Expert Commentary

Beware of Biased or Outdated Information

Insurance is a knowledge business, and it is imperative that you have access to the most up-to-date and accurate information possible to perform your job well. Providing a wrong answer or making a mistake can be career damaging, and you want to avoid that at all costs. This article suggests ways to evaluate the reliability of information you find on the Internet so as to avoid career-ending mistakes.


Insurance Careers
April 2018

Insurance is a knowledge business, and it is imperative that you have access to the most up-to-date and accurate information possible to perform your job well. Providing a wrong answer or making a mistake can be very damaging to your personal brand, and you want to avoid that at all costs.

Always having up-to-date and accurate information is challenging, because risk management techniques, insurance concepts, and coverage nuances are extremely complex and continuously evolving subjects. The law on any particular coverage issue is constantly changing as state and federal courts are daily deciding how coverage applies to varying fact patterns. Simultaneously, the insurance industry is always evolving as insurers react to catastrophic losses, unexpected court holdings, emerging risks, and the introduction of new policy forms by the service organizations such as Insurance Services Office, Inc., and American Association of Insurance Services.

Because of the complexity and changing nature of the business, it is impossible for anyone to have complete knowledge of everything he or she must know to perform at a high level in the insurance industry. As a result, it is necessary to consult with mentors and peers or rely on information gleaned from training materials, articles, and reference content provided by your employer or third parties.

Relying on the advice and suggestions of mentors and trusted peers is usually a very safe approach, since they will have your best interest and that of the company in mind. You just need to assure that their knowledge and experience encompass the subject matter about which you are inquiring. As more and more baby boomers retire, finding colleagues to consult with who have more knowledge and experience than you do will become increasingly challenging. When you cannot find a colleague who has more knowledge and experience than you do, you'll need to seek out answers from third parties.

Like most people, your first impulse is likely to search the Internet for answers to your questions. In searching for any insurance or risk management term or concept, you will be presented with a lengthy list of articles and definitions from a host of sources. Some of this risk management or insurance information will be accurate and helpful. However, much of it will be dangerously biased or outdated, and you should proceed with caution! Before using it, here are a few questions you should ask about any risk management and insurance information you find on the Internet:

  • Who wrote the piece, what are the author's credentials, and what biases might the author have?
  • When was the piece written, and is it still current?
  • On what website was the piece published, and what biases might the organization have?

If you can't answer these questions to your satisfaction, you should strongly discount the reliability of the content. As an example, assume you find an apparently well-reasoned and insightful article answering an important coverage question applicable to a major loss event experienced by an insured. The article was written 4 years ago by an attorney and published on the law firm's website. To what degree can you rely on it? Your first concern is obvious: Has a court decision in the intervening years changed the law since the article was written? This situation is possible and something you should investigate if you are unsure.

A second, less obvious, and more important concern should be about possible biases of the author and the law firm. While not always the case, most coverage lawyers either represent only policyholders or only insurance companies rather than take cases from both. As a result, they will have a natural inclination to be biased in favor of one or the other. After all, their purpose in publishing the article on their website is to market their legal services to their target market. If you are working for an insurer, relying on the opinions expressed in an article by a policyholder coverage lawyer could be disastrous. Similarly, an article written by a coverage lawyer who typically represents insurers may not provide the best reasoning to support a policyholder's claim for coverage.

The lesson learned here is to always keep in mind that risk management and insurance content published on the websites of the insurance industry and its service providers has generally been written and published for marketing purposes. The website owner is not likely to have a diligent process for keeping the content up to date and will often succumb to natural biases in the content. In other words, take it with a grain of salt and always seek a second or third opinion on important issues.

Of course, another—and speedier—type of third-party information to consider is found in the trade journals and reference content published by IRMI and its competitors. Since subscription fees are these companies' source of revenues, professional publishers have much more at stake. They generally serve both policyholders and insurers, which reduces the inclination to be biased toward one or the other. Further, since the content is their product, providing accurate and up-to-date information is important to the viability of their businesses. As a result, they invest substantially more resources in keeping their content accurate and updated than do those organizations that publish articles simply to attract search engine traffic and market their services.

If you work for one of the major industry players, you probably have access to this type of content. It will be available either through the publisher's website, such as with IRMI Online, or through a third-party content aggregator called "ReferenceConnect" (ReferenceConnect, which is a service of Vertafore, was formerly called "SilverPlume"). If you don't know how to access it, the publishers and aggregators are happy to help you get started via telephone. To reduce the possibility of embarrassing and career-damaging errors from outdated or inaccurate content on the web, you are strongly urged to first consult with these types of reference content providers. In the unlikely event you cannot find what you need from the professional publishers, revert to a general Internet search. Just be sure to ask the three credibility questions suggested above.


Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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