident and isn't covered.
Too busyBut it's not just litigation that makes agents wary of calling up delinquent clients. It's also the fact that they don't have time to deal with it.
"They have customers who are late paying the bill all the time," Hulcher notes. "What if [the agent] didn't spend [their] time constantly calling the 5 percent that's always late paying, and spent that time prospecting for new customers?"An insurance agent's job is to sell insurance, and if the agent gets in the habit of handling the administrative duties of the insurer, that's not good for business. Of course, losing clients isn't good for business either, which is why some agents reach out to policyholders who are on the verge of losing coverage. Randy Hoffman, an agent with LA Independent Insurance in Louisiana, takes the risk. "Normally we contact the insured as well -- we'll send them one of our letters, or a copy of the cancellation notice," he says. "It hurts us, too." He adds that his agency has no problem sending repeated notices to clients who are regularly late on payments. Still, if you're routinely dropping the ball on your premium payments, your agent may not be too sad to see you go. In a recent message board discussion between agents on the website of trade magazine Insurance Journal, some agents noted that it simply isn't worth chasing the delinquent customers. "You get them to pay one late premium notice and then they're immediately behind on the next payment," notes one participant in the conversation. "Often they generate very little in premium and thus very little in revenue."