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Understanding the Advice of Commissions-Motivated Agents: Evidence from the Indian Life Insurance Market

Author

Listed:
  • Santosh Anagol

    () (Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania)

  • Shawn Cole

    () (Harvard Business School, Finance Unit)

  • Shayak Sarkar

    () (Harvard University)

Abstract

We conduct a series of field experiments to evaluate the quality of advice provided by life insurance agents in India. Agents overwhelmingly recommend unsuitable, strictly dominated products, which provide high commissions to the agent. Agents cater to the beliefs of uninformed consumers, even when those beliefs are wrong. We also find that agents appear to focus on maximizing the amount of premiums (and therefore commissions) that customers pay, as opposed to focusing on how much insurance coverage customers need. A natural experiment requiring disclosure of commissions for a specific product results in agents recommending alternative products with high commissions but no disclosure requirement. A follow-up agent survey sheds light on the extent to which poor advice reflects both the commission incentives as well as agents' limited product knowledge.

Suggested Citation

  • Santosh Anagol & Shawn Cole & Shayak Sarkar, 2012. "Understanding the Advice of Commissions-Motivated Agents: Evidence from the Indian Life Insurance Market," Harvard Business School Working Papers 12-055, Harvard Business School, revised Oct 2015.
  • Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:12-055
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Panle Jia Barwick & Parag A. Pathak & Maisy Wong, 2015. "Conflicts of Interest and the Realtor Commission Puzzle," NBER Working Papers 21489, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Gabriele Foà & Leonardo Gambacorta & Luigi Guiso & Paolo Emilio Mistrulli, 2015. "The Supply Side of Household Finance," EIEF Working Papers Series 1507, Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF), revised Jul 2015.
    3. Hunt Allcott & Richard Sweeney, 2014. "The Role of Sales Agents in Information Disclosure: Evidence from a Field Experiment," NBER Working Papers 20048, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Jennifer Brown & Dylan B. Minor, 2012. "Misconduct in Credence Good Markets," NBER Working Papers 18608, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Roman Inderst & Marco Ottaviani, 2012. "Financial Advice," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 50(2), pages 494-512, June.
    6. Justine S. Hastings & Brigitte C. Madrian & William L. Skimmyhorn, 2013. "Financial Literacy, Financial Education, and Economic Outcomes," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 5(1), pages 347-373, May.
    7. Monika Halan & Renuka Sane & Susan Thomas, 2013. "Estimating losses to customers on account of mis-selling life insurance policies in India," Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai Working Papers 2013-007, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai, India.
    8. Renuka Sane & Susan Thomas, 2014. "The way forward for India's National Pension System," Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai Working Papers 2014-022, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai, India.
    9. Santosh Anagol & Vijaya Marisetty & Renuka Sane & Buvaneshwaran Venugopal, 2013. "Distribution fees and mutual fund flows: Evidence from a natural experiment in the Indian mutual funds market," Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai Working Papers 2013-004, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai, India.
    10. Harris, Timothy & Yelowitz, Aaron, 2015. "Racial Disparities in Life Insurance Coverage," MPRA Paper 64005, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    11. Shawn Cole & Xavier Giné & James Vickery, 2017. "How Does Risk Management Influence Production Decisions? Evidence from a Field Experiment," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 30(6), pages 1935-1970.
    12. Bucher-Koenen, Tabea & Koenen, Johannes, 2015. "Do Seemingly Smarter Consumers Get Better Advice?," MEA discussion paper series 201501, Munich Center for the Economics of Aging (MEA) at the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy.
    13. Daniel Stein & Jeremy Tobacman, 2016. "Weather Insurance Savings Accounts," The Geneva Papers on Risk and Insurance - Issues and Practice, Palgrave Macmillan;The Geneva Association, vol. 41(4), pages 677-700, October.

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