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A general agent is a person who is legally authorized to represent a company or individual on all kinds of business. Usually, representatives work within a limited scope, eliminating concerns about agents who may act against the interests of their employers in the course of their work. General agents can represent single companies or work as representatives of multiple companies and individuals. They are often attorneys, although not necessarily, and are empowered to act on the basis of agreements made with the people they represent.
Many people and companies need agents to represent them when people normally tasked with decision making are not available, for a variety of reasons ranging from illness to time zone conflicts. The agent is empowered to take action quickly in situations where rapid responses are needed and can also respond to routine business inquiries to reduce the workload for company officers and busy people. A general agent can handle all kinds of company business, with no limitations.
The general agent is expected to make decisions in keeping with the goals and ethics of the company. They will not enter into deals with suppliers a company has decided not to work with for ethical reasons, for example. Clearly unsound business decisions, like accepting an offer at a ridiculously low price, will also not be made. As representatives of other people who are tasked with caring for their assets and reputation, general agents are held to a high standard of behavior.
When selecting a general agent, people usually look for someone who is qualified to act in a given setting. The representative of a company should have a knowledge of the industry, as well as the company itself, for example, along with experience in a decision making capacity. This person might be a company employee or an outside representative and may have other responsibilities beyond acting as a general agent, such as supervising personnel.
This term also has another meaning, in the insurance industry. General agents for insurance companies supervise the marketing, sale, and management of insurance products for a given region. Their staffs sell a complete range of insurance such as home, health, life, and car insurance. They are responsible for representing the company's full range of products and providing potential customers with accurate and complete information about their insurance options. Their personnel are tasked with writing offers and policies, processing claims, and answering general inquiries from the public.