Individuals and companies all need to be properly covered by insurance but the wide variety of choices can make obtaining that coverage a daunting process. To help buildings and companies make the best choice with minimal hassle, the Insurance Information Institute (III) has become a one-stop-shopping resource for information on all manner of insurance needs.
With property and casualty premiums totaling $417 billion last year, plus an additional $575 billion in life insurance premiums, insurance is a huge business with dozens of companies offering competing services. III exists to simplify, clarify and aid the premium payers.
According to Carolyn Gorman, vice president of III’s Washington, D.C. office, the Insurance Information Institute “is on the communications end of the business. That’s what we do—we communicate with the public on important issues related to insurance.” Gorman goes on to say that, “III is an insurance trade association that is funded by property casualty insurance. We specialize in homeowners, automobiles, and business insurance, as well as life insurance and annuities.”
A Little History
The Insurance Information Institute was founded almost 50 years ago, and its main office is located in Manhattan. It exists to provide aggregated information without bias. Throughout the group’s history, they have earned a reputation for fair reporting and accurate information, making them experts in the eyes of the New York state and the U.S. federal governments, in addition to industry regulators, scholars and the public.
According to Gorman, one way the III maintains its reputation is by not allowing their operation to become a lobbying organization. Instead, they just report the facts and let people make decisions on their own. Some 14 stories per day are in various stages of research, writing or publishing. III experts have also been quoted in newspapers ranging from USA Today to consumer magazines like Smart Money.
III has also been contracted by some 20 insurance organizations to handle their media services, which in turn gives III greater access to information for users. Major insurance companies, including State Farm Insurance, Nationwide, Allstate, and USAA Worldwide, are among the industry members that use their services.
Guiding the III as its president is Gordon Stewart, who joined them in 1989. Stewart’s goal is to use the various aspects of today’s digital world—the Internet, podcasts, video clips, and so forth—to help the public feel more comfortable with insurance issues.
Under his watch, Stewart has inaugurated a number of new programs, including the Hurricane Insurance Information Center (HIIC) in Florida. Stewart repeated the effort at the site of other natural disasters, such as California’s Northridge earthquake. He has also brought together nine major insurance associations to create the Property/Casualty Insurance Joint Industry Forum. They meet annually to discuss common issues and then determine how best to disseminate the information to the public and the industry as a whole. Stewart is stepping down and Dr. Robert P. Hartwig will become the organization’s president in January 2007.
The III conducts programs, issues reports, provides statistics, and boils down complicated industry jargon into plain language for consumers, reporters, and others in the industry. By their own count, the III receives over 50,000 questions from the general public annually. To address more common concerns, they have numerous books and pamphlets available for the public and for companies, such as Nine Ways to Lower Your Auto Insurance Costs.
The III also maintains the National Insurance Consumer Helpline (800-942-4242), a telephone service that is designed to aid any consumer with insurance needs.
In line with their announced goal of providing timely information, they issue numerous news releases focusing on hurricane and insurance issues since even here in the Northeast, damages are possible.
Recently, the Insurance Information Institute held a seminar—the Northeast Hurricane Conference in Manhattan—on the threat of a major catastrophe occurring in the Northeast and New England. “We’re trying to alert the public to the need to prepare and make sure they have enough of the right kinds of insurance,” says Gorman, “because hurricanes are now more frequent and more powerful,” than they have been since the beginning of the 20th century.
The daylong event featured such seminars as, “The Extent of Hurricane Risk,” “Economic Ramifications for Insurers, Reinsurers, Non-Governmental Organizations, etc.,” “The Role of the News Media in Covering Hurricanes,” and “Disaster Preparedness and Public Education.”
The conference examined the risk of a potential hurricane disaster and what steps can be taken to minimize the effects among all persons and agencies involved. Similar programs are scheduled throughout the year, and distilled versions of these events are also made available through their website—www.iii.org.
III also issues a monthly digest of reports from a variety of sources, providing timely information to all those interested. A recent Red Cross study showed that New Yorkers may think they’re ready for disaster, but too few truly are. Another, from the second annual GMAC Insurance National Drivers Test, indicated that licensed drivers lack basic driver knowledge, and predicting one in 11 drivers would fail a state driver’s test.
The website also provides users with information about finding the right insurance agent, coverage with business owner policies, how to file claims, the need for workers compensation insurance and much more. A separate glossary section helps decipher some of the terms that can bring a policy owner to tears, and one of the more useful tools is a directory of companies in specific fields, making the search for qualified insurance agents an easier one. Additionally, homeowners and insurance companies can access articles and papers written about current issues that they would not necessarily have access to any place else.
“The issue of credit scoring and clue reports has been very controversial among realtors lately,” says Gorman. She goes on to explain that clue reports are generated using a database—one that only insurance companies currently have access to—that contains all claims homeowners make on their properties. An insurance company can choose whether or not they want to insure a home based on the number of claims it has accumulated in the database. This information can be beneficial to homeowners as well, if released to the public.
Credit scoring is another issue that homeowners need to know about. In addition to affecting the costs of one’s home, credit can now affect one’s insurance premiums as well. “Insurance companies will look at your credit score to determine what your premium will be,” says Gorman, “so now it’s important to have good credit to ensure you will be able to afford the insurance premiums on the house you’re going to buy.”
The III also has a useful “Ask the Expert” section that regularly tackles questions across the broad spectrum of insurance issues. Recent questions included the top 10 dogs considered high-risk for biting (the number one-dog was the pit bull), as well as changing insurance plans for aging parents.
“One of the biggest changes that has taken place recently is the rise of the Internet,” says Gorman. “We used to publish a lot of pamphlets and books and talk to reporters over the phone. Our most important tool [now] is our website.”
The III also offers free downloadable software called “Know Your Stuff.org” that allows homeowners and renters to take inventory of their belongings. Users can take digital photos of their insurable items and scan receipts for their records, which can speed the claims process and also insure that they receive a fair settlement.
III provides numerous books and pamphlets for consumers and businesses—free of charge, if requested with a self-addressed stamped envelope. Bulk orders are available for businesses interested in sharing information. The topics in the pamphlets go from wood stove safety to fire safety tips for high-rise apartment owners. Several pamphlets are also available in Spanish, including one on common auto insurance issues.
“We’ve also been very active in the neighborhood housing service,” Gorman says. “We have a nationwide network of organizations that try to help people who need affordable housing, and help them buy insurance and understand what they need to make their homes more insurable.”
In summary, III is there to help make complex insurance issues comprehendible to the homeowner, the small business owner or the corporate executive, taking some of the complexity out of a necessary part of life. n
Robert Greenberger is a freelance writer living in Connecticut.