Despite last year’s hurricane damage, insurance companies sticking with Florida clients

About a decade ago, Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne caused an estimated $45 billion in property damage in Florida and enough uneasiness in the insurance industry that some of the nation’s biggest companies pulled out of the market entirely.

 

Following Hurricane Matthew’s punishing trip up the Florida coast last fall, the reaction from insurance companies is much different in 2017.

Despite estimated property damage of $1.182 billion, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, getting insurance for most customers in the state is not that difficult, industry leaders say.

According to Lynne McChristian of the Insurance Information Institute, Matthew’s impact was not significant enough to rattle most companies.

“Hurricane Matthew was not a major disruption to the insurance market,” McChristian said in an email to The Record. “Florida insurers were in a solid financial position to handle the losses from that storm.

“Due to the lucky break of zero major hurricanes for more than a decade, insurers had the claims-paying resources needed to handle Matthew.”

Doug Wiles, president of Herbie Wiles Insurance in St. Augustine, said there’s one major difference between the market today compared to 10 or so years ago. He said most homeowners policies are sold by Florida-based insurance companies.

Those companies were established to serve the state and aren’t going to pull out because this is their market. Wiles said even with the damage caused by Matthew and Hermine last year, there is no panic or instability in the insurance market.

“The issues that affected us after 2004, ‘05, ‘06 hurricanes are different from what we face today,” Wiles said. “Hurricane Matthew was a non-event from an insurance company perspective.

“We’re not seeing some dramatic things like we saw in 2005, ‘06, ‘07, and that’s good news for the consumer.”

That doesn’t mean there aren’t difficulties here. Florida residents still face the highest homeowners insurance rates in the country. According to the website ValuePenguin, the average policy in Florida is $1,471. The national average is $964.

Laura Adams, senior insurance analyst at InsuranceQuotes.com, said that’s the result of several factors.

First, the state is obviously in the path of severe weather quite often. In addition to hurricanes, Florida’s frequent thunderstorms bring lightning strikes, flooding, wind damage and more.

“Wind and rain damage are some of the (top) claims in terms of frequency and in terms in value as well,” Adams said. “They’re very expensive claims. No matter where you live in the state, you’re susceptible to lots of claims.”

And although there are a lot of Florida-based insurance companies out there, the fact that some of the national players have pulled out hurts competition.

“When you have fewer and fewer companies doing business in the state, there’s not so much competition,” Adams said. “The fewer number of insurers, just the less competition, the higher rates they can get away with charging.

“It’s been really tough for Florida residents to get affordable coverage. The reality is the only thing consumers can do to protect themselves is shop. If you are not shopping, not looking at what’s happening with rates, you could easily be overpaying for your coverage.”

But at least insurance is available on the open market.

One positive sign insurance professionals have pointed to is the decline in the number of policies sold by Citizens Property Insurance, which is the state-backed agency often referred to as the insurer of last resort.

A 2014 USA Today article said the number of policies sold by Citizens dropped from 1.4 million in 2012 to 933,807 two years later. By the end of 2016, that number dropped to fewer than 500,000 policies. That means more customers are buying policies in the open market, hopefully spurring competition.

Higher numbers of Citizens policies would suggest that the private market is shrinking, offering fewer choices for buyers.

“I haven’t really seen that mass exodus from Florida like we did a decade ago,” Adams said. “I think it’s kind of the norm now. This is why the prices in Florida are so high. The companies that are doing business there are factoring in the potential for these storms in the future.”

 

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