Do We Really Need Insurance Agents?

06/09/2021 11:30 AM
Opinions on topical issues from thought leaders, columnists and editors.

By Teng Swee Hin

Customer is king. This age-old mantra has been drummed into every salesman and businessman’s mind. However, in insurance, while customers are very important, it is their interests and benefits that must take centre stage. This sometimes means saying a gentle no to what the customer wants and proposing what fits them best instead.

Insurance is based on trust. This can only be achieved with honesty from both the customer (insured) and agent representing the insurance company (insurer).

With insurance being a long-term investment for our lives, all of us want an agent who can meet our true expectations and create value for us over the years. With stories of rogue insurance agents in the media about insurance claims, there are people who do not trust insurance companies, what more, insurance agents.

First, let us take a look at who exactly is an insurance agent. And, do we really need them?

At its heart and conception, an insurance agent is a noble profession. It is not a temporary job until something better comes along. An agent has a charge to ensure that it does not bring disrepute to the insurance company, which seeks to help individuals, businesses, and the community from financial loss. Increasingly, more graduates are taking up the role of an insurance agent as their first career upon graduating.

The agent must be licensed. And yes, you can and should ask to see the agent’s credentials or licence before signing on the dotted line. To obtain the licence, the agent is required to pass a high-integrity and closely-supervised Pre-Contract Examination organised by the Malaysian Insurance Institute (MII). Only upon passing will they be registered as an insurance agent in Malaysia.

Beyond just “passing an exam”, a good agent must have solid knowledge of the different insurance policies and coverage available. Investing time in the Customer Fact Finding (CFF) form will enable the agent to understand the lifestyle and needs of the customer. Then only can the agent propose a policy that has enough coverage within the customers’ budget, adequacy of protection and savings.

Is that all it takes to be a good insurance agent?

The simplest way to spot a good agent is the effort they put into upskilling and improving their knowledge.

Every year, agents are required to undertake the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) training to improve their skills and knowledge in providing professional service and advice to customers. Thirty hours of CPD per year is the minimum requirement. Hardworking agents who want to upgrade and upskill themselves to help their customers better will undertake up to 60-70 hours of learning per year.

A great insurance agent will always be customer-centric. They are always looking at things from the customer’s perspective and with future needs in mind. Agents must be able to explain how the recommended policy can help address the customers’ concerns and to provide peace of mind.

Customers may require their agent to provide information not just on policy, but other concerns as well such as the processing of claims, policy maturity or even lapsation of policies. A well-trained agent must be able to answer a wide range of questions and address their customers’ concerns.

Perhaps the role of an insurance agent becomes most apparent during a claim process.

The most common complaint about the insurance industry is the difficulty in getting claims when the family or insured person needs to do so. Adding to the pain is, if the agent is nowhere to be found or not helpful at all. Many also believe that insurance companies would find loopholes to avoid paying claims, but this is not true.

The reality is claims may be denied due to certain policies that have exclusions or in other cases, it may be due to anti-selections. This is where a person does not declare their health conditions when buying a policy. Upon filing a claim, their case will be studied and if found to have not declared, this may cause the claims to be denied. A good agent will advise customers to be honest and the onus is also on the customers to do so.

In the case where genuine insurance claims are denied, the customer has recourse options:

- Write to the insurance company to appeal or dispute the claim denial

- Lodge a case with the insurance bureau on the dissatisfaction and request for review

All insurers will act in a fair manner and review the case thoroughly before rejection. Contrary to belief, insurance companies are careful to ensure all legitimate claims filed are paid.

What can a customer do if they find out that their insurance agent is not knowledgeable and helpful?

Agents are responsible in upholding the trust and welfare of policyholders. They must abide by the Code of Ethics and Conduct and fulfil the Balanced Scorecard (BSC) set out by Bank Negara Malaysia. The BSC captures non-sales key performance indicators (KPI) as defined by the LIAM and Malaysian Takaful Association (MTA). Agents must at all times provide quality sales advice, be ethical and practise high professionalism as stipulated in their contract. In the case where an agent fails to comply with the Code of Ethics and Conduct, they are deemed liable depending on the severity of the offence.

Customers can write to complain about their agent and the insurance company is obliged to investigate and take the necessary action.

What happens if your servicing agent is no longer around to provide service?

You may have wondered, what if the servicing agent is no longer around to service you. Rest assured that your policy will be automatically assigned to the servicing agent’s leader who will then give you a courtesy call to introduce him or herself. It is the insurers’ top priority to ensure that all their customers are served via an insurance agent.

Fundamentally, buying life insurance is one of the most important decisions one must make. It is always wiser to get advice from an insurance agent, someone who is certified and knowledgeable on different policies and coverage. It is good to seek advice from multiple agents to make more informed decisions.

Top 10 tips in choosing an insurance agent:

1. Deal only with registered insurance agents.

2. Check the status of the insurance agent via the Life Insurance Association of Malaysia (LIAM) website.

3. Ensure the agent goes through the Customer Fact Find Form with you to understand your insurance needs and financial goals.

4. The agent must recommend a suitable insurance plan after assessing your needs.

5. The agent should clearly explain the product features, benefits payable, exclusions, premiums and charges.

6. The agent must provide the Product Disclosure Sheet to assist you in making an informed decision and able to facilitate product comparison.

7. The agent must be one who guides on the importance of answering the questions in the proposal form.

8. The agent must be one who could match the degree of your risk tolerance with affordability.

9. The agent is always responsive when it comes to enquiries.

10. The agent must commit for periodical review on the purchased policy.

For people with ambition to build their own business but may lack capital or the right products, Zurich will assist them to develop a professional career in life insurance.

What is an insurance bureau?

An insurance bureau is an additional avenue for consumers to make insurance complaints or address dissatisfaction against insurers. They are:

1. Ombudsman for Financial Services (OFS), a non-profit organisation which functions as an alternative dispute resolution channel to resolve disputes in an independent, fair and timely manner between financial consumers and financial service providers approved by Bank Negara Malaysia.

2. Bank Negara Malaysia’s Customer Service Bureau (CSB), another avenue for consumers to lodge complaints against insurers. The CSB facilitates a proactive approach to addressing improper and unethical market practices. Apart from that, CSB also deals with consumers’ enquiries to provide them with better understanding on insurance matters.

What are the procedures to file a dispute?

Step 1: Refer your dispute to your insurance company with a view to finding an amicable settlement.

Step 2: You may refer your dispute with OFS or CSB:

(i) Within 6 months from the date of the final decision by the insurance company.

(ii) After 60 calendar days from the date of your dispute was first referred to the insurance company of which no response has been received from them.

You can make your enquiries or lodge your complaints via the following channels:

(i) Walk-in to the relevant customer service centre or office

(ii) Call centre

(iii) Email/fax/post


Teng Swee Hin is Chief Agency Officer of Zurich Life Insurance Malaysia Berhad.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of BERNAMA)
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