OGC Op. No. 07-08-01
The Office of General Counsel issued the following opinion on August 6, 2007, representing the position of the New York State Insurance Department.
Use of a URL and e-mail address by a licensed insurance agent
1) May a licensed insurance agent include in a mailing to prospective insurance clients the URL for its Internet website, where the URL address does not include either the full name of the licensee nor the full authorized name of the licensee, the only names that the Insurance Department has authorized the insurance agent to use in conducting its insurance business?
2) May a principal of a corporation that is licensed as an insurance agent include his business e-mail address in a mailing to prospective clients, where the business name extension therein does not exactly match either the licensed name or the authorized name of the licensee?
1) Yes. A licensed insurance agent may include its URL in a mailing to prospective insurance clients, even if the URL address only includes part of the agent’s licensed name or part or the authorized name the Department has authorized the agent to use.
2) Yes. A principal of a corporation that is licensed as an insurance agent may include his business e-mail address in a mailing to prospective insurance clients, even though the business name extension thereof does not exactly match either the licensed name or the authorized name of the agent.
You report that your company, ABC Company, LLC, is licensed by the Department as an insurance agent, and that it is authorized under its license to conduct its insurance business using the name ABC Company, LLC. You plan to do a mailing to prospective New York insurance clients, and intend to refer to the company in the mailing as ABC Company, LLC. At the same time, you also wish to include in your mailing references to the company’s Internet web address,___________ , and your personal e-mail address, as a way for prospective clients to reach you.
A URL, an abbreviation of Uniform Resource Locator, is the global address of documents and other resources on the World Wide Web. The first part of the address indicates what protocol to use; and the second part denotes the IP address or domain name where the site is located. The URL for an insurance agent’s website does not constitute a name by which the insurance agent is conducting its insurance business; it is simply an address at which the insurance agent’s website is located. Therefore, a licensed insurance agent who has a URL for its Internet website that does not exactly match its complete licensed or authorized name does not, in and of itself, constitute the doing of an insurance business by the agent under an unauthorized name. There may be purely practical reasons why the URL could not be an exact match to the licensed name, such as the fact that the matching name may have been assigned as a URL to another person.
However, names that appear on the website itself that refer to the insurance agent are a different matter. N.Y. Ins. Law § 2102(a)(1) (McKinney 2006) states, “No person, firm, association or corporation shall act as an insurance producer….in this state without having authority to do so by virtue of a license and in force pursuant to the provisions of this chapter.” Subsection (f) thereof provides, “Except for an individual licensee’s own legal name, no licensee shall use any name, in conducting a business regulated by this article that has not been previously approved by the Superintendent.” Thus, the Department issues a license to an applicant to conduct insurance business under a specific name, and a licensee must use that name in transacting insurance business unless the licensee applies and receives permission from the Department’s Licensing Bureau to use another name and makes the proper filing with the county clerk. If a licensee uses a name, other than the names(s) under which the entity has been licensed, the licensee would thereby be doing business without a license in violation of Insurance. Law §2102(a). In the case of a corporation licensed as an insurance agent, pursuant to Insurance Law § 2103(c), its sublicensee(s) are authorized to act only in the name of the corporate licensee. Should a licensed insurance agent conduct its insurance business in a name other than its full licensed name or full authorized name, the Superintendent of Insurance could conclude that the licensees’ acted in an “untrustworthy” manner within the meaning Insurance Law § 2110.
Insofar as insurance business is conducted by a licensed agent through its website, the names that a licensed insurance agent uses to refer to itself on the website itself must conform to the complete name on the agent’s license, or another name (in full) that the Department has authorized the licensee to use. The use of shortened versions thereof would not be permissible for a licensed insurance agent, insofar as their use may be regarded by the Department as misleading to the public.
The use by a licensed insurance agent of an e-mail address that does not include the exact licensed or authorized name under which the insurance producer is authorized to transact an insurance business is not impermissible. As long as the insurance agent and if a corporation or partnership, its sublicensees who are authorized to conduct business in its name use only the full and complete licensed or authorized name in which to conduct their insurance business once a potential client uses the e-mail address to make contact with the agent, there is no violation of the Insurance Law.
For further information you may contact Supervising Attorney Barbara A. Kluger at the New York City Office