Insurance call center 311.
(photo credit: YouTube)
For generations, insurance has been sold through local agents of the insurance
company. The agents act as salespeople and also process claims, and in return
obtain a commission.
In recent years (approximately the past decade) some
insurers have decided that the agents’ services are not worth the commission and
have begun offering direct insurance.
The individual who sells you the
policy, or the one who processes your claim, is just the first person to pick up
the phone when you call the company. The call center operators get just a
regular salary so they save the company, hence the customer, money on the
They are also available all the time, unlike your agent who could
happen to be busy just when your accident happens to occur.
On the other
hand, the call center operators don’t know the customer personally and can’t act
as an advocate for their claims, so in his respect stand at a disadvantage to
the old-school type of agents.
It is for the market to decide whether the
benefit of cost and convenience outweigh the costs in terms of consumer
familiarity and advocacy, and so far both kinds of insurance co-exist,
reflecting the varying preferences of consumers.
Naturally, each side
resorts to advertising to try and make the customer aware of the unique
advantages it provides.
Direct insurer Bituach Yashir recently aired a
humorous commercial in which a customer comes to tell his agent that he is
switching insurance and is warned by the receptionist that the lost business
will force the agent to economize on his au pair, his daughter’s summer school,
his heated pool and so on. Ostensibly this is meant to show that the agent is
raking it in, but that is obviously an irrelevant message because no customer
cares what his service provider does with the money as long as he is satisfied
with the service.
The intended association is presumably that buying
insurance through an agent is a luxury or an extravagance, the kind of expense
that most people seek to limit.
We might have expected that the agents
would respond with their own ad.
For instance, they could show an ad in
which the same actor who switched insurers needs help choosing a product or
processing a claim and is faced with a never-ending series of frustrating and
useless telephone calls to clueless call center operators, thus illustrating the
unique advantage of having a personal agent.
Or they could have shown him
eating from a brown bag and sleeping on a park bench in order to give direct
insurance a cheap, downscale image.
INSTEAD, THE agents have responded by
turning to the courts. The Association of Insurance Brokers and Agents
petitioned the court to have the ad withdrawn on the basis that it “tramples
their dignity and harms their livelihood.”
News reports state that they
even threatened to sue Shani Cohen, the actress who played the receptionist in
This suit is so completely without merit that it can only
be described as an attempt to chill free expression and free
First of all, the ad does not even portray agents in an
unfavorable light; all it does is hint that they make a lot of
money. There is nothing the slightest bit objectionable about having an
au pair or sending your daughter to summer school abroad; these are things that
we find acceptable or even admirable but practically speaking quite beyond our
means. Furthermore, the ad does not generalize or hint that every insurance
agent lives the high life. In any case, portraying a class of people in an
unfavorable light is generally not considered libel, it is necessary to defame a
The claim that the ad “harms the livelihood” of
personal insurance agents is truly bizarre. Every commercial advertiser
is trying to win business from their competitors, which will certainly harm the
latter’s livelihood, but this is not the same as endeavoring directly to
discourage people from buying from a competitor.
The Bituach Yashir ad
doesn’t encourage people to stop buying insurance from agents per se; it
encourages them to switch to a lower-cost alternative.
considerations aside, the move seems to me very ill-advised. Given the
many substantive counterclaims that could have been presented to the message of
the Bituach Yashir ad, seeking instead to silence the ad seems to transmit the
message that the agents are unable to compete fairly against the direct
insurance giant. And showing such animosity to what is really a funny and
tasteful ad, extending even to pursuing the actress, is not likely to make
friends with the public.