Commercial Auto and Inland Marine

Where does the grey area exist?  

If you own a business and that business owns and operates vehicles, you need some form of Commercial Auto Insurance. If you rent vehicles or have employees use their personal vehicles for work purposes, you need to secure a hired and non-owned auto policy. If you have a trailer where you move specialized equipment to third party locations’ than you need an inland marine insurance policy. When you have a claim that involves a vehicle there becomes an issue of which policy kicks in to cover what is damaged. This is a time when partnering with an experienced independent insurance agent and purchasing all policies from one carrier can benefit your business immensely.  Here are several tips to help you make sure all of your vehicles and equipment are properly insured.

First you need to know what exactly is covered under each policy.

Commercial Auto

A Commercial Auto Insurance Policy will cover vehicles your business owns that are used for business purposes. If you have a personal vehicle that you also use for business purposes, you still need to buy separate personal and commercial auto insurance policies for that vehicle. If you only have a personal policy and you use the vehicle for business purposes, the liability is taken on by the business. The personal auto policy will not cover the damage to third party vehicles that are damaged in an accident you cause. If you do use your personal vehicle for business purposes, it is important to speak long and honestly with your independent insurance agent about what exactly you use the vehicle for and how best to insure it.

Hired and Non-owned Auto

If you have employees who drive rented vehicles when they travel or who use their personal vehicle for business purposes, you have a need for a Hired and Non-Owned Auto Policy. This policy may be in place of a Commercial Auto Policy or in addition to it. When an accident occurs that is the fault of your employee, if they are in their personal car, the personal insurance policy will cover the damages to the employees vehicle.  Now the property and bodily injury liability to third parties is the liability of the business. This is why you need to strongly consider this policy for your business. One accident that causes a car to be totaled and a third party to spend a week in the hospital can easily result in your business being responsible for tens of thousands of dollars. If you do not have the ability to cover these costs you need an insurance policy to protect your business.

Inland Marine

An Inland Marine Insurance Policy is a policy you would purchase in addition to a Commercial Auto Policy in order to protect specialized equipment that is commonly in transit. A common business who needs this coverage is a landscaping company.  A Commercial Auto Policy will coverage the vehicle your business owns and operates. It will also cover your business for any liability you face to third parties damaged by an accident caused by your business. If you have specialized equipment that is transported on either a trailer connected to your vehicles or in the back of a truck, you need to purchase an Inland Marine Policy.

What can you do as a Business Owner?

Partner with an independent insurance agent

Partnering with an independent insurance agent is always the best place to start when you are considering purchasing commercial insurance for your business. This is best for you because an independent agent is not restricted to one or a select few carriers. Typically an independent agent partners with anywhere from 10 to 40 carriers. They can use these relationships to force carriers to compete for your business. This will allow you to get better coverage at the lowest possible rate.

Talk with your agent extensively

No matter if you decide to partner with an independent or captive agent, you need to take the quoting process seriously. If you fail to disclose something to your agent or carrier during the quoting process, it can create an enormous headache for you at a later date. The work case scenario would be that your carrier drops you from coverage because of the failure to disclose something about your business. This can cause you and your agent to have to find a new carrier to cover your business mid term. If this process does not go smoothly it can cause you to have a lapse in coverage. Many carriers will not cover a business who has had a lapse in coverage and this may force you to have to buy some coverage’s from the state provider. The state provider is almost always more expensive than buying coverage out on the open market.

Express your comfort with risk to your agent

Insurance agents talk to many business owners throughout each work day. If they are a nationwide agency, they may speak with a restaurant owner from Los Angeles, a dairy farmer in Wisconsin and a commercial fisherman from New Orleans all before lunch. Each of these businesses faces enormously different risks and the people who own these businesses may have dramatically different expectations from their insurance agent. The only way to be for certain that your agent is looking for what is most important to you is to directly tell them. If you value price above all else, let them know. If you want to insure your business to the teeth, let them know this as well. The more you tell your insurance agent, the less likely you are to have problems with that agent.

Listen to your agents recommendations

Listening is a skill most people could do much better. Business owners especially are confident people. They would not have branched out on their own to start a business without confidence, but that confidence can be a hinderance if you think you know more about every aspect of your business than the experts you partner with.  If you find an independent agent with whom you trust and you have a detailed conversation with them, they should be able to find the best package of coverages to fit the needs of your business. If you go through this process listen to the insurance professionals. They interact with business owners not only when selling them a policy, but also when they have to use that policy because something bad has happened to them.  If you trust your agent, they should only offer a policy that you absolutely need. If they recommend it, it is more than likely in your best interest to listen to them.

Talk with your agent.

In today’s business world, time is of the essence for all business owners. When purchasing something for their business, many business owners want it done fast and cheap. They may have an inclination to rush through the buying purchase or to only focus on price. In many instances this may be wise, because their time is more valuable running the business than trying to save on buying whatever is needed for that business. When it comes to purchasing commercial insurance this is not a good idea. In this instances it is crucial for business owners to take the necessary time to have a long honest conversation with their insurance agent.

In conversations I have with agents in the insurance field, they all say rushing through the buying process is a mistake far too many business owners make. This is where a little time on the front end may cost the business owner some time away from their business, but on the back side it can save their business hundreds if not thousands of dollars when a claim does occur. During these conversations the agents are typically trying to get as much information as possible about the daily operations of your business. They understand business owners may be shopping around to more than one agency and that their time is valuable, but rushing through this process can cause your business to be under-insured or to pay too much in premium.

These problems frequently come about because business owners do not inform their agent what exactly the business does and what the business does not do as a part of their daily operations. Insurance companies are in the business of analyzing risk. It is in their best interests to assume more risk rather than less. They can only assume the risks of your business based on the information you provide them with. If you do not provide them with the enough information they frequently will assume more risk, which costs more in premium.

In most industries there are numerous industry classification codes. In most states these classification codes are determined by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI).  These classification codes separate businesses by the type of work they do or do not partake in. Take landscaping as a prime example. There are at least a half a dozen class codes for lawn care and landscaping based upon the daily operations of your business. The two most common NCCI classification codes for the landscaping industry are 9102 and 0042. 9102 is designated for lawn care or maintenance of existing lawns, where 0042 is designed for businesses that install lawns and beds. The second class code is more dangerous and has a higher premium. If you rush your agent through the quoting process, they may place you in the wrong classification code. This can cause your business to end up paying far more in premium than is necessary. These mistakes frequently get fixed during the end of term audit, but even when they do your business has still paid more in premium than was necessary. That means there is cash-flow your business could use tied up in unnecessary insurance premium.

On top of tying up cash in premium, another problem exists that a good insurance agent can help your business with. The problem they can help your business with is to understand what exactly is and is not covered under your different insurance policies. This can help you fill in coverage where gaps might exist. This is where an agent can help you determine if you need a coverage like Business Loss of Income Coverage or Data Breach Insurance. 

Business loss of income coverage is a policy that is a type of commercial property insurance coverage that kicks in when a business suffers additional loss of income suffered when damage to its premises causes a slowdown or suspension of its operations.  The damage has to be the result of a covered loss. Take for instance if your building experiences a fire. Your commercial property insurance will cover to repair the damaged building, but it will not cover your business for lost revenue while you have to be closed for repairs. This is where business loss of insurance coverage kicks in. Many businesses who fail to secure this coverage do not survive when an occurrence happens.

Data breach is another coverage that is becoming more and more necessary. Many business owners feel they are too small or do not deal with computers or customer information enough to need this coverage. Take a commercial cleaning company for example. They have 5-15 employees and clean 5 office buildings and one retail store at night while the businesses are closed. Their employees only use a cell phone and never interact with a computer. Their business owner thinks they would never need something as advanced as data breach coverage. But what if you clean the offices of a bank and an employee of the bank leaves  a post-it note on their desk with the username and password for the internal system. If one of your employees finds this they could get into the system and access the financial records of the banks customers. That is a need for data breach coverage. Two of the largest data breaches in history, Target and Home Depot, were started by hackers first accessing a small business who was a partner of the larger business that got hacked. You do not have to be a big company nor do you have to store lots of personal information in order to be a target for criminals.

All of these and other problems can easily be prevented by taking the time in the first place to speak long and honestly with your independent insurance agent. They can help you understand what risks your business because not only do they interact with business all the time when they are purchasing insurance, but they also frequently interact with business owners when the unfortunate accident occurs. From that experience they can help you prepare for when dooms day comes for your business. If you take this time to properly protect your business it can be the difference between closing your doors for a short time and closing your doors forever.