The Tampa Tribune ran a story, State Farm’s Exit From Florida Proving to Be a Problem for Some, which demonstrates problems consumers will have obtaining new coverage. The on-line edition of the story is somewhat entertaining because the comments show the disparate results of consumers who are shopping for insurance and confusion about underwriting. What is still unclear and troubling is exactly what State Farm hopes to gain from its announcement that it is leaving Florida. Certainly, it is losing revenue and access to a very large insurance market.
In a reply to State Farm Has Agents Spread Propaganda and Bullies North Carolina, I wrote in part:
“State Farm has many bright and dedicated managers running its operation. It is reflected in the extensive training and operations of the organization. It hires very effective outside consultants, lobbyists, and attorneys.
So, it comes as no surprise to me that they have set up a "decision tree" with alternatives which generally end up as a win-win for State Farm.
It can play the game of business as a "bully" or provide the appearance of being a long time supporter of Obama and a Good Corporate Citizen like it did with a full page ad in BusinessWeek just before the inauguration. It is now trying to show that it can be friends and supporters of the new federal government which it is lobbying.
State Farm is very, very good at getting what it wants in the long term. Just ask its competitors.”
State Farm executives certainly knew their announcement of its intent to leave Florida could have several different results. It would be hard to imagine that such bright business games players would not try to time the departure announcement for maximum effect and gain. Certainly, these executives contemplated the current scenario where Florida officials would not stop it from leaving. Whether they thought that Commissioner Kevin McCarty would prevent them from allowing their policies to be dumped into Citizens and having other restrictions mandated in the public interest is debatable. It will be interesting to see how this battle will play out over the coming weeks and months.
Nevertheless, shopping for homeowners insurance in Florida is not as easy as shopping for automobile insurance. State Farm may be hoping its spurned policyholders listen to its version of reality and complain to their elected officials. State Farm may be using its large customer base as leverage to cut a better deal.
State Farm’s management may applaud and support articles similar to the Tampa Tribune’s. They can use such stories to show regulators in other states what happens when State Farm’s demands are not met. The hysteria and media exposure can help promote an alleged need for federal legislation and regulation that will be more favorable towards State Farm.
State Farm’s stated reason for leaving is a “sham,” according to the administrative law judge who presided over the rate request case. Its decision to leave is problematic only because it still carries so many policies. Possibly, State Farm knew that the timing of the announcement would carry more weight and cause more hysteria while it still held a large market share. If it left slowly and over a longer period of time, the impact of the announcement would not have caused as much of an uproar.
Exactly what the executives at State Farm want to achieve from all this and how they want the insurance market to operate is known by those at State Farm headquarters in Bloomington, Illinois. Floridians can only deal with the reality of State Farm’s hardball tactics and learn that they should never be vulnerable to this type of breach of the public trust.
In the long term, if we can encourage competitors to gain sufficient capacity, many of these problems will go away. The crisis State Farm is causing is one of timing—what are we going to do in the short term? So long as McCarty can mandate that State Farm disposes of its customers’ policies over several years and not force them to Citizens, Florida will get by this current crisis. However, if a massive hurricane or several moderate ones strike while this current financial crisis continues, an insurance crisis caused by an unfunded Catastrophe Fund will be upon us. Possibly, that is why State Farm executives decided to leave Florida—they do not want to be stuck holding the bag in the event the big one hits and the Catastrophe Fund has no money to reimburse it and other carriers. If the "big one" hits this hurricane season, Governor Crist will have many, including State Farm, in Washington asking for the Catastrophe Fund to access the Stimulus monies.
As we are getting closer to the summer months, I feel Floridians are on a runaway train and nobody has a plan to safely stop it. The only thing left to do is pray for a very long and clear track.