Florida Citizens’ Chief Sets 500K Policy Depopulation Target

By | July 17, 2012

Maintaining there is no disagreement on the objectives of Florida’s state-backed property insurer, Citizens Property and Insurance Corp. President Barry Gilway says he hopes the insurer will reduce its policyholder rolls by 500,000 over the next three years while moving closer to rate adequacy.

Gilway, speaking last week to the media for the first time, laid out his goals for the organization that include reducing its 1.44 million policyholders, while recognizing it cannot be done by taking drastic measures.

His first priority, Gilway said, is looking for ways to depopulate the insurer. Noting that the insurer’s number of coastal policies has remained constant at around 475,000 policies for over a decade, he said his focus will be on reducing the number of policies in inland counties.

“That is where our big increase has come from,” he said. “If we can move 450,000 to 500,000 policies off the books we can be back to where we were two-and-a- half to three years ago.”

Anticipating the workshop held by Citizens on rates and depopulation issues in Miami on Monday, Gilway said accomplishing that goal would require several steps including working with agents, private insurers, while working harder at communicating with the public.

Citizens has just started to do a phone survey of both Citizens policyholders and non-Citizens property owners to gauge the perceptions and opinions of the public.

Pivoting off the information that provides, Gilway said, the insurer needs to formulate a strategy to communicate the differences between the two markets and why Citizens is taking steps such as reducing coverage.

“We need to be crystal clear about what we are doing, why we are doing it, and the direction we are taking,” he said.

One message Gilway wants carried to the public is that while Citizens is considering taking steps such as lifting the 10 percent cap on annual rate increases on new business, it does not have plans to implement drastic rate hikes.

Gilway said that there is agreement among legislators and board members that the question is not how high rates should be, but to what degree.

“We have to do it in a measured way. The question is it 10 percent or 20 percent or more,” he said. “But we are not going to get 350 percent or 400 percent today or in three years.”

Rates alone, however, are not an answer.

Gilway said one of the goals on Monday would be to formulate a more structured way for private insurers to make depopulation proposals. He said while the goal is to shift policies into the private market, the insurer has to be cognizant that those companies have the financial and administrative capabilities to survive in Florida’s market.

“It does no good to move policyholders out of Citizens if those policyholders don’t have a quality insurer to take over that risk,” said Gilway.

One a positive note, Gilway said that one significant development that has largely gone unnoticed by the press and the public is Citizens ability to reduce its exposure by transferring part of its risk into the catastrophic bond market

Earlier this year, Citizens set up Everglades Re Ltd., a Bermuda-domiciled reinsurer, and placed $750 million in insurance linked securities among 32 investors, making it the largest single peril catastrophe bond in history.

“This is going to change the industry because now reinsurers and investors are going to look at Florida and see there are these risk transfer opportunities,” said Gilway.

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