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

Volume 4, Number 39, September 28, 2007

Fellow Floridian:

It appears the Legislature will not take up the issue of Florida’s Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law in a special session set to begin next Wednesday.  This means that the No-Fault law, which for nearly four decades has required drivers to protect themselves and their passengers by buying personal injury protection coverage, will sunset after Monday.     

Floridians must contact their insurance agents to make sure they understand changes that may occur to their policies and the amount of coverage they will have after Monday. 

The Department of Financial Services has insurance consumer specialists ready to assist you with any questions or concerns you may have. Our statewide toll-free helpline, 1-800-342-2762, is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and information is also available at http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/NoFault/.

CFO Sink will continue to pursue options for ensuring drivers have the protections they need, but encourages Floridians to talk to their insurance agents to make sure they have the best possible coverage in the meantime. 


THE CLIMATE CHANGE PERIL THAT INSURERS SEE
By John Morrison and Alex Sink
Thursday, September 27, 2007; Page A25
Washington Post Op-Ed

Montana is burning again. This summer, some of the nation's worst wildfires incinerated homes, barns and fences, killing livestock and forcing families to evacuate. Wildfires have increased fourfold since the 1980s, and they are bigger and harder to contain because of earlier-arriving springs and hotter, bone-dry summers. Last year's fires broke records; this year could be worse. As courageous firefighters beat back the flames, insurance companies continue to pay out billions for wildfire losses across the West.

Meanwhile, Florida is bracing for the duration of the hurricane season even as rebuilding continues from the eight hurricanes that crisscrossed the Sunshine State in 2004 and 2005. Storms grow ever more intense: Since the 1970s, the number intensifying to Category 4 or 5 hurricanes has almost doubled, costing insurers tens of billions of dollars.

Montana and Florida are not the only states suffering huge insurance losses from natural disasters. Increasingly destructive weather -- including heat waves, hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, hailstorms and drought -- accounted for 88 percent of all property losses paid by insurers from 1980 through 2005. Seven of the 10 most expensive catastrophes for the U.S. property and casualty industry happened between 2001 and 2005.

Ten years ago, Peter Levene, chairman of Lloyds of London, was skeptical about global warming theories, but no longer. He believes carbon emissions caused by human activity are warming the Earth and causing severe weather-related events. "At Lloyds, we feel the effects of extreme weather more than most," he said in a March speech. "We don't just live with risk -- we have to pick up the pieces afterwards." Lloyds predicts that the United States will be hit by a hurricane causing $100 billion worth of damage, more than double that of Katrina. Industry analysts estimate that such an event would bankrupt as many as 40 insurers.

Lloyd's has warned: "The insurance industry must start actively adjusting in response to greenhouse gas trends if it is to survive." The Association of British Insurers has called on governments to "stem ominous weather related trends" by cutting carbon emissions. U.S.-based companies AIG and Marsh -- respectively, the largest insurer and broker -- have joined with other corporate leaders to urge Congress to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 60 to 80 percent by mid-century. AIG's policy statement on climate change "recognizes the scientific consensus that climate change is a reality and is likely in large part the result of human activities that have led to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere."

Marsh issued a similar statement, as did European insurance giants Swiss Re, Munich Re and Allianz. The chief research officer of Risk Management Solutions, an industry risk forecaster, responded to an April report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change by announcing that climate change is already increasing "financial losses from extreme weather catastrophes." A.M. Best, the historical voice of insurance, began a series in the August edition of Best's Review on the risks, regulatory issues and economic impact of climate change.

Nervous investors have begun asking insurers to disclose their strategies for dealing with global warming. At a meeting of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Andrew Logan, insurance director of the Ceres investor coalition, representing $4 trillion in market capital, warned that "insurance as we know it is threatened by a perfect storm of rising weather losses, rising global temperatures and more Americans living in harm's way." Ceres cites estimates that losses related to catastrophic weather have increased 15-fold in the U.S. property casualty industry in the past three decades.

Insurance companies are reacting. Some have simply abandoned catastrophe-prone markets or are jacking up rates. Other insurers have taken steps in the battle against climate change by offering premium incentives for "green" construction and hybrid cars, investing in companies that cut carbon emissions or develop clean energy, and offering "pay per mile" car insurance. Still others are reducing their own carbon footprints, promoting markets for carbon-credit trading and even moving to protect carbon-consuming forests.

Insurance companies make money by accurately assessing risk. For decades environmentalists have been sounding the alarm about global warming. Now major insurers are becoming engaged as they look after their own assets and those that they cover. Federal reluctance to commit to international agreements on climate change, or otherwise cap total carbon emissions, appears to be driven by influential businesses that fear the limitations will hurt their bottom lines. But the risk perceived by the insurance industry -- the world's largest economic sector -- may shift that political balance. At the least, it should tell us something.

John Morrison is the state auditor of Montana. Alex Sink is the chief financial officer of Florida. Both oversee state insurance departments and are members of the Climate Change Task Force of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.


CFO SINK: PUNTA GORDA RESIDENT RECEIVES SIX-FIGURE CHECK FROM UNCLAIMED PROPERTY
State is holding nearly 8 million accounts totaling more than $1 billion.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced that members of the Department of Financial Services, Bureau of Unclaimed Property (Bureau), returned a six-figure check to a Punta Gorda resident along with a reminder about the importance of regularly checking the Unclaimed Property Web site to determine if the state is holding assets that belong to you or your relatives.

“We work hard to reunite Floridians with their unclaimed assets,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the Bureau. “I encourage all Floridians to visit our Web site at www.FLTreasureHunt.org. With nearly eight million accounts, the chances are good we are holding cash or property for you or someone you know.”

Tom of Punta Gorda, who asked to be identified only by his first name, was contacted by his brother in Tennessee who uncovered that the state of Florida was holding more than $435,000 in unclaimed cash. The property, left unclaimed by their mother when she passed away, was mostly from mutual fund shares and dividends. Today, the Bureau divided and returned the cash to the brothers, for a total of $217,850 each.

Currently, there are 42,789 unclaimed property accounts for a total of $7.5 million in Collier County, 113,354 accounts for 17.8 million in Lee County, 38,289 accounts for $8.5 million in Charlotte County, 7,710 accounts totaling over $969,000 in Glades County, 9,544 accounts totaling over $1.2 million in Hendry County and 91,816 accounts totaling over $17.1 million in Sarasota County.

The Bureau receives items that have been abandoned in safe deposit boxes for at least three years and spends up to two years searching for the rightful owners or heirs. The Bureau has had tremendous success in finding owners. In the past year alone, the Bureau returned a record 255,000 accounts valued at more than $171 million. But when owners or heirs cannot be found, the items are auctioned. While the proceeds from the auctioned items are transferred to the state's Public School Trust Fund, the money is held in the original owner’s name and can be claimed for free at any time.

Since the program's inception 46 years ago, the Bureau has successfully reunited owners with more than $1 billion in unclaimed property. Over the past five years, the program has returned more than $546 million-- more than half of all the money returned since the beginning of the program-- due largely to aggressive efforts by the program to contact owners.

The Bureau is currently holding 7.8 million accounts, mostly from dormant accounts in financial institutions, unclaimed utility deposits, insurance benefits, premium refunds, uncashed checks and trust accounts, as well as watches, jewelry, coins, stamps and historical items from abandoned safe deposit boxes.

Unclaimed property can be claimed for free at any time by the rightful owners or heirs by logging on to www.FLTreasureHunt.org or by calling the Bureau at 1-88-VALUABLE. Until claimed, the unclaimed funds are transferred to the state’s School Trust Fund to benefit public schools. Since the program’s inception in 1961, more than $1.5 billion has been transferred to the fund.


MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME FAIR TO BE HELD IN THE TAMPA BAY AREA SATURDAY

CLEARWATER – Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced the My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program will partner with Tampa Bay Area non-profit organizations and businesses to hold a fair designed to raise awareness about the safety and financial incentives of wind mitigation.

The MSFH fair will take place at the Clearwater Harborview Center and adjacent Coachman Park on September 29, 2007, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The Department of Financial Services, which CFO Sink oversees, is hosting the fair along with the City of Clearwater. More than 60 hurricane-preparedness exhibits will be on display in the Harborview Center with an additional 20 exhibits in Coachman Park. All exhibits and workshops are free to the public.

The Tampa Bay Area My Safe Florida Home fair will be held:
DATE: Saturday, September 29, 2007
TIME: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
LOCATION: Harborview Center, 300 Cleveland St.                           Clearwater, Florida 33755

Representatives from the MSFH program will be on hand to sign up eligible homeowners for their free wind inspections. Recently, CFO Sink reported that homeowners who have received inspections from the MSFH program have learned they are already eligible for a discount on their wind insurance premiums. In Hillsborough County, 5,381 homeowners are eligible for discounts averaging $111.26; in Pinellas County 6,870 homeowners are eligible to save an average of $143.86; in Manatee County 1,683 homeowners are eligible to save an average of $189.64; and 2,137 homeowners in Sarasota County are eligible to save an average of $201.60.


STATE FIRE MARSHAL’S OFFICE PROVIDES FREE TRAINING FOR VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS

Volunteer firefighters from throughout Florida will converge this weekend in Valparaiso to get the latest training on firefighting and investigative techniques dealing with potential manmade and natural threats.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who also serves as State Fire Marshal and oversees the Florida State Fire College, said the annual Florida Volunteer Firefighter Weekend ensures Florida’s volunteer firefighters have access to regular training to help them better protect their communities and themselves. The event begins on Friday, September 28, 2007, and continues through Sunday, September 30, 2007. Most events will be held at Lewis Middle School, 281 Mississippi Ave., in Valparaiso, just outside the East Gate to Eglin Air Force Base.

“Our goal is to protect the lives of Floridians, especially our firefighters who work hard to protect our families, homes and communities,” said CFO Sink. “We do all that we can to make sure they get back to the firehouse and their families safely after every call.”

Classes will be offered in Emergency Vehicle Operations, Calling the Mayday, Search & Rescue Techniques, Firefighter Safety, and a host of other subjects. For a complete list see www.nwflvolunteerffweekend.com.

This free training is made available through the cooperation of local fire departments, the Florida State Fire College, and the Florida Fire and Emergency Services Foundation.


20 WAYS TO CELEBRATE FINANCIAL PLANNING WEEK  
October 1 through 7, 2007
From the Financial Planning Association Web page, http://www.fpanet.org
  1. Balance your checkbook.
  2. Make a monetary contribution to your favorite charity.
  3. Start a savings account for a child, vacation or a gift for yourself.
  4. Help teach your children how to save and spend wisely.
  5. Get your estate in order: create or revise your will and other estate planning documents.
  6. Call your financial planner and share your appreciation for their services.
  7. Pay off a credit card.
  8. Get a head start on college. Investigate college planning options.
  9. Establish an emergency fund.
  10. Evaluate your employee benefits and begin planning for open enrollment.
  11. Develop your holiday spending budget.
  12. Plan for year-end tax strategies.
  13. Purchase a relative, friend or colleague a session with a financial planner.
  14. Give a relative, friend or colleague a subscription to a personal finance magazine.
  15. Invite a financial planner to speak at your workplace.
    Review your insurance coverage.
  16. Write down your short-term and long-term financial goals.
  17. Keep these in a special place and revisit them periodically.
  18. Start using personal finance software to help you see where your money goes and how it grows.
  19. Choose three financial terms that have always baffled you and resolve to look them up and understand them.
  20. Talk to a relative about their plans for long-term care.

BROWARD COUNTY APARTMENT EXPLOSION RULED ACCIDENTAL

Detectives with the Division of State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations have determined that an explosion last Thursday at a Deerfield Beach apartment complex was an accidental fire that started in a propane gas line leading to a stove in a vacant apartment.

No life-threatening injuries were reported as a result of the early morning blast at the three-story Deerfield Beach Apartments, located at 1325 S.E. 8th Ave. in Deerfield Beach. Four apartments were burned as a result of the explosion, which detectives said occurred in apartment 303A. Property loss was estimated at $3 million.

“We are relieved that no one was seriously hurt in this explosion and thank all of the agencies involved for their quick response to this tragedy,” said Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who also serves as State Fire Marshal.

The Deerfield Beach Fire Department, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Bureau of Liquefied Petroleum Gas Inspection assisted with the investigation into the cause of the explosion.
 

Consumer Services Helpline (800) 342-2762
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