Have you had your website audited for E&O?
Updated: Aug 25, 2020
If not, I recommend you do. Why? Advertising has a tendency to trump strict E&O standards of care.
You probably have heard ad nauseam that agents do not have duties to this or that, such as provide advice, check policies, find the best coverage or even find appropriate coverage, etc., etc. Technically, the attorney providing such advice may be correct but remember this: consumers do not need agents who do not provide these professional services. They really do not need them. Such advice plays into the commoditization of insurance. By not providing these services, you are defaulting to a commodity. Their advice is worse than worthless if you want a good future and want to avoid becoming a commodity.
Instead, advertise loud and proud everything you do. The only real catch is that you actually need to do what you advertise. Otherwise, you create an E&O exposure and possibly a false advertising issue. Understanding that if an agent really wants to follow those E&O attorneys' advice so that your standard of care is so low that you have no standard of care, and if you have no standard of care that means customers do not need you whatsoever, this also means you cannot advertise that you offer the best rates, the best coverage, professional services, expertise, risk analysis, or really, anything of substance. I suppose you can advertise you are nice and represent a bunch of companies or that you are amateurs and do not want to take any responsibility for helping your clients get the coverages they need.
I see a lot of agency websites promising all kinds of great things the agency does not provide or provides with little consistency. This is why websites need to be audited. A third party truly needs to see, with clear eyes, if promises from the consumers' perspective are being made that are not being consistently fulfilled by the agency. Advertising applies to all readers, not just the customers an agency likes best.
The most common advertising exposure I see results from hiring a third party marketing company that does not know insurance (or buying a site from one of the canned web site vendors). These firms want to make the agency look good so they create great taglines advising the agency provides this service or that service or high quality service when in reality, the agency does not provide those services. The agency owner is so impressed with the result, they forget they do not actually provide those services so they agree to greenlight the new website.
Another example of creating unnecessary advertising exposures is exactly the same mistake agents see their own clients make. The clients claim to provide specific services to look more sophisticated, but they do not actually provide those services. Then the agent sends an application to the carrier where the underwriter looks up the client's website and sees that the services shown on the website do not match the services shown on the application.
Agents do the same thing all the time, except that when agents advertise more sophisticated services, they create a higher standard of care requiring them to actually provide those services. Only advertise what you actually do, for all your customers, all the time, and at the quality level that matches your actual quality level.
Never greenlight a website without looking closely and determining whether the agency actually does everything the website promises -- unless you enjoy E&O suits. I find too that most agency personnel and agency owners do not see their own sites with adequate clarity to complete this evaluation themselves. Hire a third party qualified to do E&O website reviews (like my company). I can only speak for the way my company does these audits and we do them from the perspective of a plaintiff attorney which is of great value. Having a de facto friendly plaintiff attorney examine your advertising is a whole lot better than having an attack dog plaintiff attorney questioning you in a deposition or on the stand.
However, an even better solution is to actually improve the quality of your services so that your quality matches the advertising rather than diminishing your advertising to match your actual services. When agencies improve their game, lots of good things happen. First, your reputation improves because the quality of your service improves and it matches your advertising promises versus poor quality that falls far short of advertising promises.
Second, with better service the agency's customers are happier and happier customers are less likely to sue. Also, they have less reason to sue because service matches promises.
Third, with care, your services can often be stated in ways that achieve your advertising needs without increasing your E&O exposures. It takes some wordsmithing at times but this achievement is possible.
The funny thing about a good website audit is that agencies have the opportunity to reduce their E&O exposures and simultaneously improve their advertising and client engagement. The alternative, really, is to not have your advertising audited thereby remaining at a heightened risk of an E&O suit and dissatisfied or less satisfied clients. This latter issue may not matter to some since they are not being sued today. But just in case it does matter, most readers are in the risk management business which means proactively managing risks, so doesn't it make sense to get your site audited before you receive suit papers?
NOTE: The information provided herein is intended for educational and informational purposes only and it represents only the views of the authors. It is not a recommendation that a particular course of action be followed. Burand Insurance Education, Burand & Associates, LLC and Chris Burand assume, and will have, no responsibility for liability or damage which may result from the use of any of this information.