Citizens to postpone action on controversial loan program

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

By Michael Peltier

Published December 15, 2012

A handful of companies had agreed to take out nearly 300,000 less risky policies from Citizens without the financial incentives.

TALLAHASSEE -- Citizens Property Insurance Corp will shelve a controversial $350 million loan program while it gathers data and looks at more options to reduce its number of policies. 

Citizens Chief Financial Officer Sharon Binnun told a Citizens’ panel Thursday that recent success in other depopulation efforts and uncertainty over the long-term success of those efforts make it wise to take a longer look at a recent proposal to provide low-interest loans to companies willing to take riskier policies off the company’s books.

A handful of companies have already agreed to take out nearly 300,000 less risky policies from the state-backed insurer without the financial incentives.

Company officials say, however, that the surplus loan program should be revisited next summer, rather than scrapped entirely.

“It would be prudent for us as an organization to … come next summer take all the things we learned and see where we stand,” Binnun said. 

Earlier this year, officials drew criticism after they proposed an effort to use $350 million in surplus funds to provide 20-year loans to companies that would take Citizens policies and keep them for at least 10 years.

Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford was among a group of lawmakers that urged caution and further review.

Contrary to initial estimates, Citizens President Barry Gilway said Thursday the loan program as now structured is unlikely to entice many private carriers to take advantage of the loans. 

Outside investment advisors are reviewing the loan program and are expected to make recommendations early next year. Gilway, who took over in June and presented the loan program shortly after his arrival, said discussions with potential companies indicate that changes need to be made. 

“I seriously doubt even if the surplus note program would proceed that we would have any real takers that meet the financial requirements that we believe would be necessary,” Gilway said. 

Sean Shaw, a former Florida insurance consumer advocate who now works with a Tampa law firm that represents policyholders in lawsuits, applauded the decision, saying the proposal had not been fully vetted by the Legislature.

“The surplus lines program seems to be off the table, and that’s great news,” Shaw said in a statement.

The full Citizens Board of Governors is expected to vote on the proposal Friday.

The board is also expected to hear a proposal to set up a clearinghouse at Citizens to provide customers with more information upfront on policy options.