Just about every agency understands it needs a strong web presence. But a well-intentioned marketing statement on your agency website can easily morph into an errors & omissions disaster if you’re not careful.
For more details, check out “Words Matter: Is Your Website Language E&O-Safe?” in the September issue of Independent Agent magazine. Meanwhile, here are two additional considerations to take into account when making sure your agency website isn’t ripe for an E&O claim:
1) Vendor-provided interactive sites. The major vendors of agency management systems provide products agencies can use as either their website, a plug-in for it or a mobile app. Deservedly popular, these products enable integration with the agency’s database so that clients can not only look up their coverages—often through an agency portal featuring individual policy and endorsement information—but also effect service functions by interacting directly with the site, rather than contacting a service rep at the agency.
As more clients become comfortable with do-it-yourself insurance servicing, many want to handle their insurance matters during hours the agency cannot be physically available. These vendor-provided products, therefore, are becoming not just attractive, but necessary for meeting market expectations.
The problem arises when an agency offers an interactive website to its clients without first verifying that its database—which the client will now use to retrieve a certificate or binder or report a loss—is complete or accurate.
Here’s a simple example that illustrates the importance of site and system synchrony: An agency is short-staffed when an employee quits unexpectedly, and some work is not completed in a timely manner. Maybe it’s the download suspense, or maybe it’s handling an outdated receivable. During this same timeframe, a commercial lines client obtains a certificate of insurance from the agency’s website and directs it to an entity for which they are working. A claim occurs during a period of “no coverage.” The agency is found negligent for allowing certification of coverage when coverage was not in force.
Even in the absence of a loss, client confusion is reason enough to ensure that your database is ready for primetime. Before opening an interactive site to your agency’s clients, take these steps to protect your agency from an E&O claim:
- Perform data audits to verify field completeness and currency.
- Develop and follow workflows that update the agency system first rather than the carrier’s site first, which would force you to await download into your agency’s system.
- Eliminate backlogs of agency work so that the system detail is as up to date as possible.
2) The Americans with Disabilities Act. Another important consideration in agency website design is accessibility. Last year, 244 federal accessibility cases were filed relating to “public accommodation businesses.” In their marketing materials, most agencies offer their location(s) as open to clients, prospects and visitors—which means your agency qualifies as a place of “public accommodation.”
Here’s how the Department of Justice responded to one defendant’s interpretation that “only physical locations are subject to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act”:
“The United States respectfully submits this Statement of Interest to clarify public accommodations’ longstanding obligation to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not excluded, denied service, or treated differently from other individuals because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services, such as electronic technology. This obligation means that websites of places of public accommodation…must be accessible to people who are blind, unless public accommodation can demonstrate that doing so would result in fundamental alteration or undue burden.”
Note that this is a statement of interest, not a court or administrative filing. Still, consider adding text alternatives such as onscreen captions to your website. At a minimum, this shows admirable concern for the vision-impaired. At maximum, it may keep your agency out of one of many expected accessibility-based lawsuits in the future.
Virginia M. Bates is an approved auditor and seminar leader for the Swiss Re Corporate Solutions/Big “I” Professional Liability program, as well as an educator and consultant on many other insurance subjects for state associations, agencies, vendors, carriers and other organizations.