Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Underwritters

Recently my wife and I began updating our life insurance policies to make certain that any postmortem financial concerns are properly addressed.   When I spoke to our agent, she was extremely helpful and asked how much coverage I wished to have available for my wife and future children were something to happen to me. I informed that I was seeking the happy medium between complete irresponsibility and my wife arriving at my memorial service in a Mercedes.

She suggested $500,000 if I wished to pay off existing debts, keep my spouse comfortable, and ensure my non-existent offspring could afford a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. When I inquired about different rate and term options, she informed me that she would need to place me on hold as she spoke with the “underwritters.”

For those who do not know, the “underwritters” are apparently a faceless collective of statisticians who are unwilling or unable to communicate directly with other humans. I say apparently because even after dealing with several different insurance companies concerning a variety of coverage, I am still unable to amass any proof of their existence.
When I was first attempting to acquire auto insurance I spoke with a local agent about rate discounts. After recording all my pertinent information, he informed me that he was unable to immediately generate a quote since the information had to be reviewed by the “underwritters.”  Upon receiving what I felt was an unfair quote; I told the agent that I wished to dispute my risk category. He replied that the risk category was assigned at the discretion of the underwritters and that there was nothing he could do.

Foolishly, I asked to speak directly to the underwritters to plead my case. I doubt the look on his face would have been any different if instead I had requested to have his wife bear my children. Incredulous at my audacity, he chortled that “no one speaks directly to the underwritters.” He went on to explain that he himself doesn’t even communicate directly with the high council, but rather does so through a home office proxy.

Based on my experience (or lack thereof) I have decided that underwritters either do not exist at all or possess the single greatest job in America. The former possibility would place them in the same category as the “sales manager” at a car dealership, a system that allows employees to reject reasonable offers while deflecting the customer’s hostility away from themselves and toward a common enemy.

The latter possibility means that somewhere in America there are gainfully employed men and women with the power to make life altering financial decisions without having to so much as acknowledge their own existence to the customers whose lives they alter. This would be akin to a doctor’s visit where you relay your symptoms to an intern who then leaves the room for ten minutes and returns with a bottle of green pills and strict orders that you are no longer allowed to consume bird meat after Labor Day. If you were to question this course of treatment, the intern would then reply, “I have no idea why you cannot have bird meat, that’s just what my proxy said that the doctor wanted you to do.”

I can think of only one other parallel and it exists in the technology field. If you are having issues with a specific piece of software and you call tech support, you will be strategically routed through a gauntlet of friendly yet under-trained employees designed to convince you that it would be less trouble to work around the issue than insist on a resolution. If, however, you possess the constitution to forge ahead and reach level three tech support; you will be placed in touch with someone who has the privilege of indirect access to “the developers.”

The developers are the Mountain Dew-fueled software programmers whose contract prevents the possibility of direct contact with anyone actually utilizing the code that they authored. Presumably, such interactions would negatively impact their World of Warcraft scheduling and, by extension, their experience points. Like all of us in the technology field, they can easily be identified by their non-existent muscle tone and translucent epidermis. 

Unlike my experiences with the underwritters, I have actually spoken to someone identifying themselves as a developer. While I admit that it is a distinct possibility that I was simply having a conversation with a member of the janitorial staff, they did display enough technical knowledge to fix the issue. In my particular case, the issue was a commercial printer that insisted on displaying its interface in a combination of Dutch and English causing mass confusion. After convincing four other employees that “Dinglish” was a legitimate phenomenon, I was allowed to speak to “Rick” who fixed the issue while microwaving a burrito.

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