Consumer eViews
FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 4, Number 36, September 7, 2007

Fellow Floridian:

Today marked the close of another busy week for Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and the Department of Financial Services.   From riding along on a PIP fraud arrest to speaking to a group of 800 affordable housing advocates, our office continues to touch Floridians across the state.

My Safe Florida Home shows premium savings -- This week we learned that in addition to providing information about how safe your home is from storms, the My Safe Florida Home program has helped save most homeowners an average of $154.51 a year on their wind insurance premiums – that’s a potential savings statewide of $11.2 million. 

Keynote to 20th Annual Florida Housing Coalition conference -- CFO Sink was the keynote speaker at the Florida Housing Coalition’s 20th Annual Statewide Affordable Housing Conference on Thursday, September 6th.  CFO Sink spoke at the Omni Hotel in Orlando to nearly 800 affordable housing advocates about the need for affordable housing resources and the importance of using these resources to stimulate Florida's economy. 

Special Session postponed -- The Legislature announced this week they have decided to put off the September special session, which was scheduled to address budget shortfalls. Without a special session it is almost assured that Floridians will enter a fault-based system when mandatory PIP coverage expires on October 1.  After 36 years under a no-fault system, the department is working to educate and advise consumers on the potential impacts of life without no-fault. 

PIP fraud arrest ride-along – CFO Sink teamed up with insurance fraud detectives in Tampa this morning as they executed search warrants and made arrests at two clinics where investigations revealed the clinics were submitting fraudulent PIP claims.  CFO Sink has warned in recent weeks that fraud will continue even though PIP coverage is no longer mandated, and her meeting with DFS fraud detectives involved discussions on potential new scams.

Invitation to UK on financial impacts of climate change -- Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced that her office has been invited by Keith Allan, Her Majesty’s Consul General of Miami, to meet with British leaders in London in early November.


CFO SINK IS GUEST ON TAMPA RADIO SHOW

CFO Sink is the featured guest on the Radioactivity show on WMNF 88.5 radio next Wednesday at 1:05 pm.

News and Public Affairs Director Rob Lorei asks Florida's CFO about Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, PIP,  My Safe Florida Home, property insurance discounts, climate change and its financial impact on Florida, including the upcoming trip to London.


CFO SINK TO MEET WITH BRITISH LEADERS IN LONDON IN NOVEMBER

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced that her office has been invited by Keith Allan, Her Majesty’s Consul General of Miami, to meet with British leaders in London in early November.

During her visit, which is sponsored by the British Government, the CFO will meet with representatives of the United Kingdom and the City of London to understand their success in confronting the challenges presented by climate change in the finance and investment sectors. CFO Sink will also meet with experts at the London School of Economics and the Royal Bank of Scotland to learn how climate change presents both insurance and financial risks as well as investment opportunities for Florida. The CFO will also visit the London office of Enterprise Florida.

While abroad, CFO Sink will meet with Lloyd’s of London to discuss the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund and the impact that private reinsurance has in Florida’s property insurance market. According to Lloyd’s, “The issue of climate change will be vital to the future of the insurance industry. Since the 1960s the number of natural catastrophes has doubled and insured losses increased nearly seven-fold...we must engage better together and that means insurers, business and government working together.”

“With 1200 miles of coastline, Florida is one of the most vulnerable states to the effects of climate change and rising sea levels. It is essential that Florida is prepared for all the challenges -- and as Florida’s Chief Financial Officer I am specifically aware of the challenges to our insurance and financial markets,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “London is the epicenter of the world’s global financial and reinsurance markets and the United Kingdom is an international leader in analyzing and combating the financial risks of climate change. Florida can benefit from our shared partnership.”

In April 2007, Consul-General Allan presented the United Kingdom’s international perspective on climate change at the Florida Cabinet’s first Climate Change workshop sponsored by CFO Sink and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson.

“Action to address the global impact of climate change is a top international priority for the British Government. We have been hugely impressed by the leadership shown by Governor Crist and CFO Sink in putting Florida at the forefront of global efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions and develop alternative energies, and were pleased to sign a Partnership with Florida at the Climate Change Summit in Miami in July.

“I have discussed the impact of severe weather conditions on the insurance sector in Florida with Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink. The British Consulate-General is delighted to be able to support the CFO's visit, which we believe will bring real benefits to the people of Florida.”


CFO SINK: MSFH PROGRAM HELPS MORE THAN 66,000 HOMEOWNERS SAVE AN AVERAGE OF $154 ON THEIR WIND INSURANCE PREMIUMS
Potential savings for homeowners exceeds $11.2 million statewide

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced today that 74.5 percent of homeowners who have received a free wind inspection through the My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program are eligible for significant savings on their annual wind insurance premiums.

The MSFH program has projected that 66,461 homeowners out of 89,268 to date are eligible to receive a wind insurance premium discount or credit, with an average statewide savings of $154.51 based on an average statewide wind premium of $946.44. Sink’s announcement reflects a potential savings statewide of $11.2 million and is based on the current structure of the home during the free MSFH wind inspection.

“At a time when many Floridians are struggling with the cost of insurance, we are finding that thousands of Floridians are able to save money on their wind insurance premiums without making a single improvement,” said CFO Sink who runs the Department of Financial Services which oversees the MSFH program. “I encourage all eligible Floridians to sign-up for a free wind inspection to learn if they might be eligible to save money on their property insurance.”

Statewide, 74.5 percent of homeowners who have received an inspection from the MSFH program are eligible for a discount of 16.3 percent on their wind insurance premiums. Savings vary widely by region, as homeowners with higher wind insurance premiums can realize greater savings. For example, homeowners in South Florida are eligible to receive an average savings of 19 percent off their wind insurance premium, or $385. Linked is a county-by-county breakdown of eligible homeowners, http://www.mysafefloridahome.com/images/InspectionDiscount.pdf along with average potential savings on annual wind insurance premiums.

Some homeowners may already be receiving all or part of the mitigation credits for which they are eligible; however, in many cases, the MSFH program is assisting homeowners who are not receiving full credit based on the current structure of their home. To assist homeowners, the MSFH program provides eligible program participants with certified mitigation forms, which can be given to the homeowners insurance company in order to receive the estimated savings. A sample mitigation form that homeowners will be receiving can be found http://www.mysafefloridahome.com/MitForm.asp. Homeowners who might experience any difficulties with their insurance companies are encouraged to contact the Department of Financial Services helpline at 1-800-342-2762.

To date, the MSFH program has completed 89,268 inspections. More than 106,000 Florida homeowners have signed up for free wind inspections through the program, signifying the program has exceeded 25 percent of its long-term goal of 400,000 free wind inspections in the next two years.

Any Floridian who lives in a single-family, site-built home is eligible for a free wind inspection through the MSFH program, which helps Floridians identify how they can strengthen their homes and reduces the overall potential for hurricane damage in our state. Floridians can apply on-line at www.MySafeFloridaHome.com or by calling the program toll-free at 1-866-513-6734. Homeowners who receive free wind inspections through the MSFH program will receive a detailed inspection report, complete with additional information on estimated insurance premium discounts, if the homeowner is eligible.

Additionally, some Florida homeowners receiving free wind inspections may be eligible for matching grant reimbursements of up to $5,000 to make recommended improvements. To be eligible, the Legislature requires that homeowners: have received a completed wind inspection after May 1, 2007; live in a single-family, site-built home built before March 1, 2002; have a valid homestead exemption; have an insured value of $300,000 or less; and be located in the wind-borne debris region. Additionally, while the free wind inspections will still cover seven potential wind-resistance improvements, matching grants may only be applied to opening protections, including windows, exterior doors and garage doors, as well as the bracing of gable ends.


CFO SINK ADDS LINK TO MYFLORIDACFO.COM TO GUIDE FLORIDIANS ON EQUITY INDEXED ANNUITIES

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has created a link at MyFloridaCFO.com

to help consumers better understand equity indexed annuities, which have become big sellers despite being a relatively new and complex annuity product. Annuities were the subject of a hearing Wednesday before the United States Senate’s Special Committee on Aging that addressed reported marketing abuses.

Often touted as a way for investors to realize stock-market-like gains without the risk, equity indexed annuities have proven confusing to some investors who have complained to the Department of Financial Services Consumer Helpline of being misled about how the product works or not having their expectations met. These products can come with hidden penalties, costs and fees, and hefty multi-year surrender charges and may not be ideal for some senior citizens.

“As with any investment product, it is important for consumers to read and understand any document before signing and get all agreements in writing,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the department. “Our aim in providing this link is to help consumers ask the right questions to protect themselves and invest their money in a way that best serves their needs.” 

To view the Equity Indexed Annuities link, go to MyFloridaCFO.com and click on the Equity Indexed Annuity Alert button on the right side of the home page. The link includes definitions of key terms relating to equity indexed annuities, explains fees and charges that may be incurred, points out important questions to ask and provides warning signs of potential fraud. Consumers with questions or complaints regarding equity indexed annuities should call the department's Consumer Helpline at 1-800-342-2762 or log on to MyFloridaCFO.com.

In July, CFO Sink revoked the license of a south Florida insurance agent and ordered him to pay a $40,000 fine for targeting senior citizens between the ages of 75 and 90, some suffering from dementia, for the sale of unsuitable annuity products. In one instance, Joseph John Ripa, 48, convinced an 83-year-old retiree seeking supplemental retirement income to invest his entire liquid net worth in an equity indexed annuity that provided no immediate income and carried 13 years of surrender charges as high as 17 percent.

Ripa was aware that the products he was selling were unsuitable for the seniors he targeted, but concealed that fact by failing to disclose to his clients the applicable surrender charges and penalties, along with other potentially harmful features of the products.


CFO SINK ANNOUNCES MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME FAIRS
Fairs to be held in Pensacola, Tampa, and Ft. Lauderdale

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced the My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program will partner with local government and non-profit organizations and businesses to hold fairs in three Florida cities with the intent of raising awareness about the MSFH program’s safety and financial incentives. The series of fairs will take place from September to November in Pensacola, Tampa, and Ft. Lauderdale and will be free to the public.

“It is my hope the My Safe Florida Home fairs will help raise awareness among Floridians about the program’s safety and financial incentives,” said CFO Sink who oversees the Department of Financial Services which runs the MSFH program. “In addition to learning how safe your home is against storms, this program has helped save many homeowners an average of $154.51 a month on their wind insurance premiums through free hurricane inspections.”

The first MSFH fair will take place in Pensacola on Saturday, September 15, 2007, at the Pensacola Civic Center from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. The Pensacola fair is being co-hosted by the Gulf Power Corporation, the Escambia County Commission, and WEAR-TV and will feature over 50 exhibitors. The Tampa Bay area MSFH fair, co-hosted by the City of Clearwater will take place at the Harborview Center and Coachman Park in Clearwater on Saturday, September 29, 2007 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. On Saturday, November 3, 2007, the third MSFH fair will take place in Ft. Lauderdale at the Broward County Community College from 10 a.m. – 4p.m.

Insurance company representatives will be on hand at the fairs to assist homeowners in understanding which hurricane-resistance measures will best protect their homes, and how they can apply for discounts on their insurance premiums. By law, insurance companies are required to offer policyholders discounts on the wind-coverage portion of their homeowner policy premiums for specific measures that reduce their homes’ exposure to windstorm damage. Homeowners are encouraged to bring insurance documentation to obtain information on possible insurance savings through the program.

Products will be displayed throughout the day to highlight methods and procedures homeowners can use to make their homes safer. All exhibits and workshops are free.  Representatives from CFO Sink’s office will also be on hand to assist eligible homeowners apply for MSFH free inspections or grants.

To date, the MSFH program has completed 89,268 inspections. More than 106,000 Florida homeowners have signed up for free wind inspections through the program, signifying the program has exceeded 25 percent of its long-term goal of 400,000 free wind inspections in the next two years.

Any Floridian who lives in a single-family, site-built home is eligible for a free wind inspection through the MSFH program, which helps Floridians identify how they can strengthen their homes and reduces the overall potential for hurricane damage in our state. Floridians can apply on-line at www.MySafeFloridaHome.com or by calling the program toll-free at 1-866-513-6734. Homeowners who receive free wind inspections through the MSFH program will receive a detailed inspection report, complete with additional information on estimated insurance premium discounts, if insurance information is provided at the time they applied.

Additionally, some Florida homeowners receiving free wind inspections may be eligible for matching grant reimbursements of up to $5,000 to make recommended improvements. To be eligible, the Legislature requires that homeowners: have received a completed wind inspection after May 1, 2007; live in a single-family, site-built home built before March 1, 2002; have a valid homestead exemption; have an insured value of $300,000 or less; and be located in the wind-borne debris region. Additionally, while the free wind inspections will still cover seven potential wind-resistance improvements, matching grants may only be applied to opening protections, including windows, exterior doors and garage doors, as well as the bracing of gable ends.


REP. GRANT DELIVERS TWO CHECKS FROM THE MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME PROGRAM TO PORT CHARLOTTE RESIDENTS WEDNESDAY
CFO Sink urging more Floridians to sign up at www.MySafeFloridaHome.com

On behalf of Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and the My Safe Florida Home program, Representative Michael Grant D-71 (R)  personally delivered two matching grant reimbursements, one for $5,000 and the other for $4,863.43 to two Port Charlotte homeowners who hardened her home through the state’s My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program.

Doug and Judith Kaff, both 66 year-old Real Estate Agents of Port Charlotte, received grant reimbursements Wednesday installing opening protections. After having their home inspected by a MSFH inspector, the Kaff’s received a report indicating that installing permanently deployed protection to her windows and replacing the garage door would help harden her home to hurricanes. Through the program’s grant reimbursement of up to $5,000, the Kaff’s were able to afford improvements to protect their home.

Paul and Jane Suttner, both 74 year-old retirees of Port Charlotte, received a grant reimbursement Wednesday after hardening their garage door, windows and doors. Upon receiving their inspections report, the Suttner’s decided to reinforce their garage door, add shutters to all the windows on their home and add accordion doors. After all the improvements were made, the Suttner’s were reimbursed for half the cost of improvements, totaling $4,863.43.

“Mitigation is the best way to protect your home, it will reduce the state’s exposure to hurricane damage and can result in savings on your wind insurance premium,” said CFO Sink who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “I encourage more Floridians to follow the Kaff’s and Suttner’s lead and sign up for their free wind inspections through the My Safe Florida Home program.” 

“This program will help families do twice as much work for half the cost,” said Rep. Grant. “It will save your property if another storm strikes, and save you money on insurance premiums right away.”

The MSFH program resumed offering wind inspections and expanded statewide after conducting a pilot program during the previous year. Since April 2007, the MSFH program has performed over 86,000 free wind inspections. From the 14,289 homes inspected during the program’s original pilot phase, 5,839 homeowners are eligible for matching grants and are working with the MSFH program to harden their homes. Statewide, the program has issued a grand total of more than 890 grants to homeowners for a total of $2.8 million.

Currently, there are 328 homeowners in Charlotte County, 433 homeowners in Lee County and 468 homeowners in Sarasota County hardening their homes through the MSFH program. These homeowners are being reimbursed for half the cost up to $5,000 on a variety of home improvements, including hurricane shutters, reinforced garage doors and roof enhancements.

MSFH also partners with the Volunteer Florida Foundation (VFF) to provide mitigation, at no cost, to the homes of lower-income Floridians (those earning 80 percent or less than the Annual Median Income.) To date, VFF has completed work on 583 homes in Florida.

Any Floridian who lives in a single-family, site-built home is eligible for a free wind inspection through the program. Floridians can apply on-line at www.MySafeFloridaHome.com or by calling the program toll-free at 1-866-513-6734. Homeowners who receive free wind inspections through the MSFH program will receive a detailed inspection report, complete with additional eligibility information on matching grants and estimated insurance premium discounts, if the homeowner is eligible.

In order to be eligible for the program’s matching grant reimbursements of up to $5,000, the Legislature requires that homeowners meet the following requirements: have received a completed wind inspection after May 1, 2007; live in a single-family, site-built home built before March 1, 2002; have a valid homestead exemption; have an insured value of $300,000 or less; and be located in the wind-borne debris region.


SENATOR ARONBERG DELIVERS $5,000 CHECK FROM THE MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME PROGRAM TO FT. MYERS RESIDENT WEDNESDAY
Sink urging more Floridians to sign up at www.MySafeFloridaHome.com

On behalf of Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and the My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program, Senator Dave Aronberg (D), D-27, personally delivered a matching grant reimbursement for $5,000 to a Ft. Myers homeowner who hardened her home through the state’s MSFH program.

“Mitigation is the best way to protect your home, it will reduce the state’s exposure to hurricane damage and can result in savings on your wind insurance premium,” said CFO Sink who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “I encourage more Floridians to follow Ms. Renosis’ lead to sign up for free wind inspections through the My Safe Florida Home program.” 

Lorraine Renosis, a 58-year-old artist and former teacher in Ft. Myers, received a grant reimbursement Wednesday after installing opening protections. Renosis reached out to the program because of the damages her home sustained during Hurricane Charley. After having her home inspected by a MSFH inspector, Renosis received a report indicating that replacing all of her home’s windows with high-impact glass would help harden her home to hurricanes. Through the program’s matching grant reimbursement of up to $5,000, Renosis was able to afford replacing all 14 windows in her home for a total cost of about $14,000.

“As a State Senator who represents much of Southwest Florida, I urge all my constituents to take advantage of the My Safe Florida Home program,” said Sen. Dave Aronberg (D-Greenacres). “Although Alex Sink and I cannot prevent hurricanes from hitting Florida, we will continue to promote incentives to strengthen our state’s homes,” said Sen. Aronberg. “With the state’s help, a small investment today can save homeowners plenty down the road.”

The MSFH program resumed offering wind inspections and expanded statewide after conducting a pilot program during the previous year. Since April 2007, the MSFH program has performed over 86,000 free wind inspections. From the 14,289 homes inspected during the program’s original pilot phase, 5,839 homeowners are eligible for matching grants and are working with the MSFH program to harden their homes. Statewide, the program has issued a grand total of more than 890 grants to homeowners for a total of $2.8 million.

Currently, there are 41 homeowners in Collier County, 81 homeowners in Lee County, 152 homeowners in Charlotte County and 1 homeowner in Hendry County hardening their homes through the MSFH program.

These homeowners are being reimbursed for half the cost up to $5,000 on a variety of home improvements, including hurricane shutters, reinforced garage doors and bracing gable ends.

MSFH also partners with the Volunteer Florida Foundation (VFF) to provide mitigation, at no cost, to the homes of lower-income Floridians (those earning 80 percent or less than the Annual Median Income.) To date, VFF has completed work on 583 homes in Florida.

Any Floridian who lives in a single-family, site-built home is eligible for a free wind inspection through the program. Floridians can apply on-line at www.MySafeFloridaHome.com or by calling the program toll-free at 1-866-513-6734. Homeowners who receive free wind inspections through the MSFH program will receive a detailed inspection report, complete with additional eligibility information on matching grants and estimated insurance premium discounts, if the homeowner is eligible.

In order to be eligible for the program’s matching grant reimbursements of up to $5,000, the Legislature requires that homeowners meet the following requirements: have received a completed wind inspection after May 1, 2007; live in a single-family, site-built home built before March 1, 2002; have a valid homestead exemption; have an insured value of $300,000 or less; and be located in the wind-borne debris region.


FINANCIAL LITERACY COUNCIL WILL HOLD CONFERENCE CALL MEETING

In an ongoing effort to increase financial literacy and help Floridians make better Financial decisions, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is convening the fourth meeting of the legislatively-created Financial Literacy Council. The council will meet via conference call on Wednesday, September 12, 2007, from 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

Authorized in 2006 by House Bill 825, the council was created to study the financial problems that affect consumers, particularly young people, seniors, working adults and small business owners, which arise from a lack of basic knowledge of financial issues. The council will also develop recommendations and raise funds to develop programs and resources aimed at increasing financial literacy among Floridians.

The following are the Financial Literacy Council members: Paul Auslander, CFP, President, American Financial Advisors; James R. De Santis, Executive Director, Florida Council on Economic Education; Liana Fernandez Fox, Ph.D., Professor, Hillsborough Community College; Richard George, President, Junior Achievement of West Central Florida; Cassandra J. Grayson, Sr. Vice President of Administration, Florida Credit Union League; Doug Heinlen, Member of Florida Executive Council, American Association of Retired Persons; Deidre Newton, President and CEO, Community Real Estate Services, Inc.; Obdulio Piedra, Miami-Dade Market President, Great Florida Bank; Dulce M. Suarez-Resnick, Senior Account Manager, HBA Insurance Group.

The fourth meeting of the Financial Literacy Council will be as follows:

DATE: Wednesday, September 12, 2007
TIME: 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
DIAL-IN INFORMATION: (850) 413-1591 in Tallahassee
(888) 325-4357 outside Tallahassee
Conference Call ID 236026


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