Who does an insurance “agent” represent?

I am in real estate. Within that field, the word “agent” has very definite implications which serve as the very basis for the type of relationship which is held between a given licensee & a client. At the core of the relationship is the understanding of exactly WHO the licensee is advocating for within the context of a transaction…an “agent” is their fiduciary. There’s a working legal definition of the term, and written disclosure is a required element of forming an agency agreement.

By comparison, I have noticed that the word “agent” is used very loosely within the insurance industry (I’m in WI). I’ve actually asked licensed insurance “agents” who’s agent they are. I’ve received varied answers from “no one’s”, to “I’m not sure”, to “what do you mean?”.

I know enough to have my guard up and simply treat any agent as a representative of the carrier, but I’ve often wondered WHY that has to be. Couldn’t there be “Buyer Agency” within the insurance industry just as there is in real estate? When it comes down to making a claim, shouldn’t the consumer have a clear cut set of expectations regarding where the “agent” stands?

We had a recent hail storm in our area, and a handful of the clients I was working with at the time had claims-related issues. For some it seemed as though they had someone in their corner when it came to their agent. For others, it seemed to be a neutral relationship, and for still others it seemed as though the agent was actually against them.

I’m hoping that someone from the insurance industry can shed some light on this for me.

Thanks!
Thank you very much to all of you for answering me…I really appreciate the effort.

From what I’ve been able to gather, there is something of a consensus that an insurance “agent” has an obligation to treat all parties honestly & fairly, but that the best interest of either party is not placed ahead of the other at any time.

There’s been some mention of disclosure, but it seems to center upon aspects of a given policy rather than upon the relationship being held between the “agent” & insured…and it doesn’t seem there is any requirement to have it in writing.

I hope I don’t offend any of you by suggesting that “agent” is in fact a poor lable to use for someone who takes up more of an intermediary position (salesperson seems better).

Perhaps there’s room within the industry for truly independent Buyer Agency to take hold. Separate of the sales function, and the carrier, and centered upon personal representation at the claims level…making sure all is fair.

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