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A certificate of insurance is a short document that outlines the terms of your active insurance policies. It’s often necessary to provide this proof of insurance when you work with clients, landlords, and other third parties to foster strong business relationships. You may also need to request certificates of insurance from other companies, such as vendors or contractors, to ensure that they have adequate insurance coverage to mitigate the potential for liability concerns or risk.
What is a certificate of insurance?
A certificate of insurance (COI) summarizes your current insurance policies and verifies that your business is properly insured. Usually, only a one-page document, a COI explains what type of insurance coverage you have in effect, the limits of your policy, the effective dates of coverage, and other relevant information. Insurance companies provide COIs to their clients, and many insurers use a standard form provided by a nonprofit insurance organization, the Association for Cooperative Operations Research and Development (ACORD).
A certificate of insurance is purely informational and does not alter or amend any insurance policy. A COI does not serve as an insurance contract, policy, or coverage. Every COI should have qualifying language that states the document is a matter of information only and confers no rights to the certificate holder.
What is the difference between an insurance policy and an insurance certificate?
An insurance policy is a legal contract between you and your insurer that defines your coverage for a particular type of risk. Your insurance policy details who is covered, what types of perils and losses your insurer will pay for, and what situations are not covered. In contrast, a certificate of insurance is not a legal contract and exists purely to provide proof of insurance and basic information about the insurance coverage you have purchased. It summarizes the main coverage details of insurance policies, allowing others to quickly and easily understand what types of policies a company has and verify that their insurance is active. You cannot have a certificate of insurance without first purchasing one or more insurance policies, and a COI is not a substitute for your insurance policy documents.
It’s important to note that a certificate of insurance does not provide any coverage to your client; it only confirms what insurance coverage your company has. If you want to add a client as an additional insured party on your policy, you will have to work with your insurer to add them.
Why do you need proof of insurance?
Certificates of insurance are important in two main situations: When you need to provide proof of insurance coverage to someone you plan to work with, and when you need to verify that another company has insurance.
Clients, business partners, and landlords often require proof of insurance. Before signing contract documents, the other party will likely want to see a COI, which will verify that you have liability policies in effect and that your insurance provides sufficient business insurance coverage. Even if they don’t require a COI, prospective clients will often feel more comfortable if they know that you have a comprehensive range of insurance coverage.
- You own a janitorial services company. Before signing a contract to provide regular cleaning services at an office building, your potential client wants to see your COI to ensure that you have general liability insurance, which would provide coverage if your service damages valuable property or causes someone to be injured.
- You are signing a lease for your shoe store’s new location. Your landlord needs to make sure that you have general liability insurance. Otherwise, they could be held liable if someone is injured on the premises.
- A company hires your IT consulting firm to provide IT services. They verify that you have professional liability insurance in case a mistake in your professional activities causes them financial losses.
- You’re leasing or financing a car, the lender will require you to have commercial auto insurance. The lender will also need proof that you have the insurance, so they’ll ask for a COI.
If your company hires or partners with vendors, contractors, or other third parties, it’s a good idea to ensure that they have adequate liability insurance coverage. If your contractor or vendor is not properly insured, you could take on some of their financial risks in the event that an accident or potential loss occurs.
- You hire a construction contractor to add an addition to your business’s location. You must check the company’s COI to make sure that they have insurance in case of an accident that causes property damage or bodily injury.
What information does a certificate of insurance include?
Information provided by a COI includes:
- The date the certificate was issued
- Expiration date of the policy
- The name of the insurer
- Who is covered by the policy
- What type of coverage is provided
- Policy limits
When you evaluate a COI, it’s important to ask:
- Is the business name listed on the certificate of insurance form the same as the company you expect to work with?
- Will the policy be active the entire time you work with the contractor or vendor?
- What type of insurance policies are active?
- Are the limits of the policy sufficient?
Typically, anyone who receives your COI will become a certificate holder. Certificate holders may be notified if the insurance policy is canceled. While notification is not required, many insurance companies will notify certificate holders as a courtesy.
Does a COI cost money?
No. If you have an active insurance policy, your insurer or insurance agent/broker should provide you with a COI at no additional charge.
Is a policy schedule the same as a certificate of insurance?
No. A policy schedule or schedule of insurance is a part of your insurance contract that defines who is covered, what property is covered, deductibles, exclusions, coverage limits, payment details, and other key information. It’s for the policyholder’s own information. A certificate of insurance is a separate document that provides proof of insurance for all your active insurance policies. COIs are intended to be provided to your clients or business partners who may wish to verify your insurance status.
How do you verify a certificate of insurance?
To verify a COI, contact the insurance company or agent on the form. The insurer should be able to confirm that the policy is valid. When you receive a COI, it’s a good idea to make sure that the insurance company is legitimate, the dates listed are valid for the time period during which work will be done, and the coverage is valid in the correct state.
A certificate of insurance provides a condensed summary of active policies and their insurance terms. Many clients and landlords will require you to provide this document as proof of insurance before they will sign a contract with you. If you hire a construction company, vendors, or other third-party companies, it is wise to analyze their certificate of insurance to ensure that they have enough coverage. This will prevent your company from being held liable for any mistakes made by your contractors or vendors.