While this is the first time Kimberly Fobbs has run for statewide office, she is no stranger to either politics or the insurance industry. She has long been active in Tulsa county politics and currently serves as chair of the Tulsa County Democratic Party. Fobbs also has held management and leadership roles at the insurance and financial services company, MetLife.
Insurance Journal: What are the primary functions of the Oklahoma Insurance Department?
Kimberly Fobbs: The primary functions are enforcement and regulation of the insurance laws of our state. There should be a [focus on] consumer protection; we need to make sure we have a competitive marketplace; insure solvency of the entities that we regulate; and there are eight primary agencies that fall under the regulation of the insurance department and the insurance commissioner’s responsibilities.
… The financial support is critical, we need to have strong financial examinations. The legal division, clearly the biggest part that faces the marketplace has to do with licensing and education. Then rate compliance, real estate appraiser division, and also focusing on ISO review, which, I believe, is an underutilized focus today, which is working with fire departments in communities, especially in rural Oklahoma to help reduce their rates, and that would impact overall savings across the state.
IJ: What aspects of your professional background do you feel qualify you for service as Oklahoma’s insurance commissioner?
KF: First and foremost, I spent 16 years in various management roles and divisions with Metropolitan Life Insurance. At that time, they were the number one insurer in the United States. That exposure was not as an agent … but the person that actually had to know policies and provisions, take claims, administer, investigate. My experience ranged from annuities, beneficiary assignment, death claims, institutional products including dental, auto and home. … I was a Certified Quality Auditor, I spent many years of my career in data and metrics management roles, and also served as a business intelligence analyst. And so what that means, is that I’m going to go into this not only looking for root cause analysis, but providing meaningful and measurable data and analytics to show what is and what isn’t working.
IJ: Why do you want to serve as Oklahoma’s insurance commissioner?
KF: First of all, I believe I am the most qualified person to serve of the candidates that are remaining. Secondly, it was a call to service by the things that I just mentioned and many more things I’ve done. I’ve always been a public servant, and in Oklahoma we suffer as a state from some of the highest insurance rates in the nation — women, seniors, our rural and low-income people are disproportionately affected. We are third highest in national average in auto and home, as opposed to the surrounding states of Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas.
We have seen, clearly, for the last eight years that our people have some of the lowest rates of coverage, whether we’re talking healthcare or in some of the other prime area insurance categories. And we have a significant need to make sure that that office is not politicized. … I don’t believe that position should be bought and paid. It should be up to the voters to decide and I believe I offer the voice of the consumer, as well as a moderating voice for bringing more competition into our state. Because we absolutely need to have more choice, and more affordable choices for our consumers and I believe that I have the opportunity to provide a competitive business environment that will be friendly to achieving those goals.
IJ: How would you describe the current state of the insurance market in Oklahoma?
KF: Well, if I were to give it a letter grade I don’t believe that we are passing. If I were to look at it in terms of opportunity, then the glass is half full in that we have significant opportunities to bring people to the table to improve the conditions in Oklahoma. A competitive marketplace will both improve quality for the consumer, as well as provide business opportunities, and that ultimately leads to lowering rates, lowering premiums. And making sure that when you look at, there’s so many leading indicators, but our overall poverty level in Oklahoma, the median wage in Oklahoma, and then you try to put together a model that says, what does the average person need to live on? Clearly, it is putting the purchase of critical insurance needs as a secondary item as opposed to a primary item over food, rent, utilities. And so, we’ve got to do something to address that, because our system is unsustainable. …
So, I would say that current state, again we need work. But in terms of opportunity, because these are all areas that we can address with the right focus and the right commitment, that we can only get better.
IJ: What message would you like to convey to insurance agents and brokers in Oklahoma?
KF: The insurance department should be an area that provides value, both whether you are a consumer or an agent or broker. …. If you’re on the front lines, consumers are shopping agents because of the fact that they can’t afford it and it is equally frustrating [for both] …
From a licensing perspective, while in recent years earthquake was added to the curriculum of continuing education, there is feedback that we need to have better delivery systems for the education component ….
Certainly, there is a lot of money that flows through the agency in terms of licensing and registrations, and we need to look at that. It needs to be appropriate, but I think that there are some opportunities for improvements. …
I want to make sure we provide more tools, more effective tools for training and development. … They need to be smart, they need to be effective, and they need to be relevant.
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