Exclusive vs. Independent Agents: A Separating Equilibrium Approach

Itzhak Venezia, Dan Galai & Zur Shapira

We provide a separating equilibrium explanation for the existence of the independent insurance agent system despite the potentially higher costs of this system compared to those of the exclusive agents system (or direct underwriting). A model is developed assuming asymmetric information between insurers and insureds; the formers do not know the riskiness of the latter. We also assume that the claims service provided by the independent agent system to its clients is superior to that offered by direct underwriting system, that is, insureds using the independent agent system are more likely to receive reimbursement of their claims. Competition compels the insurers to provide within their own system the best contract to the insured. It is shown that in equilibrium the safer insureds choose direct underwriting, whereas the riskier ones choose independent agents. The predictions of the model agree with previous research demonstrating that the independent agent system is costlier than direct underwriting. The present model suggests that this does not result from inefficiency but rather from self-selection. The empirical implication of this analysis is that, ceteris paribus, the incidence of claims made by clients of the independent agents system is higher than that of clients of direct underwriting. Implications for the co-existence of different distribution systems due to unbundling of services in other industries such as brokerage houses and the health care industry are discussed.

February, 2001
Published in: 
Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 40 (1999), 443-456.