INSURANCE

New Citizens boss wants to slowly shrink state-run insurance company

 

The new president of Citizens Property Insurance made it clear: his goal is to reduce the state-run company’s footprint in Florida.

If you go:

What: Public workshop to discuss insurance rates at Citizens

When: Monday, July 16, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Where: JW Marriott, 1109 Brickell Ave., Miami.


Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Barry Gilway, the new president of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., unveiled an ambitious set of goals Wednesday, stating he’d like to drastically shrink the state-run insurer without implementing “drastic changes” that would harm Florida’s economy, and also improve the way the company communicates with Floridians.

Accomplishing those goals, he acknowledged, would be among the most difficult things he’s done in his 42-year career in insurance.

“Our objective is to remove policies from Citizens and then provide them with quality alternatives to Citizens,” said Gilway, a 66-year-old insurance executive who joined Citizens last month as president.

Three weeks into his job, Gilway sat down with reporters to provide the first glimpse into his strategy for achieving his goals.

By easing in rate increases, working more closely with insurance agents and speaking in more clear terms to policyholders, Citizens could begin the process of responsibly releasing more policies back into the private market, Gilway said.

For homeowners in places like South Florida and Tampa, Gilway’s proposals likely mean continued rate increases for their insurance policies.

“My intent would be to try to move us a little closer to rate adequacy over the next three years in the tri-county area [in South Florida], and Hillsborough and the sinkhole-related counties,” he said, later adding, “I believe that if we can get a little closer to rate adequacy, then we can attract private [insurers] back into the state.”

Citizens, created by the Legislature 10 years ago to be the “insurer of last resort,” has mushroomed to become the largest insurer in Florida, with 1.4 million policies. Gilway and other state leaders say Citizens has taken on far too much risk and poses an economic threat to the entire state if a massive hurricane hits.

In response, Citizens’ board has enacted a slew of policy changes in the past year that have resulted in reduced coverage and higher premiums for hundreds of thousands of Floridians.

Describing Citizens as “an organization under fire,” and one that is “almost in a crisis environment,” Gilway said it’s imperative that the organization do a better job of getting its message across.

“We’re doing so many things at Citizens that it’s time to sit back and really explain to Citizens’ customers what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and what are the expected results,” he said.

Gilway also proposed to work more closely with the Legislature, which is fiercely divided when it comes to property insurance issues.

Despite an overwhelming Republican majority, lawmakers cannot reach a consensus on major reforms to fix Citizens. South Florida Republicans often join Democrats to vote down any measures that would increase insurance costs.

While interviewing Gilway for the job last month, Citizens’ board members peppered him with questions about how he would deal with the thorny political environment in Florida.

“You’ve probably heard of the term RINO,” said board member John Rollins, referring to a common taunt for so-called Republicans in Name Only. “Here in Florida, we have REFIs, which is Republicans Except for Insurance.”

Gilway said he looks forward to working with state lawmakers, though he provided few details about how he planned to break the gridlock.

Before meeting with the Legislature, he will face consumers during a public workshop in Miami on Monday to discuss Citizens’ insurance rates.

Citizens’ board, which is considering removing a 10-percent cap on rate increases for new customers, will likely hear from several homeowners who are directly impacted by the insurer’s push to raise rates.

Gilway said the workshop would be an opportunity to start working towards the goal of improving Citizens’ relationship with the public.

“I’m not naïve,” he said. “I’ve only been here three weeks. I know we have issues, and I know we have problems, and I know there are significant areas [for] improvement.”

Toluse Olorunnipa can be reached at tolorunnipa@MiamiHerald.com and on Twitter @ToluseO

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