by Louis Cypher
n the overall scheme of things motorcycle, a couple of matters factored annually into my two-wheeled activities: a) trudging down to the local Wal-Mart/K-mart/bike shop every spring for a new battery for my Honda 750 and b) digging out my renewal notice or calling my insurance agent and then mailing off a check to pay for a year’s insurance premium. These actions were for two reasons: a) I am inherently lazy and never seemed to check the battery before it went dead/dry and a) when you are insured with the Very Big Insurance Agency of Minnesota, you know you are getting the best insurance rates available, right? That’s what I thought.
This story started to unfold on a warm Saturday in April a few years back when a bunch of the guys stopped in to hang out at the Hitching Post. Ace bike salesman and general motorcycle fountain of knowledge, Jack Bondus, was holding court, and a bunch of awed novices crowded around his desk pestering him with one question after another, listening intently to his reply and trying to soak up as much information as possible. As you would expect from a person who has been involved with so many facets of motorcycling for so long, Jack was fielding the questions rather easily. Some answers were a simple one or two word response, while others merited an in-depth technical explanation.
I stood on the edge of the group and noticed how Jack had taken on a Buddha-like role in this setting. A balding, larger-than-life man patiently shared his knowledge and wisdom with anyone who requested it.
At this point one of the guys remarked, “Jack, I just talked to my insurance guy yesterday, and it’s gonna cost me about a kajillion dollars to insure my ZX9. With the money he’s talking, my monthly insurance payment will be more than I’m paying for the bike.”
As if on cue, Jack produced a stack of business cards from his desk and said, “call this guy Rick. He know bikes up, down and backwards, and he’s cheaper than anyone I’ve ever tried. I’ve been using him for years.” I took one of the cards thinking it couldn’t hurt to give the guy a call.
That week I received my insurance renewal notice and recalled the card I’d gotten on Saturday. I laid out my current policy figuring if I was gonna compare, then I should have all the info available. Here is what I had: a standard full coverage policy ($250.00 deductible) written by my agent through a company called Universal Underwriters for X dollars per year.
I called Rick, and explained what I needed. After a few routine questions (Age? Address? Priors?) and several that weren’t (MSF graduate? Years experience? Number of bikes?), he came back with, “O.K., full coverage, $250 deductible. What are you paying now?”
“X dollars per year,” I replied.
“I’ve got a policy here for two-thirds that,” he said.
“What company is it?” I asked.
“It’s a company called Universal Underwriters.”
“Universal Underwriters. They’re in Kansas City.”
“I know who they are,” I interrupted. “That’s who I have my current policy with. You’re telling me that the same policy with the same company costs different amounts at different agencies?”
“They shouldn’t” he said. Then he added, “If you’re paying X dollars per year for this policy, that’s the starting amount. Are you getting a 10% discount for being an MSF graduate?”
“My agent never told me I could.”
“Have you ever had a claim?”
“Then you should have gotten a 10% discount for claim-free renewal.” He went on to explain other discounts I might have been eligible for. I was on the verge of becoming thoroughly pissed-off when slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, the cartoon character light bulb began to illuminate overhead.
“Hey Rick, how does Universal pay agents who write policies for them?”
“Uh, it’s a commission based on the dollar amount of the sale,” he said.
“So, Rick,” I said. “If an insurance agent didn’t tell the customer that he was eligible for the discounts, the policy would be more expensive and the agent would receive a higher commission?”
“Remember, Louie. It’s not necessarily intentional. The agent just simply may not have known all the discounts available. Do you deal with the same agent all the time?”
“Not really,” I replied. “It seems every spring when I call it’s all new people working there.”
“That could be part of the problem,” Rick said. “Insurance companies frequently change their discount programs from year to year.”
“Regardless of whether it’s done intentionally or due to a lack of knowledge, why would I ever want to do business there again?”
“Louie, that’s your decision to make as a customer,” he said. “Call around, shop for a policy, then call me back, and we’ll set up a policy for you.”
I did call around. No one had better rates. One agent of questionable intelligence couldn’t discern between a Honda CB and a CBR. By the next weekend, I had my policy written with Rick. In addition, he has written the policy for every bike since, as well as for my truck, the house and my wife’s car.
In the overall scheme of things motorcycle, I now have three functions performed every spring: a) renewing my policy with Rick (and you can bet I shop and compare every year), b) telling anyone who will listen the above story and c) trudging off to the nearest Wal-mart/K-mart/bike shop to get a new battery for my bike. I know, I know. I gotta get a battery tender…
a) Review your policy annually.
b) Check with your agent for new/added discount programs.
c) Shop around for rates even with other agents of the same company.
d) Remember, the agent works for the insurance company, not for you.
e) Be wary when the agency you deal with changes staff constantly.
f) Ignore all of the above. What’s that saying about a fool and his money…
g) Never trust me to care for your battery over the winter.