Friday, January 30, 2009

BestWeek Looks at State Farm Move in Florida

By fourth quarter 2011, if regulatory approvals are given, State Farm’s residential property operations in Florida will be a memory—leaving behind about 1.2 million policies state and industry officials hope the private market can absorb as well as dozens of unanswered questions about the future of a market already in strife.

But other companies said they believe they could stand to gain from the pullout, according to this week’s BestWeek U.S./Canada. People’s Trust Insurance Co., one of about 40 new companies to have formed in Florida since 2007, said it is ready to take State Farm policies.


In BestWeek Europe, lured by improved prospects in the international energy and construction markets, New York-based Navigators Group Inc. has created a London based unit to coordinate the underwriting of this big ticket business.

And also in BestWeek U.S./Canada, Washington has finally been prodded into conjuring some regulatory oversight of the derivatives markets, including the credit default swap contracts that have played so prominent a role in the near collapse of American International Group Inc. Media accounts indicate that members of Congress and federal regulators are stoked up to cage the derivatives beast. But when it comes to credit default swaps, there still seems to be a question about what kind of critter they’re dealing with.

BestWeek is published by A.M. Best Co. for insurance professionals. To subscribe, visit http://www.ambest.com/sales/BestWeek, or e-mail your request to customer_service@ambest.com.

Frost Insurance Partners With TAB on Coverage

Frost Insurance is partnering with the Texas Association of Business (TAB) to offer liability insurance to its members who serve as directors and officers of for-profit and non-profit organizations, including chambers of commerce.

At the association's request, Frost Insurance a subsidiary of San Antonio-based Frost worked to find the right partner for the products, which will help mitigate liability exposure for the association's members.

Frost Insurance, the insurance subsidiary of Frost, ranks among the top 40 in bank-owned agencies in insurance revenue in the nation, providing a full range of property and casualty, group employee benefits, estate planning and business succession and personal insurance needs throughout Texas.

Founded in 1922, the Texas Association of Business is a broad-based, bipartisan organization representing more than 140,000 small and large Texas employers and 200 local chambers of commerce.

Work Moves Ahead on N.Y. Agent License System

The Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of New York Inc. is in discussions with the New York State Insurance Department on transitioning from the current licensing system to a single producer license. The new licensing would abandon the multiple licenses for New York agents and brokers and adopt a system used in most other states.

IIABNY first discussed the transition with the department during the previous legislative session and after a bill’s introduction at NYSID's request. The legislation would have increased an insurance producer's continuing education requirements from 15 to 24 credits and add other licensing lines of authority. The bill, which failed to pass during the 2008 session, would have brought New York in conformity with the majority of other states in adopting uniform licensing standards. Reintroduction of the legislation is likely during the current session.

Neal Sullivan, the trade association’s chair, believes that,” A change to a single producer license will greatly benefit insurance producers by eliminating the administrative burden and costs of maintaining and renewing multiple licenses."

IIABNY was concerned the legislation did not include a change to a single producer license. In response to those concerns, the department said it would change its system to a single producer license when the transition to birth-date license renewals is completed. IIABNY's recent discussions with state regulators centered on the inclusion of business entity licenses, as well as individual licenses, as part of the change to a single producer license and single renewal date. IIABNY will continue working with the Insurance Department to make the necessary statutory changes to accomplish this change.

Mass. AG Enters Into Settlement with Aetna

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office has entered into a settlement with Aetna Health Inc., resolving claims the insurer failed to provide health benefits required by Massachusetts law.

The Assurance of Discontinuance, entered in Suffolk Superior Court, alleges that Aetna committed unfair or deceptive acts when it sold health insurance policies that violated Massachusetts’ mandated benefits laws. The Assurance alleges Aetna denied coverage for infertility in certain circumstances in violation of Massachusetts law by improperly excluding benefits for egg procurement and processing services and by denying such services.

Under the terms of the agreement, Aetna will pay $10,000 to the Attorney General’s Local Consumer Aid Fund, review all denials of consumer claims and requests for the wrongfully excluded infertility treatment, and approve all requests and claims for such treatment that were wrongfully denied to consumers.

The Attorney General’s Office previously settled similar issues with 10 other health insurers, Fallon Community Health Plan, GenWorth Life and Health Insurance Company, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, John Alden Life Insurance Company, New England Life Insurance Company, UniCare Health and Life Insurance Company, Time Insurance Company, Union Security Insurance Company, The Guardian Life Insurance Company and Pan-American Life Insurance Company.

The Attorney General also has a suit pending that relates, in part, to these issues against The Mega Life and Health Insurance Company, Mid-West National Life Insurance Company of Tennessee and HealthMarkets, Inc.

Puget Sound Area Hit by Earthquake

A 4.5 magnitude earthquake struck the Puget Sound area this morning, however there were no reports of injuries or damages.

The quake took place at 5:25 a.m. and was centered some 14 miles northwest of Seattle near Kingston, in Kitsap County.

Residents in Victoria, British Columbia reported feeling the quake, but also reported no injuries or damages
.

Louisiana Agent Issued C&D Order, Fined

A Gretna, Louisiana insurance agent has been issued a cease and desist order, notice of license revocation and fine for misappropriation of premiums and felony theft.

Nancy Marie Coleman, 35, was served by Department of Insurance Fraud Section Investigators with a cease and desist order, notice of license revocation and a $2,000 fine for misappropriation. Coleman was arrested by the Gretna Police Department in May 2008 and pled guilty to felony theft charges. She is currently serving a 5-year probationary period.

Coleman reportedly admitted she failed to remit insurance premiums to the company and that she wrote agency checks to her personal account.

Department records show that Coleman was issued a Property & Casualty license in November 2001, which was valid until this action.

AXENTIS Unveils Survey Highlighting Corporate Risk

AXENTIS, a provider of enterprise-wide governance, risk management, and compliance (GRC) solutions, has released the results of a cross-industry survey highlighting growing awareness of the importance of business risk as a driver of corporate compliance management activity.

The survey polled 188 GRC managers from a broad range of market segments including financial services, insurance, healthcare, life sciences, and manufacturing. Key findings from this survey include:

Compliance demands continue to outstrip resources. 80% of respondents said that growth in mandates has led to a resource shortfall they characterized as either “critical,” “serious,” or “significant.” These conditions make it essential that they become more efficient – and better prioritize resource allocation.

Risk is recognized as a useful metric for prioritizing resource allocation. More than 90% of respondents believe it is their job to protect the business from the potential adverse consequences of specific compliance failures – rather than to simply check off items on a compliance checklist. It is thus logical for them to prioritize activities and resource allocation based on the magnitude of those risks.

Risk is not always measured accurately or consistently. Only about one-quarter of respondents claimed to have a formal process in place for assessing risk. Others depend on business managers or “ballpark” estimates. 20% had no clear means of assessing risk at all. This lack of a consistent, accurate means of measuring compliance-related risk is a major inhibitor of risk-driven compliance management.

Risk assessment alone is not enough. About half of the respondents who claimed to be measuring risk also admitted that they have no reliable mechanisms in place for applying risk metrics to establish priorities and appropriate treatments through compliance management activities.

Survey respondents were also asked to name – in order of importance – the capabilities that they currently lacked, but that they believed were most important for them to acquire. Out of eight possible choices, three choices consistently ranked at the top of respondents’ lists:

  • The ability to prioritize compliance efforts based on actual business risk
  • The ability to integrate compliance-related risk in enterprise GRC mechanisms
  • A common repository for mandates, policies and procedures

More results from the survey are available online by clicking this link: "Compliance Managers Seek Risk-Driven Capabilities".

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Argo Group Establishes New Division

Argo Group International Holdings Ltd., an international underwriter of specialty insurance and reinsurance products in the property and casualty market, has established a Casualty and Professional Risks division within Argo Re, the Company’s Bermuda-based reinsurance operation.

The newly formed division will write general and product liability, product recall, excess directors’ and officers’ liability, A-side primary, lead DIC (difference in conditions) and follow form, excess errors and omissions liability, primary and excess employment practices liability, and excess crime & fidelity risks, with capacity limits of up to $25 million.

The Casualty and Professional Risks business will be headed by Nigel Mortimer, who has been appointed chief underwriting officer for Casualty and Professional Risks at Argo Re. Reporting to Argo Re President Andrew Carrier, Mortimer will lead a team of underwriters that includes Mark Peeters, Glenn Burles, Timothy Hadler and Deirdre Lohan.

Florida OIR Subpoenas State Farm Information

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty has issued a subpoena to State Farm Florida Insurance Company (State Farm Florida) requesting detailed information about the company's Florida property insurance policyholders.

The request comes in follow-up to, and as part of, the Office of Insurance Regulation's (Office) review of the withdrawal plan State Farm Florida submitted Tuesday to withdraw from the Florida property insurance market. Specifically, the subpoena is requesting names, addresses, policy types, policy limits and premium information for each of State Farm’s Florida policyholders. The request is being made in conjunction with section 624.430(2), Florida Statutes.

"We need to fully understand all the potential risks, so that we can properly evaluate State Farm's withdrawal plan," said McCarty. "As we told State Farm officials Tuesday, we intend to do everything we can to help facilitate a smooth transition of their policyholders, if their withdrawal plan is approved. Understanding how the company's statewide risk is spread will help us in working to find other companies that might be willing to write policies for current State Farm customers."

State Farm is required to comply with the subpoena by Feb. 9.

Fireman's Fund Goes 'Green' in Minnesota

Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. is now offering ‘green’ homeowner’s insurance to consumers in the state of Minnesota. This is the first-ever admitted green insurance available to homeowners in the state.

Fireman’s Fund (www.firemansfund.com/green) is setting a new standard in offering this innovative product to homeowners who currently own green homes or who want to upgrade their residences with green features after a loss using environmental safety and efficiency standards. If a home is destroyed, it can be rebuilt to green standards, certified as having Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design status (LEED , www.usgbc.org/leed).

Fireman’s Fund customers may purchase the green coverage for a nominal amount, starting at as little as $25 a year. In addition, homeowners whose residences are already green will be offered a five percent discount on this coverage, applied to the homeowner premium.

A green home uses less energy, water and natural resources, and creates less waste. Studies have shown that residents have better overall health and productivity as a result of reduced exposure to mold, mildew and indoor toxins. According to the National Center for Healthy Housing (www.centerforhealthyhousing.org), homeowners can expect substantial health gains by building green.

With this new coverage, homeowners will be able to rebuild and replace with green alternatives such as:

  • Energy Star®-rated appliances, lighting, electronic equipment and roofing / insulation
  • An Energy Star upgrade of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems
  • Forest Stewardship Council (www.fcsus.org) certified wood for millwork, ceilings, siding and framing, including bamboo flooring
  • Non-toxic, low odor paints and carpeting
  • Water-saving plumbing fixtures
  • Elimination of ozone-depleting refrigerants and fire extinguishing agents, replaced with environmentally friendly alternatives
  • Debris removed after damage to a home will be recycled and diverted from landfill.

BancInsure Serving Texas Via Independent Agents

BancInsure’s insurance and risk management products are now available to Texas bankers through their local independent agents.

The Texas Bankers Association (TBA) was a founding partner in BancInsure over 22 years ago. BancInsure and Texas Bankers Association continue a strong partnership and share a desire to best serve the bankers in the state of Texas.

Headquartered in Oklahoma City, BancInsure holds an A- (Excellent) with a stable outlook A.M. Best rating, and has proudly earned an industry leading 25% market share. The Company is endorsed by 18 banking organizations and is licensed in 48 states.

Appellate Court Says No to Texas Mutual Verdict

An appellate court in Houston has reversed a nearly $3 million jury verdict against Texas Mutual Insurance Company in a dispute over cancellation of a workers' compensation policy

Former policyholder Sembera Security Systems Inc. of Cypress, Texas, had sued its insurance agent in Harris County District Court for allowing coverage with Texas Mutual to lapse for non-payment of a premium. The agent then added Texas Mutual to the case, alleging that the insurer cancelled the policy in error.

Sembera settled with the agent, then sued Texas Mutual for breach of contract, among other claims. Texas Mutual maintained that its cancellation of the Sembera policy had been proper, as the insurer had given the permitted 10 days' notice of cancellation for non-payment.

At trial, Sembera won its case, and a jury awarded nearly $3 million against Texas Mutual. Much of that verdict was attributed to lost profit from a contract with a major Sembera customer.

The First Court of Appeals of Texas in Houston sided with Texas Mutual in its appeal of the lower court's decision by throwing out Sembera's claims and the nearly $3 million judgment. The court ruled that because the terms of the policy gave Texas Mutual the right to cancel coverage, the cancellation of the Sembera policy was not a breach of contract.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New York Mechanic Opens Up Work Comp Scam

An Albany area auto mechanic who said he couldn’t work because of a job-related injury has been arrested in a case of workers’ compensation fraud after he allegedly was found working at an auto repair shop.

Carl Wilcox, 43, of Cohoes, NY, faces felony charges including grand larceny, insurance fraud, offering a false instrument for filing and violating the Workers’ Compensation Law following his arrest Jan. 7.

Investigators from the New York State Insurance Fund Division of Confidential Investigations said video surveillance allegedly showed Wilcox working at an auto garage in Cohoes in the spring of 2008 while he collected workers’ comp benefits for an injury he claimed when working previously as a mechanic at another garage.

Wilcox injured in his back while working for McCabe Auto in Troy, NY, in May 2002, and returned signed documents to NYSIF indicating he had not returned to any type of work, according to investigators.

He allegedly received $4,772 in illegal wage replacement benefits. Following his arraignment in Cohoes City Court, Wilcox was remanded to Albany County Jail to await a future court appearance.

As a result of Wilcox’s arrest, NYSIF estimated the potential future savings on his claim to be $96,760.

Restaurants Hit With Fines for No Workers' Comp

Investigators from the California Labor Commissioner’s Office issued over $800,000 in fines to businesses in the restaurant industry for numerous labor law violations during a statewide enforcement effort.

A total of 29 investigators conducted 245 inspections in 26 counties across the state on Jan. 21 and 22. The inspections revealed that 129 of the 143 employers cited failed to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Last year’s number of employers cited for not having workers’ comp insurance was 2,570. The Labor Commissioner works to identify and target employers that do not carry the insurance.

“We issued penalties of $676,000 to employers who failed to carry workers’ compensation during this enforcement action,” said California Labor Commissioner Angela Bradstreet. “All businesses must provide workers’ compensation insurance for their employees. If they continue to operate without the proper coverage, we will refer the case to the local district attorney’s office for possible criminal prosecution.”

Other violations encountered included failure to: pay minimum wage or overtime, provide itemized deductions to employees, and abide by child labor laws for minors under the age of 18.

To request a report of the businesses cited and labor violations encountered in this enforcement activity, email the Department of Industrial Relations at: Communications@dir.ca.gov.

Hotchkiss Sees Growth in Restaurant Program

Hotchkiss Insurance Agency LLC (HIA), endorsed service provider for the Texas Restaurant Association (TRA), Austin, Texas, announced a $1.2 million growth in their restaurant insurance program during the last 11 months.

HIA received the endorsement of the TRA for their restaurant insurance program in January of 2008. HIA, through its strategic alliances with selected A rated carriers, provides property and casualty, health insurance and employee benefits for TRA members and associate members.

"The success of HIA’s insurance program for our members proves what a critical component insurance is for a successful business operation,” stated TRA Vice President of Member Services, Rick Madden. "Our members know they can turn to their association for real value when the economy dictates that every dollar spent must be examined. Having an industry specific specialist dedicated to providing the right coverage at the best price makes all the difference. As I’ve stated before, most of our members are hands-on entrepreneurs and they don’t have time to chase after insurance. This valuable member service assists our members in offering employee benefits as well and that improves their ability to attract and retain talent.”

Man Involved in Auto Fraud Ring Nabbed Again

A California body shop owner detained last spring for his alleged involvement in a multimillion-dollar auto insurance fraud ring was again arrested recently for allegedly dealing drugs, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced.

Deputy District Attorney Gregory Alker of the Auto Insurance Fraud Division said Arthur Itskovich, 29, owner of A & A Auto Body in Los Angeles, was arrested after investigators of the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation executed a search warrant at his Los Angeles home.

Investigators seized large quantities of narcotics at the residence, including marijuana and opiate derivative pills, prosecutors said, adding that the home was within 1,000 feet of a school. Itskovich was to be arraigned on charges stemming from a 12-month Urban Auto Insurance Fraud Task Force investigation dubbed “Operation Big Fish.” His bail is recommended at $380,000.

The investigation involved 16 agencies and culminated on May 15, 2008 with the arrest of alleged ring leader Alexander Igor Gutman, 47, of Sherman Oaks, and associate Laszlo Aldar Bango, 36, of Van Nuys. Gutman and Bango are charged in case No. BA340194.

According to authorities, Itskovich was among a network of attorneys, chiropractors, doctors and body shop owners believed to have helped Gutman and Bango defraud auto insurance companies. It is believed that conspiring body shops inflicted physical damages to vehicles reportedly involved in staged accidents, prosecutors said. Itskovich is charged in case No. BA348835 with 14 counts of insurance fraud, two counts of possession for sale of cocaine and an opiate derivative, one count of possession for sale of marijuana and one count of possession for use of heroine. Charges on his most recent arrest are now under review.

If convicted as charged, Itskovich faces a maximum state prison term of 21 years and four months.

Ernst & Young: Transition Ahead for P/C Insurers

In 2008, the impact of the financial crisis on the U.S. property/casualty (P/C) insurance industry has been isolated, sparing the industry from serious impairment. Still, the outlook for 2009 includes greater risks to the industry from continued volatility, according to the Ernst & Young Global Insurance Center's U.S. property/casualty industry outlook for 2009.

Ernst & Young has identified seven areas that P/C insurers need to address in 2009:

1. Redirect focus on premium pricing. In most P/C business segments, pricing levels have remained soft for the past four years. Early signs of pricing negotiations show that the market is firming in most lines. Insurers and reinsurers focusing their concerns on loss volatility and the potential for megalosses in highly developed, catastrophe-prone locations should contribute to price stabilization. At the same time, losses in directors and officers and errors and omissions products are likely to result in price increases in those markets.

2. Monitor claims inflation risk. The economic climate is likely to continue in a volatile pattern that drives claims costs. In spite of the deepening recession and rising concerns about deflation, over the longer term the industry will have to consider the massive deficit spending undertaken by the federal government. Insurers' exposure to inflationary risk can be fundamentally different from the factors that drive inflation in the broader economy: medical costs, construction costs and tort issues continue to account for the lion's share of the industry's inflation trend.

3. Prepare for changes in regulatory oversight. Momentum for change in the insurance regulatory structure is building. As a result of recent market events, including the federal involvement in the banking industry, it is almost certain that the industry will face increased and more intrusive regulation. This is likely to include closer monitoring of activities and financial performance and to require greater consistency and transparency.

4. Prepare for changes in accounting requirements. Moving forward, a thorough understanding of accounting issues will be critical as companies prepare to adopt a new financial reporting platform. With the expected convergence of U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and International Financial Reporting Standards, companies are beginning to prepare for the anticipated change to a market-consistent framework. Insurers, too, must plan for those changes, which will include significant operational modifications.

5. Address effective expense control. In the past decade, expense ratios have been steadily rising. In 2008, for the P/C industry overall, underwriting, acquisition and general expense ratios, as a percentage of premiums, are expected to reach 27.5%, higher than any year since 1999. Premiums and sales should have grown in tandem, but this has not happened. As a result, the P/C industry is likely to see more expense-cutting in 2009, but the cuts must be strategic or they could result in more troubles.

6. Rethink risk modeling. P/C insurers will need to incorporate lessons learned into their risk management functions. A significant finding in the past year is that companies should not rely too fully on risk models, but should make them part of an organization's overall risk management process. It is the role of senior management to review and adjust these models within the framework of real-world trends and influences.

7. Watch for new M&A activity. The current financial crisis has created a unique landscape for insurance M&A. In fact, the total insurance properties currently available for sale exceeds all the M&A activity for the past several years combined. Some companies will emerge from the current situation with strong balance sheets and use a portion of their capital to fund acquisitions. However, they will likely wait until the depth of the current economic downturn, and its impact on operating performance, is better understood.

The complete 2009 U.S. property/casualty industry outlook can be found at www.ey.com/insurance.

Travelers Urges Check Up for Auto Insurance

The Insurance Research Council (IRC) recently reported that by the year 2010, nearly one in six drivers across the United States will be driving without auto insurance.

Travelers is reminding consumers that dropping auto insurance coverage is illegal in most every state and could mean financial disaster for families. The company suggests reviewing all insurance coverages to make sure you’re properly protected against uninsured motorists and use the opportunity to talk to an agent about smarter ways to save on insurance costs.

The IRC report goes on to detail that there is a “strong correlation” between the unemployment rate and the number of uninsured drivers on the road. .

There are many steps people can take to reduce insurance costs while properly protecting assets. For individuals looking for ways to save, Travelers suggests contacting an independent insurance agent for advice or following these simple steps:

Bundle insurance policies with the same company – Insuring your home and cars with one company can lead to discounts on both sets of coverage.

Check for Discounts – Driving a hybrid car, being a good student, and owning a car with certain anti-theft devices, air bags and anti-lock brakes can save you money with Travelers.*

Raise Deductibles – Switching to a higher deductible will save you money on your insurance premiums.

Nearly every state requires individuals to possess auto liability coverage and every state has laws in place regarding financial responsibility. Therefore, if a particular state does not require auto liability coverage by law, an individual must have the financial assets to pay all claims in the event of an accident.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ex-AIG Executive Sentenced to 4 Years in Prison

The fallout from the financial scandal at American International Group Inc. continues, as a former executive was sentenced Tuesday to four years in prison for his role in a reinsurance deal that prosecutors report misled AIG investors.

Christian Milton, 61, a former AIG vice president of reinsurance, and four former executives at Berkshire Hathaway Inc's General Re Corp business were found guilty last year of conspiracy and fraud. Along with his prison sentence, Milton also must pay a $200,000 fine.

According to prosecutors, a finite reinsurance transaction with General Re that allowed AIG to improperly increase its loss reserves by $500 million in 2000 and 2001 is what led to the guilty finding.

Milton, who worked at AIG for more than 20 years, is scheduled to report to federal prison on March 25.

State Farms Seeks to Exit Fla. Residential Market

State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. says it will drop 1.2 million customers and leave Florida’s residential market after state regulators denied a request to raise prices recently.

The insurer pointed to risks from hurricanes and the rising cost of everyday claims submitted by the state’s homeowners. Surplus funds held by State Farm’s Florida unit dropped by $201 million in the first three quarters of 2008, a time frame when no hurricanes hit the state.

State Farm filed a plan with regulators to drop home customers over a two-year span while continuing to provide car, health and life insurance.

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty issued the following statement in response to State Farm's announced plans:

"Although this is disappointing news for Floridians, who have been loyal customers of State Farm, we are not surprised by State Farm's decision to stop offering all property insurance in Florida.

"We have been hearing for months of possible plans to make such a move in Florida, including a document submitted to the Office as recently as Dec. 5 as part of their recoupment filing that showed an anticipated reduction to 655,000 HO policies by 2010.

"We will carefully review State Farm's intended plans to ensure that they are in compliance with Florida law; and we will explore all legal options as well.

"I will do everything within my power to protect Florida consumers from unnecessary destabilization of the insurance market that this might cause and to ensure that Florida consumers are protected and have access to insurance at rates that are not excessive or unfairly discriminatory.

“It is important to note that we have been working with state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, to develop legislation that will significantly limit the number of non-renewals a company can issue in a year.

"To help ease the transition of policies, Florida already has new companies who are eagerly looking to grow their businesses and will welcome the opportunity to add more customers. I encourage everyone to work closely with their agent to choose a new company that will offer needed coverage at a price you can afford.

“It also is important that State Farm customers understand that the Office must first approve State Farm’s plan. The Office has 90 days to do that. If approved, State Farm must then provide 180 days notice to customers before any policies can be non-renewed.”

AIA Says N.D. Credit Ban Bill Harmful for Consumers

In a letter to members of the North Dakota Senate Industry, Business and Labor Committee, the American Insurance Association (AIA) urged legislators to oppose a bill that would abolish the state’s balanced law regulating credit-based insurance scoring, saying the practice benefits a majority of consumers. Text of the letter is below.

“This Tuesday (Jan. 27), during a meeting of the Senate Industry, Business and Labor Committee, you will likely have to vote on SB 2330, legislation that would essentially preclude insurers from using credit information to help rate and underwrite personal insurance policies. A substantial majority of your constituents benefit from the use of this modern practice and for that reason we urge a 'no' vote on SB 2330.

"Enacted in 2003, the present North Dakota law is based on the National Conference of Insurance Legislators' (NCOIL) model that is either legislation or regulation in at least 25 other states. The existing law is a balanced, common-sense approach to regulating the use of credit information that both protects consumers and allows insurers the reasonable use of this valuable tool. It should be retained. Numerous studies have found that a majority of consumers benefit from the use of credit-based insurance scores. Using credit information as part of the rating or underwriting process helps insurers more accurately assess, and price, for an individual’s risk, thereby reducing subsidization of bad risks by good ones, making the system fairer for everyone.

"Most recently, the Federal Trade Commission’s 2007 study found that when scoring is used, 59 percent of people see premium decreases. A 2008 Arkansas Department of Insurance (ARDOI) study reported that '91 percent of consumers either received a discount for credit or it had no effect on their premium,' and 'for those policies in which credit played some role in determining the final premium, those receiving a decrease outnumbered those who received an increase by 3.44 to 1.' ARDOI studies in the previous three years delivered similar results. North Dakota is an NCOIL state like Arkansas.

"Additionally, a Wisconsin domestic company testified in the fall of 2007 on a similar bill before its state Senate Insurance Committee that nearly 75 percent of their customers benefited from a premium discount because of the use of credit information. In addition to the studies which have proven consumers with better insurance scores generally file fewer claims and have lower insurance losses, credit information is completely objective and “blind” to legally prohibited factors such as race, religion, marital status and nationality.

"In addition to the various state and federal consumer protection laws, insurance regulators are charged with ensuring that consumers are not charged rates that are 'excessive, inadequate, or unfairly discriminatory.' Insurers are subject to strict legal standards for all risk classification variables, including credit, and the state of North Dakota has a strong regulatory system that has worked well for consumers and insurers.

"There is no need for any drastic action, as presented in SB 2330, that would unfairly penalize less risky consumers. I hope upon an examination of this information, and that contained in the following attachment, you will agree to retain the law as it is presently written.”

AIA member companies write more than 27 percent of the North Dakota property/casualty market. The property/casualty industry in North Dakota paid more than $30 million in premium taxes alone in 2007 and is a major source of capital for governmental bodies in the state.

According to analysis of A.M. Best data, they held $727.4 million in North Dakota municipal bonds in 2007 – approximately 21 percent of the outstanding state and local government debt in the state.

MSAG Unveils Main Street Station

The Main Street America Group, a super regional property/casualty carrier, has introduced Main Street Station for Personal Lines, its new quoting and policy issuance system, to its independent agents in Maine, Virginia and Georgia.

Agents will be able to use Main Street Station for Personal Lines 24/7 to quote new policies, as well as change policies, add endorsements and execute cancellations for their customers who have policies written with one of Main Street America’s operating companies, including NGM Insurance Company, Old Dominion Insurance Company and Main Street America Assurance Company.

In Maine and Virginia, agents are using the system for homeowners and private passenger automobile insurance. In Georgia, it is just being used for private passenger auto but homeowners will follow soon.

“Underwriting is automated, so in most cases, our agent-customers will receive immediate decisions on their new business submissions,” said Bonny Parker, Main Street America’s vice president of personal lines. “Policies can then be viewed right away and are available for downloading the following business day. Our customers will be able to view and print all policy documentation, including identification cards and premium receipts at the time of binding.”

Another important feature of the new system is its premium summary page, which enables agents to make edits on the fly, trying different quote variations to assess the impact on premium.

Further, Main Street Station for Personal Lines will download policy information to the major agency management systems, saving agents duplicate data entry.

Main Street Station for Personal Lines will be launched in additional states throughout 2009.

Most in Industry Still Confident in Voluntary Market

The latest results of Eastbridge Consulting Group’s Voluntary Industry Confidence Index survey show that the majority of those in the industry continue to be positive about voluntary sales despite an overall decline in the Confidence Index.

Based on the survey results, the Index at year-end 2008 decreased to 88.8 from 96.2 at mid-year 2008. The index is calculated using three key expectation measures about the voluntary industry:

  • Sales growth
  • Profitability
  • Employee enthusiasm about voluntary products

All three of these core questions were down, but the largest decrease was in response to sales growth for the industry.

“Despite the recession and financial turmoil,” say Bonnie Brazzell, vice president of Eastbridge, “many of those in the market are still optimistic—albeit cautiously so. Two-thirds of the respondents still believe that overall sales will increase, at some level, in 2009. Seventeen (17) percent expect sales to be level the next 12 months and 19 percent expect some decrease in sales.”

As for profitability, 35 percent expect industry profitability to improve, compared to 48% mid-year 2008. The largest percentage (40%) expects profitability to remain about the same.

Expectations for employee enthusiasm about voluntary benefits also decreased (but only slightly) in the most recent survey. However, the majority of respondents (60 percent) still believe that employee enthusiasm will continue to be high.

“So far, the impact on voluntary given our current economic condition has been minimal,” adds Gil Lowerre, president of Eastbridge. “But there is justification for some concern. Carriers need to be aware of the risks posed by reduced hiring and layoffs (i.e., fewer employees to buy). They also need to keep abreast of broker attitudes (i.e., becoming more conservative in terms of making changes to employer benefit packages).”

The Voluntary Industry Confidence Index study is conducted semi-annually and includes responses from individuals active in the market—carriers, brokers, and vendors. Like other confidence indices, the index is a single number that compares the current results to a baseline measure. The first Confidence Index survey was completed in December of 2005; the results from that survey serve as our “base” year (meaning the index was at 100 for that year).

The Voluntary Industry Confidence Index report is available only to Eastbridge Information Partner companies as well as to participants. The survey will be conducted again in July of 2008. For more information on becoming a participant, contact the company at www.eastbridge.com .

PIMS Returns Nearly $680K for Work Comp Program

Premier Insurance Management Services Inc., (PIMS) a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Premier healthcare alliance, has returned nearly $680,000 in experience credit payments to 32 hospitals and healthcare systems that participate in its Excess Workers’ Compensation sponsored insurance program.

The experience credit payments of $677,903, made on Dec. 19, 2008, came from profits posted for policy years 2003/2004 with Safety National Casualty Company, which provided the insurance to participants that received the experience credit payments.

Premier Insurance Management Services Inc. has offered the Excess Workers’ Compensation sponsored program to Premier members since 1997. Through the program, participating members have the opportunity for experience credit payments of up to 30 percent of their premiums based on favorable program experience.

Monday, January 26, 2009

C.V. Starr & Co. Unveils Agency With Ironshore

C.V. Starr & Company Inc. has launched Iron-Starr Excess Agency Limited, a joint venture with Ironshore Inc.

Iron-Starr Excess will act as a specialty lines insurance and reinsurance managing general agency, domiciled in Bermuda. Initially, Iron-Starr Excess will focus on the production of excess financial and commercial lines insurance and reinsurance products through U.S. insurers, Bermuda or other offshore carriers, including catastrophic excess casualty insurance for Fortune 2000 and other clients. It will issue policy limits up to $75 million.

C.V. Starr is an independently-owned holding company with insurance agencies and a portfolio of global investments. Through its wholly owned insurance agencies, C.V. Starr writes specialty lines covering aviation, marine, energy, excess casualty and property, accident & health, including risks with international exposures.

Florida OIR Backs Work Comp Rate Increase

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty has advised the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) that he would approve a rate filing to increase Florida’s workers’ compensation insurance rates by 6.4 percent to be effective April 1 for new and renewal business.

McCarty’s action is technically a denial of the NCCI’s Nov. 14 rate filing in which it was seeking an 8.9 percent rate increase as a result of the impact on rates it projects following the Oct. 23 Florida Supreme Court opinion in the case of Emma Murray v. Mariner Health Inc.

The Court’s decision eliminates the statutory caps on attorney fees that were imposed as a result of the 2003 reforms under SB 50A and will enable claimant attorneys handling workers’ comp claims to collect increased fees for their services.

Prior to the legislative reforms, Florida consistently ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the country for the highest workers’ comp rates; however, post-reform Florida has dropped out of the top 10 rankings.

The NCCI proposed spreading an 18.6 percent rate increase over two years – 8.9 percent for the first year, to become effective March 1 – for the voluntary market for all new and renewal workers’ comp insurance policies written in Florida. Over two years, the 6.4 percent increase recommended by McCarty could amount to a 13.1 percent increase, unless changes to the system are made to minimize the impact of attorney involvement.

In requesting the NCCI to amend its most recent filing, McCarty cited disagreements with the data and methodology the NCCI used to calculate the projected effect of the Court’s ruling.

In October, McCarty approved an 18.6 percent reduction in rates, effective Jan. 1. It was the sixth consecutive drop in worker’s comp rates since the Florida Legislature passed the reforms in 2003; and with the change, the cumulative overall statewide average rate decrease since 2003 is more than 60 percent.

The NCCI originally had requested a 14.1 percent decrease in its filing of Aug. 27. The further reduction in rates had the potential to save Florida employers more than $610 million.

When filed and approved, Monday’s recommended increase in rates will add about $172 million in insurance costs for Florida employers. But, in combination with the 18.6 percent decrease that took effect Jan. 1, the net effect still is a savings of $438 million.

Best Report Looks at Solvency II Directive

The current turmoil in the financial markets underscores the importance of a risk-based solvency regime and presents a real stress-test scenario for the Solvency II Directive, the proposed new European solvency standard, according to A.M. Best Co.

Although the latest Quantitative Impact Study (QIS 4) indicated that the vast majority of insurers met the Minimum Capital Requirement (MCR), and only about one-tenth of the participants did not reach the Solvency Capital Requirement (SCR), the results are based on 2007-year balance sheet data and therefore do not reflect the impact of recent events.

The current financial market turmoil has highlighted a number of key issues: the group support and supervision provision, international convergence of solvency standards, valuation and “mark-to-market” practices, which remain subject to ongoing discussion and debate by politicians, regulators and industry executives.

The European Commission (EC) is reviewing various provisions of the directive, and it is now evident that the protracted negotiations may lead to further delays in the planned implementation date of 2012. The controversial group support concept, a crucial element of the new regime, most recently has been eliminated from the framework. The new text of the draft Solvency II Directive, approved by the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) on 2 Dec. 2008, means that no cross-border diversification effects can be recognized (with a significant negative impact on the groups), and each “solo” entity will have to cover its own SCR.

The debate on the directive, however, is not over, given that the European Union (EU) Commission and Parliament also have to agree on this amendment.

Whilst A.M. Best takes a global, unified approach to reviewing an insurance group’s subsidiaries in its rating analysis, the considerable differences among solvency standards around the world pose difficulties in any attempt to harmonize regulatory practises and introduce a global, consistent and efficient regulatory solvency standard.

In A.M Best’s opinion, the current financial crisis reinforces the need for enhanced enterprise risk management (ERM). Therefore, in A.M. Best’s view, progress in this area should not be delayed until the implementation of the new Solvency II regime. A.M. Best also will continue to monitor how effectively insurers utilize capital management tools in the context of the current and developing economic environment.

BestWeek subscribers can download a PDF copy of all special reports as well as the associated spreadsheet data.

New Yorker Nabbed in Workers' Comp Scheme

A Suffolk County, New York man who claimed a job-related back injury prevented him from working was arrested for fraudulently accepting $7,150 in workers’ compensation benefits, the New York State Insurance Department reported.

Jesus A. Cossio, 45, of Brentwood, was charged with workers’ comp fraud following an investigation by the Insurance Department, the New York State Insurance Fund and the Inspector General’s Office of the Workers’ Compensation Board. He was arrested by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

According to Solomon Jones, an investigator with the Insurance Department’s Frauds Bureau, Cossio submitted signed statements to the Insurance Fund falsely claiming he was unable to work after injuring his back while employed as a laborer. Jones said investigators found that Cossio was working as a porter and maintenance attendant while collecting the benefits.

If he is convicted, Cossio could be sentenced to up to four years in prison.

ACE Europe Offers Solution for Global Business

ACE Europe (ACE) announced the launch of ACE Evolve, a co-ordinated insurance and risk management solution for mid-sized companies with overseas subsidiaries or assets.

ACE Evolve is available through all 11 of the company’s offices in order to support brokers in the regions who have mid-sized clients with operations outside the UK and Ireland, a service insurers usually only offer to large, London based multinational clients. By streamlining the insurance purchasing process, ACE Evolve enables them to buy the right level of cover and meet all the necessary local regulations and obligations effectively and efficiently. ACE Evolve provides a gateway to ACE experts in over 50 countries with local facilities in place for policy issuance, proof of cover, claims handling and risk management services. In addition, ACE is licensed to conduct business in over 140 countries.


Alongside ACE’s global servicing capabilities, brokers can access comprehensive information on coverage requirements, regulatory and tax issues, claims handling and risk management matters. ACE Evolve enables cover to be available globally on an ‘admitted’ basis – which means that all polices issued meet the requirements of local legislation – or on a Freedom of Services (FOS) basis within the European Union where appropriate.

As an additional service for brokers without an international partner network, ACE can facilitate introductions though its database of preferred broking partners around the world.

Mitchell Unveils Latest Industry Trends Report

Mitchell International Inc., a provider of information, workflow, and performance management solutions to the collision claims and repair industries, has released the first quarter 2009 edition of its Industry Trends Report (ITR) -- the company's quarterly publication that highlights industry-related trends, news items and statistics.

This edition's Quarterly Feature, "The Time has Come for the Mitchell Information Center," by Mitchell's Vice President of Industry Relations, Greg Horn, discusses the challenge faced by repairers in an environment where vehicle construction, equipment and repairs grow more complex with each model year. In such an environment, insurance appraisers and collision repair technicians alike need to quickly and easily access the information that will give them the ability to accurately estimate and safely repair increasingly complex vehicles.

"The most accurate and up-to-date repair data is critical," said Horn. "Today, even the most basic repairs can require manufacturer specific instructions and parts. Yet obtaining detailed how-to instructions is complex, time consuming and costly -- as is ordering correct parts for the job at hand. Without an easy, effective way to address the repair information deficit there is a substantial liability risk for repairers when proper repair procedures are not followed, as well as potential loss in customer satisfaction."

Added Horn, "The growing number of hybrids on the road today is just one example of how the collision repair environment is constantly changing and at the same time creating corresponding pressure for repairers who need to keep pace with the demands of the increasing technology found on today's vehicles. And hybrids are full of these challenges.

"Many leading hybrid automakers now use advanced safety technologies, and since this special equipment is present in more of today's vehicles, it is increasingly appearing in collision repair shops. As part of our efforts to support the collision repair community with the latest in estimating and repair technologies, we developed Mitchell Information Center, which is the solution that helps bridge the data gap for repairers by giving them a single, easily accessed source for critical repair information."

The Mitchell Information Center can help shops and other participants in the collision repair process to reduce cycle time by avoiding the need to search multiple repair and parts sources. In addition, the Mitchell Information Center provides access to a comprehensive and up-to-date year/make/model specific information to assist repairers in performing repairs in a safe manner and to the customer's satisfaction.

Collision repairers who would like to learn more about Mitchell Information Center can visit www.mitchellinformationcenter.com for more information.

Winter Storms Cause Havoc in Parts of Europe

According to catastrophe risk modeling firm AIR Worldwide, Météo France issued a rare red alert for a strong winter storm to hit five departments of southwest France on Saturday.

Wind gusts of 160 km/h and higher were recorded in various locations across the region. A 184 km/h gust was recorded in the eastern Pyrenees near Perpignan. According to Météo France, these are some of the strongest winds since records began.

“The forecast was for a storm of similar intensity to 1999's winter storm Martin, though likely of more limited geographic scope, said Dr. Peter Dailey, director of atmospheric science at AIR Worldwide. “In fact, winter storm Klaus, as yesterday's storm has been dubbed, affected a wider swath than had originally been forecast, causing damage from Dordogne area south to Barcelona, in Spain's Catalunya region.

“Across the storm's path, roofs were torn off, signs and awnings downed and automobiles damaged by fallen trees or collapsed masonry walls,” said Dr. Dailey. “French television footage has shown toppled chimneys and overturned trucks. Large tracts of pine forest were flattened by the storm, most notably in the Landes, a department in southwest France on the border with Spain important for its timber industry.”

By Sunday morning, more than 1.1 million households were still without electricity, rail networks remained out of service and roads were impassible as a result of downed trees. Waves as high as 21 meters were recorded off northern Spain's Basque coast, according to the regional ministry of the interior. By Sunday, firefighters in Tarragona, Alicante and Valencia were working to control existing wildfires that had been fanned by the storm's high winds and new ones sparked by downed electrical lines.

AIR is currently collecting and analyzing observation data for winter storm Klaus and will make additional information available as warranted.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Insurers Not Tackling Super Bowl Ads

For the second consecutive year, insurance companies have not turned to the year’s most-watched television event—the Super Bowl—to advertise their products, according to the latest issue of BestWeek U.S./Canada.

"What we see is a lot of insurance companies playing it safe in these times—not just with investing in a Super Bowl ad but in general,” said Kim Paterson, of Creative Insurance Marketing in Belmar, N.J. “They (insurers) seem to be playing it safe,” she said.

Also, in BestWeek Europe, the European Union’s proposed solvency rules for insurers are getting a real-life stress test courtesy of the current worldwide financial markets turmoil, according to A.M. Best Co. A study by A.M. Best analysts concluded that the current turmoil in the financial markets “underscores the importance of a risk-based solvency regime and presents a real stress-test scenario for the Solvency II Directive.”

Solvency II, the proposed solvency standard for the 27 member states of the European Union, is not expected to go into effect before 2013, as it makes its way through EU legislative procedures, BestWeek Europe reported.

In BestWeek U.S./Canada, one year after Washington State’s bad-faith law went into effect, proponents and opponents remain both as divided as ever and unable to draw firm conclusions as to its impact on the insurance industry. The law, enacted by a November 2007 statewide referendum, made it unlawful for insurers to “unreasonably” deny claims and exposed carriers in most lines of business to potential treble damages in bad faith litigation for unfairly denying claims. The industry spent a state record $11.4 million to defeat Referendum 67, but voters approved it by a 14-point margin, according to BestWeek U.S./Canada.

BestWeek is published by A.M. Best Co. for insurance professionals. To subscribe, visit http://www.ambest.com/sales/BestWeek, or e-mail your request to customer_service@ambest.com.

CIAB: P/C Market Shows Q4 Leveling Off Signs

Commercial property/casualty market premiums showed definite signs of leveling off in the fourth quarter of 2008 across small, medium and large accounts and for most major lines of commercial business, according to The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers’ Commercial P/C Market Index Survey.

“We see evidence in the fourth quarter that premium rates eased as insurers tried to hold the line on pricing. It’s still a competitive market, but we think this may signal the bottom of the soft market, following six years of steady decline. We will see if this trend continues in the first quarter of 2009 as price increases in the reinsurance market begin to trickle down and as the full impact of the economy and market conditions comes home to roost on insurers’ bottom line,” Council President Ken Crerar said.

During the fourth quarter, 43 percent of the agents and brokers responding to the survey reported that premiums for small accounts were down 1-10 percent, with 35 percent reporting no change in premiums compared with the third quarter. For medium accounts 50 percent said premiums were down 1-10 percent while 17 percent saw decreases in the 10-20 percent range. Eighteen percent said there was no change in rates compared to the last quarter. Premiums for large accounts saw more slippage, but not as much as the third quarter. Forty-one percent of respondents said rates declined 1-10 percent. Twenty-one brokers said rates dropped 10- 20 percent and 17 reported no change in rates since the third quarter.

Directors and Officers premiums saw the most upward movement with 17 percent of respondents reporting a 1-10 percent increase for the line, while 36 percent reported no change and 21 percent said rates declined 10- 20 percent.

An analysis of The Council’s survey findings by Barclays Capital Equity Research said premiums for the average commercial account declined 6.4 percent during the fourth quarter. For large accounts, the rates were down 8 percent; for medium accounts, renewal premiums 7.1 percent compared with the third quarter; and for small accounts, the renewal premiums averaged a 4.2 percent decline.

“We have not seen any significant changes in terms and conditions, but accounts with some loss history are being looked at harder,” one broker reported. Another broker said, “underwriters are looking for flat renewals.” Yet another remarked, “[Carriers are] enhancing terms and conditions in order to justify holding pricing rather than reducing on renewal. [Carriers are] trying to lock up renewals early on with slight reductions.” While another said, “Pricing and terms (but not retentions) are tightening up over 3 months ago.”

A number of brokers still saw a competitive market last quarter, but not one in free fall. “Competitive pricing continues, but overall rate decreases are lower,” said one respondent. “Really depends on the risk,” said another. “[There’s] still a lot of competition for new business from the carriers. Underwriters are trying to hold the line but competitors [are] still undercutting pricing to write the account.”

There also are signs that the financial crisis worries some carriers. “Financials are a problem in most industry segments. Carriers are asking for them more frequently and they are generally not looking very good,” a broker remarked.

Pricing in coastal regions is posing some problems as well, brokers reported. “Coastal Texas property including Houston is tightening.”

“Anything with windstorm or higher limits is a problem.”

The survey also revealed the fall-out of the economic crisis on insurance buyers. Fifty-nine percent of survey respondents said customers were cutting back on insurance.

As for what keeps the brokers awake at night, price competition remains on the top of the worry list, followed closely by insurer solvency and competition with other players in the financial services market. The economic crisis remained the top political issue facing the country today, with 98 percent listing it their number one concern. The budget/trade deficit, health insurance reform and foreign policy, respectively, were among other top concerns.

New York Says Auto Insurers Did Not Violate Law

Auto insurance companies have not systematically violated a section of the State Insurance Law that gives consumers the right to choose where they want their vehicles repaired after a collision, New York Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo said.

However, in some isolated instances, representatives of some insurance companies engaged in practices that could be considered violations of the Insurance Law or regulations by providing improper or inaccurate information, Dinallo said. His announcement was based on a comprehensive investigation by the New York State Insurance Department, which was launched after complaints by a statewide trade association for collision repair professionals that insurance companies were illegally “steering” customers to designated collision repair shops.

As with health insurers who have sought to reduce costs by creating networks of providers who agree to reduce individual charges in return for the volume of business provided by insurers, many auto insurers have created networks of repair shops, sometimes called “network,” “participating” or “direct repair” shops. Unlike health insurers, however, auto insurers are not permitted to require customers to choose “in network” providers.

In addition to forbidding insurance companies from requiring consumers to repair their cars at a specific shop, Section 2610 of the Insurance Law also prohibits companies from recommending or suggesting to their insureds that repairs be done at a particular place or shop unless their insured expressly asks for a recommendation. That means a company cannot make a referral – to its preferred program or repair shop, for example – during the claims process unless and until their insured asks for one.

While most companies were found to comply fully with the Insurance Law and related regulations, the Department found isolated instances of noncompliance, including where a company or its representative:

  • Required of some customers that a damaged vehicle be inspected at that company’s drive-through facility, in apparent violation of a regulation requiring this inspection to take place at a time and place “reasonably convenient to the insured”;

  • Set a “goal” of having 45-60% of repairable vehicles repaired at network shops; and

  • Told an insured to bring his car to a network shop for inspection, and stated that the repairs could be done there, while another claim representative said repairs could be done at the network shop in half the time an out-of-network body shop would take.

“Consumers need to know their rights, and know that the Insurance Department stands ready to protect them,” Dinallo said. “If your insurer tells you that you need to get your car inspected or repaired at a particular place, call the Insurance Department at 1-800-342-3736. If, unfortunately, you are in an accident and need to have your car repaired, call the Department to find out your rights, or visit our Web site.”

GEICO Dropping Rates for Georgia Customers

GEICO has good news for motorists in the Peach State: a new auto insurance rate plan that will save Georgia drivers money. The rating plan is already in effect for new policies and will be effective Feb. 8 for renewal policies.

"On average, current GEICO policyholders will receive a 2.3 percent decrease for the same coverages,” said Dina Pon, assistant vice president with underwriting responsibilities for GEICO’s Southeast operations. “The changes for new business customers will make GEICO’s auto policy rates in Georgia even more competitive for consumers. This is especially true because some other companies are raising their auto insurance rates in Georgia at the same time we are lowering ours.”

The new low rates are expected to increase GEICO’s policyholder growth in Georgia, where it is currently the fourth-largest insurer in the state. The rate decreases are possible due to a combination of factors that include rate changes by coverage, implementation of additional discounts and the hard work of GEICO’s 4,079 associates in the company’s Macon office.

Overall premium changes for individual motorists will vary based upon factors such as coverages purchased, geographic area, type of vehicle, risk characteristics, and discounts for which they qualify.

Georgia residents may also notice GEICO’s increased marketing efforts with a slate of television, radio and print ads as part of the “New Low Rates in Georgia” campaign.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Owner Charged for Alleged Theft of Funds, Forgery

California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner announced that Craig Randall, 51, of Porter Ranch, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with 13 felony counts for theft of funds and forgery. If convicted, Randall could face up to six years in prison.

Randall, owner of EZ Discount Insurance Services Inc. in Chatsworth, allegedly collected at least $30,922 from 13 victims who sought to purchase commercial general liability insurance from September 2007 to July 2008. After he collected premium payments from clients, Randall allegedly failed to submit the payments to insurance companies.

Instead, he purportedly pocketed the money for personal use. On two separate occasions Randall allegedly submitted bogus certificates of insurance to make it appear that the businesses were insured.

As a result of this purported theft, at least one victim suffered an uninsured loss, and many others were exposed to uninsured losses. CDI investigators were able to seize more than $4,000 during the course of their investigation, to be held for possible restitution to victims.

ARS Purchases Metro Insurance Services

Insurance firm Atlantic Risk Specialists Inc.(ARS) announced it has acquired the binding authority assets of Metro Insurance Services Inc. as of Dec. 31, 2008. Atlantic Risk Specialists is a diversified wholesale broker and managing underwriter on behalf of over 50 carriers.

ARS will assume the responsibility and servicing this new business under the supervision of ARS executives Barry Riff and Dan Capone. The expansion by ARS into the managing underwriting business began in 2002, when it hired Riff, who currently leads the ARS team. ARS has annualized premiums of $110,000,000.

Assisting in the transition will be Robert Gega and Marcia Christopher of Metro Insurance Services. Business will be conducted out of the Springfield, New Jersey, office of Metro Insurance Services through the end of January, 2009.

Atlantic Risk Specialists is a full service wholesaler and managing general agent with offices in New Jersey, New York, and Florida. ARS represents over 50 insurance markets from large worldwide carriers to the small regional companies.

Texas Mutual Secures Victories in Legal Cases

Texas Mutual Insurance Company has secured legal victories in two workers' compensation cases that originated in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

On Jan. 16, 2009, Texas Mutual Insurance received a favorable ruling from U.S. Magistrate Andy Austin. This case involves a worker who was injured in Texas but sought benefits in the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court, which ultimately ordered the payment of benefits to the worker.

Wood Energy Group, the worker's employer, then requested a defense and indemnification from Texas Mutual. When Texas Mutual declined, Wood Energy threatened a bad-faith action. In this dispute, Judge Austin ruled that the policy covers Texas benefits only and that Texas Mutual is not liable for defense or indemnity. Judge Austin also recommended dismissal of all of Wood Energy's counterclaims.

Judge Austin's ruling is in the form of a recommendation to Judge Lee Yeakel of the U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas. If Judge Yeakel accepts the recommendation, Wood Energy can appeal the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Judge Austin's recommendation is particularly significant because it takes a different look at worker's comp policies.

Judge Austin held that because it is a standard form mandated by a state regulatory agency, a workers' comp policy should be interpreted through the "ordinary, everyday meaning of the words to the general public." Typically, insurance policy language is interpreted in a way that's most favorable to the insured.

In the Tennessee case, that state's Supreme Court dismissed Texas Mutual from a lawsuit involving the payment of benefits to an injured worker. This case involves an employee of a subcontractor of Texas Mutual policyholder Broadband Specialists Inc.

Lower courts in Tennessee had held that, under Tennessee law, Broadband Specialists was the "statutory employer" of the injured worker. Texas Mutual was ordered to pay part of the $127,190 that the worker was awarded for treatment of on-the-job injuries.

In its appeal, Texas Mutual argued that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over the insurance company, that the trial court erred in applying Tennessee's "statutory employer" rule to the Texas Mutual policy, and that Texas Mutual's policy did not cover subcontractors of Broadband Specialists.

In its Jan. 12, 2009, decision, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the fact that Texas Mutual insures employees who may temporarily work out of state and the fact that Texas Mutual offers online insurance quotes were not enough to support general jurisdiction. The court ordered dismissal of all claims against Texas Mutual.

Gevity Receives Return of Collateral from AIG

Gevity, a professional employer organization (PEO) that provides HR services to businesses nationwide, recently received a return of $26.6 million of excess workers' compensation collateral from AIG Commercial Insurance. As previously reported, this return of collateral relates to the company's workers' comp policy years 2000 to 2002.

This January return of excess collateral, along with other recently reported workers' comp program cash flow events, have reportedly further strengthened the company's cash and liquidity position.

As of today's date, the company has no outstanding balance on its revolving credit facility and management anticipates no material sustained borrowing position on this facility for the foreseeable future.