Brokerage

Diligence Can Help Ward Off Agency Fraud

It's incumbent upon risk managers to understand exactly what their agents are doing — or not doing — on their behalf.
By: | May 16, 2017 • 4 min read

Insureds could find themselves on the hook for massive bills totaling thousands or even millions of dollars if their policies are rescinded or voided because a broker misrepresents them or fails to secure adequate coverage.

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That was the situation one of claims manager Beth Ossino’s clients found themselves in after their property burnt to the ground and her firm, Golden Bear Insurance company, discovered only after the event that all of the information on the application was incorrect, apart from the name and address.

“When we went out there, we found there were all of these issues with the property that we had no prior knowledge of, that meant we would never have insured it if we had known about them,” she said.

“Initially we thought that the insured must have falsified their application and then burnt the house down, and so we took it to the district attorney and presented it as a case of insurance fraud.

“They sent out an investigator to the insured’s agent’s office and the customer service representative who dealt with them basically admitted that she had made everything up in the application.”

As a result, the broker lost its binding authority and it was reported to the California Department of Insurance, said Ossino, claims manager with Golden Bear.

Thankfully, though, it was a happy ending for the client as Golden Bear covered all of its losses. However, there have been cases where the carrier didn’t pay out when the insured lied on the application, or the broker failed to secure adequate coverage, she added.

Vet Partners Thoroughly

Ossino said it is imperative that risk managers and their organizations educate themselves thoroughly and do their research when they are selecting a broker or seeking coverage for a particular risk.

Beth Ossino, claims manager, Golden Bear Insurance Co.

“Any time you do business with somebody new, you should thoroughly vet them first, make sure they have the proper license and ensure that they haven’t had any disciplinary action taken against them,” she said.

“Most of that information is available online through your local department of insurance website where you can check the status of an agent or broker.”

Christopher Boggs, Big “I” Virtual University executive director, said that it is a risk manager’s job to analyze and present their exposures, and then work with the agent or broker to draw up the appropriate coverage.

“It’s the risk manager’s job to check the policies against the exposures and program developed,” he said. “Confirm the policies are what you requested. Don’t assume. As a matter of fact, reviewing and understanding policies is the risk manager’s job.”

One major obstacle for many risk managers, said Boggs, is not being able to verify that the company is being properly represented to the carrier. If an organization has concerns, Boggs recommends calling a meeting with the underwriter.

“Unless they are in the room or on the call, there is no real way for them to know,” he said. “The policy is the contract between the insurance carrier and its insured. If the agent or broker hasn’t, doesn’t or won’t bring the policy — there is a problem.”

“It’s the risk manager’s job to check the policies against the exposures and program developed. Confirm the policies are what you requested. Don’t assume.” — Christopher Boggs, executive director, Big “I” Virtual University

In some cases, when a misrepresentation is made, Boggs said that an errors and omissions claim may have to be made by the insured or the carrier.

“An unintentional error is wholly different,” he said. “Some carriers might reform the policy in the event of a mistake.

“If it’s fraud, it depends on the relationship between the parties. A material misrepresentation, concealment or fraud will void coverage.”

Andrew Barile, founder/president/CEO, Andrew Barile Consulting Corporation

Andrew Barile, founder, president and CEO of Andrew Barile Consulting Corporation, said that risk managers need to make sure they fully understand the agreement they are entering into before signing it and that the brokers have given them the necessary information to know what they are covered for.

“Agreements now extend much further than just the simple one-page broker of record letter,” he said.

“Another area that can result in denial of claims is where the insured themselves fails to sign the application, so it’s imperative they get their broker to sit down and go through the agreement with them thoroughly so that they fully understand it.

“A lot of litigation occurs when the insured doesn’t follow the specific guidelines in the application forms.”

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For their part, retail agents and brokers looking to place a risk that they are unfamiliar with should enlist the help of a wholesale broker that has intimate knowledge of that line of business, said Ossino.

“Particularly if their client has something unique to their business, they should seek out an agent or broker that has written similar policies and is aware of the specific exposures to ensure they secure adequate coverage,” she said. “They also need to keep abreast of the latest emerging risks pertinent to that business.”

Alex Wright is a U.K.-based business journalist, who previously was deputy business editor at The Royal Gazette in Bermuda. You can reach him at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]