Volume 6 Number 19 May 8, 2009
As we move forward in these tough economic times, it’s essential that we are always on the lookout for smart ways to cut waste and save taxpayer’s money.
That’s why earlier this week, I was happy to join local officials in Largo for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at our newly consolidated Department of Financial Services call center. By consolidating our state call centers from eleven to two, we are able to improve service for Floridians and save $2.2 million a year, every year going forward.
As your CFO, I have made it a top priority to find cost-saving measures that don’t compromise customer service. The new call centers are one way we did just that, and I will continue to look for ways to cut waste and save more of your money in these tight budget times.
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida
Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink toured the Department of Financial Services’ consolidated call center in Largo on Monday, noting that the consolidation will generate over $2.2 million in annual savings while improving services to consumers. CFO Sink was joined by Florida Representative Janet Long, Largo/Mid-Pinellas Chamber of Commerce Chairman Derri Davisson and employees from the Largo call center.
“Floridians expect us to spend their money as wisely and efficiently as possible, and I will continue to lead by example in these tough economic times,” CFO Sink said. “With help from Department of Financial Services’ employees, we found smart operational efficiencies that will generate millions in taxpayer savings without compromising customer service. Finding cost savings is like peeling back the layers of an onion – everyday I am working to find more ways to cut costs and be responsible with Floridians’ precious tax dollars.”
In a brief ribbon cutting ceremony, CFO Sink, joined by local officials, celebrated the consolidated call center, which employs nearly 20 insurance consumer specialists. She suggested that more state agencies may want to consider consolidation in these tough economic times. Florida’s taxpayers will save over $2.2 million annually as a result of streamlining and consolidating the Department of Financial Services’ consumer call centers.
CFO Sink determined that eliminating lease expenses for multiple call centers and expediting the timeline for consolidation from five years to seven months would generate greater savings immediately and on a recurring annual basis, creating even more savings for Florida’s taxpayers. CFO Sink now has two high-quality service centers in Tallahassee and Largo, improving service and increasing customer satisfaction.
The consolidation was effective February 1, 2009. In March, the Largo office, located at 11351 Ulmerton Road, Suite 240, answered nearly 3,400 calls and helped consumers recover more than $545,000 in claim payments and premium refunds.
Until CFO Sink’s consolidation, employees answering the consumer call center hotline were scattered throughout the state, without the benefit of frequent training or best practices initiatives. All affected consumer service employees were given the opportunity to transfer to Tallahassee or Largo with moving cost assistance or were offered other positions within the Department.
For the past two years, CFO Sink has been an outspoken watchdog on behalf of Florida’s taxpayers, pursuing cost saving measures in the Department of Financial Services such as renegotiating contracts and cutting down on state-paid cell phones. CFO Sink recently unveiled a new website, www.GetLeanFlorida.com, which allows citizens to offer tips on how to cut government waste and inefficiencies.
Florida CFO Alex Sink delivered the commencement address before a packed house to the Florida Southern College Spring Class of 2009 on May 2 at the Lakeland Campus.
Florida Southern College President Dr. Anne Kerr, along with the College’s Board Chairman Dr. Robert L. Fryer, Jr., presented CFO Sink with the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. Addressing the graduates, CFO Sink acknowledged that it was her first honorary degree, making it a very special day for her as well as the graduates. “FSC will forever hold a very special place in my heart for this honor,” said Sink.
Taking the opportunity to impart a few words of wisdom and advice for their future, she advised the assembled graduates to “concentrate on doing their first jobs really well, learn how to use constructive criticism for professional growth, find good mentors, and practice leadership skills through volunteering in their community.
CFO Sink, a math major and champion of financial literacy, closed her remarks by offering the graduates a little financial advice. “Plan for your financial future now and handle credit carefully,” Sink said. “We’re all living longer and planning will be more important than ever to survive and thrive through an extended retirement.”
On Monday, CFO Sink joined state leaders and law-enforcement officials in the Capitol courtyard to pay tribute to Florida’s fallen officers. According to the Fraternal Order of Police, Florida lost eight officers in the line of duty in 2008, and five officers have been lost since January of this year.
Amid sirens and salutes, each officer was honored in a role call of heroes, and families of the slain officers received a plaque from Governor Crist recognizing their sacrifice.
As Chief Financial Officer, CFO Sink oversees two sworn law-enforcement agencies: the Division of Insurance Fraud and also the State Fire Marshal Bureau of Arson and Investigations. She is also a member of Florida’s Cabinet, which has oversight of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; as such, the ceremony was close to home and an important recognition of the brave public servants who risk their lives every day to protect others.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced on Monday that assistance provided to Florida consumers by insurance consumer specialists in the Department of Financial Services led to the recovery of more than $14 million for Floridians in 2008. Recoveries included claim payments and premium refunds that consumers sought the Department of Financial Service’s help collecting.
“In all that we do – from investigating financial fraud to educating consumers about how to shop for insurance – we are dedicated to making sure that families, homes, and businesses are protected,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the Department.
Floridians have reached out to CFO Sink to thank her and the Department for helping them recover money that was rightfully theirs. A letter written to CFO Sink from Jean Mahoney, of Port St. Lucie, reads “Thank you and your staff … for the outstanding work done to rectify the mess I got myself into with a company, among many, that contacted me via telephone about an extended warranty. Your efforts resulted in all my money being refunded.”
Another letter from Rick and Jill Karras, of Bradenton, thanks CFO Sink and her staff for working on their behalf to clarify that their son had coverage for an automobile accident. “[The company] did do the right thing by confirming that an erroneous error had been made by either them or our insurance agent and that they would cover the accident, but I don’t think that would have happened without the help of you and your staff,” the Karras wrote.
Major consumer initiatives undertaken by CFO Sink have included: Safeguard Our Seniors, which provides outreach and roundtable meetings developing solutions to better protect Florida seniors from falling victim to financial fraud; and Florida Housing Help, which offers workshops to help struggling homeowners avoid mortgage fraud and find resources that may help them avoid foreclosure.
Floridians can receive help from the Department of Financial Services by visiting www.MyFloridaCFO.com or calling the CFO’s Consumer Helpline at 1-877-My-FL-CFO. The Department’s Division of Consumer Services assists with insurance claims and premium refunds for all lines of insurance.
Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink extended an invitation to Floridians around the state to participate in Arson Awareness Week, which takes place May 3-9, 2009. Arson Awareness Week is part of a nationwide initiative by the United States Fire Administration (USFA), the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) to raise awareness involving arson incidents.
“As Florida’s State Fire Marshal, I commend the many men and women who have helped put together this year’s statewide events for Arson Awareness Week,” said CFO Sink. “I hope this week will demonstrate the dangerous consequences of arson and will help everyday Floridians become more aware of this costly crime.”
This year’s theme, Arson for Profit – which is also known as “economic arson” -- refers to arson cases when businesses or individuals set fires to reduce financial loss, recover initial investments, or dispose of depreciated assets usually for a payout from insurance companies. Arson for Profit is a type of insurance fraud.
Statistics from the Insurance Information Institute show that nationwide, approximately $900 million in insured property has been destroyed and 295 people have been killed over the past two years resulting from arson-related crimes. In 2008, the State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations investigated 3,747 fires, of which nearly 2,000 were determined to be arson.
Arson Awareness Week events in Florida kicked-off on Tuesday, May 5 at the Reedy Creek Fire Department, Station #4 in Lake Buena Vista. For more information about the week’s events, please visit www.myfloridacfo.com/sfm/ or the following Web sites: www.usfa.dhs.gov, www.insurancefraud.org or www.atf.gov.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink sent a letter to State Board of Administration (SBA) Executive Director Ash Williams on Tuesday asking that he discuss the status of the 10 recommendations the CFO proposed in 2008 to improve accountability and oversight of the SBA’s investments at the next Cabinet meeting.
CFO Sink also cited her intention to propose reforms to the SBA Board structure and SBA reporting requirements at the upcoming Cabinet meeting. Today’s letter comes on the heels of the St. Petersburg Times investigative article on the lack of transparency by the SBA.
The Florida Department of Financial Services (DFS) participated for the third consecutive year on Wednesday in the Girls Going Places program at Florida Gulf Coast University. Lynn Tarman, Financial Representative for the Alliance Financial Group, was the local chairperson of the event. This year more than 140 young women took part in the daylong event.
The Girls Going Places® Entrepreneurship Award Program, sponsored by Guardian Life Insurance Company, is an annual initiative designed to reward the enterprising spirits of girls ages 12 to 18. Guardian awards prizes to 15 girls who demonstrate budding entrepreneurship, are taking the first steps toward financial independence, and make a difference in their schools and communities. Prizes totaling $30,000 are granted to three top winners and 12 finalists each year to further their entrepreneurial pursuits or save for college.
DFS outreach coordinator Terry Cerullo presented educators and parents CFO Sinks’ financial literacy program for young adults. Many in attendance took the opportunity to play the Financial Football game that CFO Sink, along with NFL and VISA, launched last fall. This financial education initiative provides a winning playbook for students’ financial future.
Teachers were given a CD-ROM copy of the game to take back to their classrooms. The game can be accessed by going to the CFO’s Web page at www.myfloridacfo.com. Each attendee also received a copy of CFO Sink’s Young Consumer Guide, available on line at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/Guides/GeneralFinancial/docs/WheelsDealsSpiels.pdf.
This Wednesday, CFO Sink was in Southwest Florida to speak to Sarasota County Civic League’s annual dinner. CFO Sink applauded the important work done by Civic League members for their community and around the state. She also talked how her decades of experience as a businesswoman have given her the tools to cut waste and hold government more accountable
As part of CFO Sink’s ongoing Safeguard Our Seniors (SOS) initiative, the Department of Financial Services, in partnership with the University of Florida Extension Services, will hold a forum in Deland to help Florida seniors protect themselves from financial fraud with an immediate focus on annuity fraud.
The forum will be held Tuesday, May 12, 2009, from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., at the University of Florida Extension Service Office, located at 3100 E. New York Ave. in Deland.
To learn more about CFO Sink’s SOS initiative and what to consider when purchasing annuities, visit www.flseniors.net. Floridians who believe they may have been victims of annuity fraud should call 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236) or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com to file a complaint. To view a list of other scheduled outreach programs, please visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/OutReach/index.htm.
Last Saturday, as part of CFO Alex Sink’s the Be the CFO of Your Family initiative, the Department of Financial Services partnered with the United Way to provide over 40 youth aging out of Foster Care information on Financial Literacy at the NFL Youth Education Town in Jacksonville, FL. The youth received valuable information on protecting their finances and establishing and maintaining good credit and participated in a game of Financial Football.
During the Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa, CFO Sink in partnership with the NFL rolled out the Financial Football game as a fun, interactive way to increase the financial knowledge of high school and college students.
The NFL Youth Education Towns are educational centers opened in Super Bowl host cities to provide youth in the community education and life skill services. Jacksonville hosted Super Bowl XXXIX.
This week’s Hurricane Financial Checklist item is a reminder regarding flood insurance policies. Floods are one of the most common hazards in the United States. In fact, there is a 26 percent chance you will experience a flood during the life of a 30-year mortgage compared to a four percent chance of a fire.
With few exceptions, there is a 30-day waiting period from the time a policy is purchased until your home is covered. That means you should purchase coverage now before hurricane season starts on June 1.
Most homeowners, renters and condominium policies do not provide coverage for flood. Evaluate and observe how water builds up or runs off the land near and around your home. Even if your home is not located near a body of water, slow draining property can develop into a flood.
The average cost for a flood insurance policy is approximately $400 per year depending on where you live and the coverage you choose. In low-to-moderate risk areas, coverage may be purchased for a little over $100 a year. FEMA recommends buying as much flood coverage as you can afford. Primary residences insured for 80 percent of their value, or the maximum amounts available, are covered for replacement cost value. Make sure you verify and understand the maximum payout amount of your flood policy and what your deductible will be.
Your local property appraiser’s office will have information on whether your home is located in a flood zone. However, even properties not located in a flood zone may be vulnerable to flooding.
For more information please log on to www.FloodSmart.gov or contact CFO Sink’s Consumer Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).
Check back with us next week for more ideas.
If you haven’t done so already, making the change from paper records to managing your money online can be a great way to keep your finances organized. There are a number of benefits to online banking: a paperless system is environmentally friendly and cheaper (no need for stamps). Also, if you’re concerned about identity theft, online bill payers are 10 percent less likely to have their identities stolen versus those who use the standard envelope and stamp payment role (Javelin Strategy & Research).
However, the number one benefit may be that, pure and simple, online banking is easy. For starters, paychecks are now routinely direct-deposited into an employee’s banking account on set dates, which eliminates the need to physically deposit paychecks at the bank. By accessing your checking account online, you can check your account balance at any time and can also set up payments online. Phone bills, insurance, rent, utilities – essentially any bill you receive that has an account number can be drafted online from your account. Automating your payments will require some setup, but it is worth doing.
First coordinate your billing dates by calling the companies and asking to have your billing date switched to the same day of the month, just after your paycheck is deposited. Then set up your checking account to automatically pay the bills a few days later. This will ensure your bills are paid on time - one of the top factors in determining and improving your credit score.
It’s a good idea to have separate checking and savings accounts, with overdraft protection on the checking account directly from the savings account – this essentially allows you to avoid paying any “overdraft” fees because any money you spend beyond the balance that’s in your checking account is transferred from your savings account. You can set this up through your online banking Web site or credit union.
Online banking can also be a convenient way to manage your longer-term savings portfolio, as you can automate your investments as well as your bills. Auto payments to your 401(k) other retirement fund are usually done through your employer, but other investment payments can be set to draw each month such as a Roth IRA.
Florida homes contain an enormous number of appliances, and admittedly most of us leave many of them plugged in all the time. While this may not seem like a significant energy drain, studies have shown that the cost of leaving some devices on full-time really adds up to a significant portion of a homeowner’s annual electricity costs. As hurricane season approaches, it is prudent to inspect your home with regard to the diversity of powered devices, not only to save money but also to create a game plan for turning off non-essential services during storms.
Why not create a “scavenger hunt” for your children on a Saturday afternoon? Ask them to locate any electronic devices in your household that are plugged in but not being used all the time. It is quite surprising how this number adds up – stereos and their components, computers, printers, phone chargers, video players, night lights, gadgets such as microwaves that feature lights as on/off indicators. Decide as a family which electronic devices you can unplug and therefore save any costs of energy when not in use. This also will simplify your hurricane preparedness by having fewer devices that may otherwise suffer during a possible power surge.
A New College student recently calculated that it costs our small campus approximately $25,000 per year if all the office computers are left on all the time. So, it adds up! Perhaps you can consolidate some of your office equipment on a power strip that can be unplugged simply and easily after use. Or, perhaps your children can become the energy czars of your home, diligently unplugging those non-essential items as a household responsibility.