Earlier this year, Governor Charlie Crist vetoed a bill (SB 2044) that would have been the beginning of a potential fix for Florida’s property insurance debacle. However, the state will be ringing in the New Year with a new governor, which many believe will breathe new life into bills aimed at protecting insurance agencies and consumers.
Florida’s property insurance industry is in crisis. While we have been extremely fortunate to not be hit by a hurricane for five consecutive years, our luck will eventually run out. This is the exact reason why the insurance industry and the government are looking for resolutions to protect everyone.
In 2011, the Republican-controlled Legislature will focus on proposing new bills that will be very similar in nature to SB 2044 and will mostly likely have the support of new Governor Rick Scott.
Journalist Gary Fineout sums up a couple of the changes in a recent article in The Gainesville Sun about the prospective bills. He writes, “The proposed changes would make it easier for insurers to set rate increases of up to 10 percent annually. They would also put a three-year limit on when property owners can file a claim from a hurricane and would change how much insurers have to pay out initially for structural damage.”
The three-year limit on filing claims is credited to the public adjuster industry, which acts as an advocate for the policyholder. Current legislation states that policyholders have five years to file a claim after a hurricane. Some critics believe that public adjusters are using this to convince homeowners to file claims before the deadline. The numbers show that last year, roughly $700 million in claims were filed from the 2005 hurricane season. (Peltier, Naples News.)
What concerns the insurance industry is that while insurance rates remain the same, payouts from 2005 are still being dished out. When you combine that with five-straight inactive hurricane seasons in Florida, you can begin to see the need to increase premiums. Insurance companies have only so many financial resources in the event of a major disaster.
The struggle is to determine a compromise between what will support the insurance industry—and ultimately the consumers—and what policyholders can afford in a recovering economy. There are no definitive answers, but it is certain that 2011 will bring changes to the property insurance industry in Florida.
On December 9, Citizens Property Insurance, Corp. released its official “Inspection & Outreach Program Update.” The inspection program, which launched earlier this year, has been gaining increased attention amid an already heated Florida property insurance debate.
On one side, there is the company, which maintains that the purpose of the inspections is to help policyholders receive proper wind mitigation credits. On the other side, policyholders are outraged over increased premiums due to findings in the inspections.
The Program Update statistics show that to date, the program has assigned 44,220 inspections. Of those, 33% are pending Underwriting Review, 15% of policies (commercial inspection) were cancelled, and 16% have been completed (fully processed by Underwriting). The report also indicated that the estimate premium change to date is $5,343,553.
However, an increase in premium rates isn’t the only factor that has people fired up. The inspectors also drew criticism. Contractors were responsible for roughly 14,000 of the total inspections assigned.
Moving into 2011, Citizens has plans to “provide better quality controls and transparency in 2011 and beyond.” The Program Update states that the Company has already “reduced assignment volume in November and December” and “the current Inspection Administrator will finish processing any pending assignments made prior to December 31, 2010 in the beginning of 2011.”
The nature of the inspections will also change. In an article by Julie Patel published in the SunSentinel, she states that, “Next year, the inspections, which aim to check discounts for features of a home that protect it from hurricanes, will include checking the home’s rebuilding cost.”
Additionally, the number of inspections will increase. The Program Update also included a chart estimating the program outreach and expenses through 2012. In 2011, Citizens estimates that the expenses will reach $11.1 million. Of this total estimate, $10.3 is estimated as the inspection expenses and $700,000 is estimated for project staffing. Categories “other expenses” and “systems” account for the remaining total estimate.
Perhaps most importantly for policyholders, the company estimates that it will complete 94,000 inspections in 2011 with an estimated premium impact of $19 million. The combination of these numbers will result in an estimated 45% return on investment for the company.
But, is this really so bad? Going back to one of my earlier blog articles on the state of the Florida property insurance industry, an increase in revenue for the property insurance company means increased funds to support its policyholders in the event of a major disaster.
In fact, as Patel writes in her article, “Inspections conducted this year by Citizens, the largest property insurer in the state, found that some policyholders have been receiving undeserved discounts for features that protect their homes from hurricanes. If Citizens customers don’t pay enough, all property insurance policyholders in Florida could be on the hook, just as they’re paying to cover state-backed Citizens‘ deficits from the 2005 hurricane season.”
In order to be successful in any business, you have to adapt to the times. Back in 2007 it became clear to us that it was time to give our website a real overhaul and start taking online seriously. That may seem a bit late in the game, but its the reality for most busineses. Without a significant investment in in-house technology and/or a good parter to guide you, competing successfully onine can be daunting.
At that time, GreatFlorida.com had a minimal presence on the web and it was becoming increasingly obvious that our future in the Florida Insurance industry would be greatly influenced by our efforts online.
Today, we offer a technologically advanced website combined with strategic marketing and sales features that are benefiting our clients as well as our local independent insurance agents and increasing our online insurance leads.
Yuca Productions (www.yucapro.com), our web marketing agency in Miami, initially prepared a strategic plan to not only redevelop GreatFlorida.com but also to make it a game changing tool for us in terms of generating increased leads, offering more information for our visitors, and allowing all of our 100 independent GreatFlorida agents statewide, to compete in their local markets.
That was early in 2008. Since then GreatFlorida.com has increased its web traffic by 788% to date. With that increase in traffic comes a boat load of online leads, local calls to our agents, as well as calls to our web based toll-free number that allows us to track calls in the same manner that we track web visits. Overall, GreatFlorida is now as relevant to Florida Insurance as other major insurance players we see on TV every 5 minutes.
Our website’s success is one that any insurance agency, or and business for that matter, can achieve with the right marketing partner, the correct mix of investments, both monetary and non-monetary, and a real commitment to embrace the new media marketing that is redefining how we do business in the 21st century.
Our Yuca Productions has been carefully migrating us away from the traditional Yellow Pages type of advertising that had allowed to grow as we did since 1991, but was no longer delivering the return on investment it once did.
GreatFlorida.com is now ranking alongside AllState, StateFarm and Geico on some of the most competitive keywords searched for daily by millions of Floridians. The core of this online search traffic obviously comes from Google.
Google represents +70% of all online searches done worldwide on a daily basis. If you’re not on page one for those searches that are relevant to your business, you’re nowhere. Therefore we have concentrated many of our efforts on making sure that if anyone is looking for Insurance in Florida, GreatFlorida.com will be hard to miss.
We’ve also localized our agent’s sites by using local directories and GPS mapping technologies that populate most online map databases, IPhones, GPS Systems in cars, etc. Finally, we created city-specific insurance pages and worked directly with Google and Bing to ensure that GreatFlorida.com is listed and indexed as efficiently as possible.
Don’t beleive me? Google “Florida Insurance,” and you’ll see we appear on the first page, and are more “relevant” than any other insurance agent or insurance provider
GreatFlorida’s site performance was also adjusted for speed, a new relevance meter for Google, and we implemented interactive videos by a female spokesperson to encourage visitors to learn more about our services.
Using a web based telephony system we added a click-to-call feature, which instantly connects site visitors with their local agents by simply entering their number online.
However, we didn’t stop with website technology upgrades and search engine optimization. We also wanted to attract customers through additional online tools that would draw them to GreatFlorida.com.
Pay-per-click campaign target users by demographic, location and insurance needs. It also allows us to bid for Sponsored Links on Google, Yahoo and Bing to immediately increase traffic for those clicks that have a greater percentage of sales than those that do not.
We also created a GreatFlorida fan page on Facebook as well as agency-specific GreatFlorida pages and added Facebook “Like” buttons on GreatFlorida.com as well as the website pages of individual agencies. Social Networking is here, and will soon be as important and even more important that organic Google searches.
The overall goal of the campaign is to obviously increase site visitors and increase client leads. I’m happy to report that it’s working. How do we know? We have implemented industry leading online tracking tools to ensure that our investments are working.
We track and measure site visitors and match these statistics to specific GreatFlorida agency locations through Google Analytics, an industry standard web traffic analysis tool from Google. Through this tool, we are able to accurately measure lead generation and phone calls.
Last but not least, we integrated call tracking with Google Analytics to help to identify whether customer response is online or by phone and also to identity what advertising works. We also use these statistics to help us adjust monthly online ad spending, which now accounts for a large percentage of our total advertising budget.
Compared to a typical agency solution offered by a popular competitor, Astonish Results, GreatFlorida.com allows our local independent agents to compete more successfully. They pay 90% less per month, without the need of the 5 year contract required by Astonish, allowing them to achieve a quicker return on their investments, with less risk and better performance than the cookie-cutter approach they offer.
Statistics show that more and more, consumers begin their search for a product or service online. In an article by Steve Anderson in Florida Underwriter Magazine, he writes, “Young Internet-savvy consumers are using search engines and websites to research all types of online purchases.” He also adds that, “This new generation of consumers wants to do business with companies that mirror their personal and business lifestyles.”
In other words, the new generations of consumers we want to target, have never, and will never pick-up the Yellow Pages. It’s online or bust.
Ellsworth Buck is the vice president of GreatFlorida Insurance. Contact him for questions and comments.
In my position, I am often asked many questions about the insurance industry in Florida. One topic that continues to be a hot button is homeowner’s insurance.
What is the latest in legislation?
How will proposed laws affect my policy rates?
Why don’t more insurance companies offer homeowner’s policies in Florida?
For a consumer, keeping up on this fast changing industry can be very confusing. To understand the state of the industry, we must first understand the current legislation and proposed bills that will directly affect it.
For example, at present some government officials are fighting to add wind coverage to the National Flood Insurance Program. Proponents argue that adding wind coverage would benefit consumers by eliminating gaps in coverage. However, those opposing the bill believe that adequate wind coverage exists in the private market and that the program will go into additional debt leaving taxpayers to pay the costs in the long run.
If the wind coverage debate seems complicated, consider that it is just one issue on the table. Here is a brief overview of each of the bills:
set minimum deductibles for claims for flood damage to pre-FIRM properties
and requires FEMA Administrator to report to Congress on the plan to repay certain flood insurance debt within 10 years as well as report on the impacts of the Act on the financial soundness of the national flood insurance program. (Source: OpenCongress)
H.R. 1264: Sponsored by Rep. Gene Taylor, this bill specifically seeks to add wind coverage to the National Flood Insurance Program. In other words, the bill would enforce multi-peril coverage including windstorms and floods. In July 2010 the bill passed the House. (Source: GovTrack Insider)
S.B. 2044: Although this bill was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist earlier this year, it is important to note because it was the major bill at play.
It is credited as a bill that focused on “consumer protections” with regulations such as
increasing surplus and capital requirements for insurance companies
and requiring companies to receive permission form the Office of Insurance Regulation to raise rates. (Source: Grady, SunSentinel)
At first glance it would seem that the aforementioned bills would in fact protect consumers. After all, property damage from wind and floods is a serious concern in Florida. Fortunately, the last few hurricanes seasons have been relatively mild. But what happens when our luck runs out?
When natural disasters occur, one of the first places people go to for help are their homeowners insurance companies and yet the reality of our current economic market is that companies are opening and closing doors every day.
When a company goes out of business, policyholders must then scramble to attain new property insurance. It’s no wonder that consumers are frustrated. I agree that something needs to change, which is why I encourage people to look at the big picture.
It is no mistake that major insurance providers have pulled out of the homeowner’s insurance market in Florida. How did we end up in this predicament?
While many factors are to blame, consider Florida’s current laws. As it stands, consumers can make a claim on property damage for up to five years after a storm.
That means that the insurance companies are still paying claims from 2005’s Hurricane Wilma and according to recent statistics, the total for those claims is closing in on the total payouts made from Hurricane Andrew. When you consider that Wilma was significantly weaker than Andrew and that other states limit claim period to two years, you can begin to see why insurance companies have fled Florida. (Source: Shah, Miami Herald.)
Furthermore, because we’ve been lucky enough to have not been hit with a major storm in several years, companies are still able to pay for small claims. What is concerning to the insurance industry, is that in the event that a major disaster strikes Florida or worse, two major disasters, the funds may not be available due to low-cost policies.
What’s the answer? It would make sense to give insurance companies a chance to compete in Florida. By paying higher homeowners insurance policy rates, consumers would open the door to increased competition among major insurance companies, which will ultimately benefit us, the consumers.
The greatest benefit is that policy holders will know that should a major natural disaster strike in their city, the insurance companies will have the funds to pay their claims. Bigger companies generally have more experience and are well structured.
The bottom line is that in today’s economy everyone is doing their best to try to figure out how to turn it all around. While I am not sure that any one person has the right answer, I know that I would rather pay a little more for my policy and know that the coverage is there when I need it, vs. pay low policy rates and find out that the funds are not there after a major natural disaster strikes.
In today’s world, savings is something that’s on everyone’s mind. We’re clipping coupons, searching for great deals on the Internet, and taking full advantage of in-store product specials. “Savings” has also become the go-to buzzword for marketing agencies and advertisers.
It seems everywhere we look, the message is to save more and spend less. This is particularly true for the auto insurance industry.
From TV advertisements to letters in the mail, the message is the same: pay less for auto insurance. The question then becomes, can I really save more money if I switch companies? Maybe.
What most consumers don’t realize is that when a company is advertising auto insurance savings, the amount of savings that they specify is based on a tiny margin of policyholders.
The companies only take into account the amount of savings that people receive after they have switched policies.
Does this mean that savings on auto insurance are unrealistic for most people? No, it doesn’t. There are plenty of ways to save on auto insurance.
What kind of safety equipment is on your vehicle? (e.g., airbags, daytime lights, anti-locking brake system, etc.)
What level of driver’s education have you achieved?
Are you insuring multiple cars?
Are you insuring a car that is at the same residence as another policyholder?
Do you have other insurance policies through the same company? (e.g., homeowners insurance)
What is your driving history? Is your license clear of points?
Are you or were you a member of the United States military?
Are you a government employee?
How many miles do you drive in an average day, week or month?
Is the vehicle primarily used for business purposes?
The more you know about the available discounts, the more likely it is that you will find a low rate. This is because you know what type of information to provide to the insurance agency and you know the right questions to ask.
Even then, you’re not supposed to be the expert. Yes your job as a consumer is to be educated on the market, but what you also need a reputable insurance agent that they will ask the right questions for you. To really get the most out of an auto insurance policy, it takes a combination of education and service.
For example, when a person calls GreatFlorida Insurance to inquire about policy, they will receive quotes from multiple carriers. This is because we are a one-stop insurance shopping source and we are not biased to any one company. Our agents will ask you a few simple questions and in seconds, you will have an accurate quote from a variety of auto insurance carriers. Our GreatFlorida Insurance agents will then be able to advise you on which policy and price is best for you.
Of course, cheaper is not always better. You can find auto insurance policies with low rates, but should you purchase a policy based on price alone? In my experience, price is not always the best way to choose the best coverage. When it’s time to make a claim, you want to be sure the company you have you policy with is accessible and friendly. Nothing is worse than needed to file a claim from an accident and getting the runaround from an insurance company.
Your company and your agent should be on your side ready to help you in stressful situations. After all, the reason you buy a policy is not only for security, but also for peace of mind.