Q&A With David Altmaier, President, National Association of Insurance Commissioners

By | February 12, 2021

Florida’s insurance regulator has a busy year ahead, and it won’t just include overseeing his own state’s insurance market, one of the most dynamic and complicated insurance markets in the world. Rather, for the next year, Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier has another job as president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the members of which include all state insurance commissioners.

But it’s a job he says he is ready for after serving as president-elect behind former NAIC President and South Carolina Insurance Director Ray Farmer, with whom he has a shared understanding based on leading insurance markets in catastrophe-prone states.

Altmaier was appointed commissioner of the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) in 2016 after working at the department since 2008. He served in several roles during that time including as chief analyst of the Property and Casualty Financial Oversight unit and deputy commissioner of Property and Casualty Insurance. Prior to that, he worked as an insurance agent with an agency in Kentucky.

In an interview with Insurance Journal, Altmaier talked about his priorities leading the NAIC, including carrying on Farmer’s NAIC work on cyber risk and the newly developed Committee on Race & Insurance, as well as climate change and insurance innovation.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. View the interview by clicking on the image to the left.

Insurance Journal: What are your priorities for NAIC and what effect will the new Congress have on those?

David Altmaier: A lot of them are going to look very familiar to people that have been following the organization for a while. We’re certainly going to continue work on our Special Committee on Race and Insurance and our executive level task force on climate and resiliency and long-term care is another good example of some classic hits from the prior year I think we are going to continue through 2021. But we’re looking forward to finishing up some of the planning discussions that we have and then engaging with our stakeholders around the country on some really pivotal issues for consumers.

IJ: What is the direction of the Race Insurance Committee that was formed last year amid the Black Lives Matter movement?

Altmaier: We expect that those reports are going to highlight some areas across our lines of business as well as across the industry and regulatory agencies about areas that we can spend our time on in 2021 to make a difference.

IJ: What insurance sectors could make a difference in increasing diversity in the industry?

Altmaier: [The work streams] have spent a lot of time engaging with a number of industry stakeholders and consumer stakeholders and everybody in between to really understand which lines of business can have some areas that we can work on. I think that’s one of the pivotal things that we’re looking forward to receiving from the work stream so that we can establish some constructive and meaningful pathways forward on addressing some of those things.

IJ: Why is this work so important right now?

Altmaier: Over the summer, we started to have conversations amongst the membership about some of the things that were happening around the country and a lot of the unrest that we were seeing. It really became very evident that members of the NAIC found it so incredibly important for us to spend some time working on this issue and … if any of these kinds of things existed with the insurance industry, within the insurance industry or within regulatory agencies even, that we were proactively working to identify those things and address those things and so this has been a very member driven initiative.

IJ: Have you had much response from the industry on this issue so far?

Altmaier: We have. I think the industry we found as we got into these discussions, the industry had almost simultaneously started their own conversations about this. As we got into the work streams and started to engage with the industry and they really came to the table with some thoughts and some ideas. … It’s one of those committees that we didn’t have to really look too far for people that were interested in coming and sharing their thoughts and ideas with us on this issue and it’s been pretty encouraging to see the level of dialogue has taken place on this.

IJ: Being from Florida, you are quite familiar with natural catastrophes and importance of mitigation and resilience. What are you goals around that with the NAIC this year?

Altmaier: This has been an important work stream as you said for us here in Florida, just given our propensity for hurricanes and many of my colleagues in the Southeastern zone have found it to be critical for them as well. We’ve had some ongoing work at the NAIC on the C committee side – that’s our Property and Casualty Committee. I had the opportunity to chair the Catastrophe Working Group for a while and was able to accomplish some pretty good work there. But over the past several years, we’ve seen that catastrophes come in all sorts of shapes and sizes not just hurricanes in 2021 really underscored that for everyone.

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We had catastrophes in all four corners of the country, from wildfires in the West to hurricanes in the Southeast to derechos in the Midwest and so we really wanted to elevate this work stream at the NAIC so that it got the attention that it deserved. And, that we were taking into consideration how can we make our communities and our insurance markets more resilient … [and] minimize the amount of disruption that consumers face as a result of dealing with the insurance side of things. I think as we work on some of the work streams that are under the climate resiliency task force, those will be the kinds of things that we look to accomplish and so this is one I’m really excited about.

IJ: Another topic that was of great importance to former NAIC President and South Carolina Insurance Director Ray Farmer was cyber risk. He spearheaded the committee for NAIC and worked on cyber model legislation for states to use. Is that something you will continue to work on?

Altmaier: Absolutely, and that work stream has kind of morphed in a couple of different ways. Director Farmer really did some great work with the Cybersecurity model law. That’s really kind of at the implementation phase and so now we’re counting on state regulators around the country to start working on adopting that in state houses. We do expect this to be a topic of discussion in D.C. as well. We’ll be working to liaise with congressional leaders on this issue as well and explaining the importance of state insurance regulators and the role that we play in this area.

But it’s also picked up steam on the innovation and technology side as well.

IJ: Do you envision more of a state-by-state role with cyber legislation or it becoming Federal law?

Altmaier: We are hoping that we can pass consistent laws [on cyber] around the country in the state houses. That’s one of the main reasons why we adopted the model law so that we can do that consistently and I think that we have demonstrated in the past on key issues that we’re able to leave those kinds of things up to the states while at the same time, maintaining consistency across jurisdictions so that carriers know the playing field and they know the rules and regulations and they can count on that being somewhat consistent throughout the states. But one of the things that we have to make sure that we’re doing is not only talking the talk but also walking the walk, showing the federal folks that this is something that we’re capable of doing and interested in doing and doing quite well.

IJ: What have you learned as Florida’s regulator that you will bring to this role?

A: One of the things that has been so critical as Florida’s Insurance Commissioner is just communication. As we have worked on a variety of different issues over the years, making sure that we are looping in as many stakeholders as we can get our hands on, so that we have a solid understanding of everyone’s viewpoints so that as we move forward on particular items, we are fully aware of the ramifications of the decisions that we’re making and who those are impacting. It’ll be no exception at the NAIC as we undertake so many critical work streams, ensuring that we’re inviting as many viewpoints at the table as possible and allowing everybody to transparently share their viewpoints on certain issues and make us all aware of what we’re getting into and the benefits of those things and the consequences. At the end of the day, as regulators, we can make consumer driven and data driven decisions that promote solid and stable markets for consumers to rely on.

IJ: One of the criticisms of the industry is how they communicate with customers – how they put out information and a lack of transparency. Is that something you want to work on?

Altmaier: We’ve been encouraging that a lot in Florida and we’ll continue to do that at the NAIC as well as we’ve experienced a number of catastrophes here in Florida. We’ve had a lot of Floridians going through the claims process for the first time and we have really seen how important it is for the industry to really over communicate with their consumers about the claims process – what happens next, what the adjuster’s role is and when they’re going to come and when they’re going to call… A lot of the anxiety that we have seen on the consumer side when they go through that process is really due to just a lack of communication from the insurance carriers about what they’re going to see next.

We’ve been stressing for a while now to the companies that once you think that you’ve communicated enough with your consumer, call them several more times after that, just to make sure that they are very well aware of what’s coming next. We’ve seen that play a huge role in consumer satisfaction. We’ll continue to look for opportunities of improving not just industry communication but for us as well as regulators, making sure we’re telling consumers our story and how we’re looking out for them.

IJ: What have you learned from other NAIC leaders?

Altmaier: So much. It’s hard to really even begin to quantify how much I’ve learned from my colleagues around the country and that’s one of the things that I’ve cherished the most about my involvements with the NAIC … You usually don’t have to look very far for a commissioner that has experienced the same challenge or a similar challenge [in their states] that they’ve worked through. The guidance and direction that they might be able to provide us been really insightful and I’ve certainly appreciated the comradery of the Southeastern zone.

We all seem to be emailing and calling each other on a fairly regular basis, wishing each other well for oncoming hurricanes …trad[ing] what works for us during this hurricane [and] preparing for the next events.

*Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story identified the NAIC Property & Casualty “C” committee as the “sea” committee. Insurance Journal regrets the error.

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