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Citizens executives preach moderation [Sun Sentinel]

Jan. 30-- Top executives for Citizens Property Insurance Corp. pledged a more moderate approach Tuesday that includes avoiding lavish travel expenses and drastic policy changes that may frustrate homeowners. "We've made some serious missteps, in my opinion," said CEO and President Barry Gilway, speaking to the Sun Sentinel editorial board.

By Maria Mallory White, Sun Sentinel
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Jan. 30--Top executives for Citizens Property Insurance Corp. pledged a more moderate approach Tuesday that includes avoiding lavish travel expenses and drastic policy changes that may frustrate homeowners.

"We've made some serious missteps, in my opinion," said CEO and President Barry Gilway, speaking to the Sun Sentinel editorial board. He noted the company has "introduced some 31 coverage changes, none of which were well-received."

Gilway also said fewer employees will attend the invitation-only State of the Florida Insurance Market Summit beginning Wednesday in Amelia Island, and those who do won't be staying at the Ritz-Carlton. Instead of the host hotel, the three representatives from the state-backed insurer will check into the more budget-friendly Quality Inn.

The choice of hotels reflects a new direction for the state's largest insurer. Earlier this year, an investigation by the state office of the Inspector General found the company's travel expenses were lavish and free-wheeling.

"I can't afford another perception in the press that the Citizens people are at it again," said Gilway.

That's not the only image adjustment on the horizon for Citizens. Gilway acknowledged the state's largest insurer must do a better job communicating with its policyholders, explaining their coverage clearly and helping them find affordable alternatives to Citizens when possible.

Last year was rough for Citizens as the company racked up negative headlines and opinion pieces after a year of outrage over rate increases, a home reinspection debacle and pullbacks on discounts for storm-readiness.

The Sun Sentinel was among the first stops in a pre-session goodwill tour attended by Gilway, Chairman of the Board Carlos A. Lacasa and director of legislative and external affairs Christine Ashburn before lawmakers begin their work March 5 in Tallahassee.

Gilway's preaching moderation heading into what promises to be a contentious session, as lawmakers wrestle with how to fix the embattled insurance carrier. With the risk of a major storm looming, state leaders are looking for the company to shed policies as quickly as possible.

As of Nov. 30, Citizens has 197,009 policies in Broward and 137,292 in Palm Beach.

Last year, the company's "depopulation" efforts resulted in some 277,000 fewer policies on Citizens' books. Fully 45 percent of that figure were homes in the three counties of South Florida, with homes in Miami-Dade representing a 40 percent chunk of the tri-county business.

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Meanwhile, however, the company continues to write 8,000 new policies each week. Currently, Citizens holds some 1.3 million policies.

Lawmakers have been vocal about slashing the billions in risk associated with Citizens' large policy load. Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, has already convened his Banking and Insurance Committee twice this month to hear ideas about how to cut policies at Citizens.

Gilway, who joined the embattled company in June 2012, is intent on moving Citizens back to its originally intended status of insurer of last resort. Lacasa said Citizen's board members back those efforts, while also noting that "we have [political] masters. We don't make the policies. We only execute them."

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(c)2013 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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