Friday, April 20, 2018
Opinion

Citizens' highly skilled team delivers top service to Floridians

Editor's note: Carlos Lacasa, chairman of the Board of Governors for the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp., writes in response to "No austerity at the top for Citizens,'' Feb. 18.

Would it surprise you to learn that Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has consistently received favorable audit opinions from independent external auditors and was recently found by the Office of Insurance Regulation to provide customer service that is among the best in the state?

Did you know that Citizens has the fourth-lowest rate of claims-related complaints among Florida insurers, according to the auditor general?

Have you heard that the company has received an A+ from the highly respected Weiss Ratings for its financial strength, making it one of only four Florida homeowners insurers to earn a "recommended" rating?

You probably haven't heard these facts, which are a testament to Citizens' financial strength and sound internal governance because, as a company that does not seek to attract customers, Citizens does not go out of its way to advertise its successes. Instead, we prove our worth by providing quality customer service and by making sure we are ready and prepared to pay claims when the next major hurricane hits Florida.

So, why am I pointing out these achievements now?

I recently read with dismay and regret another article that seeks to tear down the efforts of hardworking staff at an organization that provides an important service to more than 1.2 million property owners with nowhere else to turn for their insurance needs. And while I would be the first to say there are many things Citizens can do and is doing to tighten its belt, I cannot help but be disappointed by the lack of context provided in what should be an objective article about employee compensation.

While it is true that a few top employees received raises in late 2012, it was not reported that the raises were largely due to those employees taking on significant increases in their responsibilities following the elimination of a key leadership position. The raises also followed three straight years of no merit raises and were accompanied by a decrease to benefits in the form of increased health insurance premiums and higher co-pays.

The article also failed to mention that, even with these raises, a recent independent pay parity study found that the salaries of Citizens' leadership rank in the bottom 25 percent of comparable private companies. This is why Citizens has lost three of its top people in the past three months alone. Their institutional expertise and knowledge will be hard to replace, while the cost of recruiting, hiring and training their replacements will far outweigh the cost of having provided modest raises on a regular basis.

The hard fact is that although Citizens may function as a public entity, it has to compete with private insurance carriers for a limited pool of qualified and proven professionals. The few professionals who have the high degree of technical expertise and training necessary to deliver proven results are highly sought after and competitively recruited with salaries, benefits packages and performance bonuses that Citizens could never come close to meeting.

While a certain level of salary discrepancy is appropriate given Citizens' public mission, we must draw the line at the point where we are no longer able to attract and retain the competent professionals necessary to successfully run Florida's largest single homeowners insurer and manage its nearly $418 billion in exposure. Remember, it will be Florida's taxpayers who will ultimately pay the price via assessments if Citizens doesn't have the expertise necessary to prepare for and properly administer claims following the next major hurricane.

Citizens customers pay insurance premiums just like everyone else in Florida. In return, they deserve and demand the same quality of service. To provide that, Citizens must attract and retain leaders and employees who are at the top of their fields, are willing to work for far less than their counterparts in the private sector and can function under the public microscope.

The 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons taught all Floridians that it costs far more to be underskilled and understaffed than it does to pay a fair salary to professionals at the top of their fields. Citizens responded to that lesson by hiring superb leaders to dramatically improve our operations.

Although I hope we never get hit by a hurricane, I know that when we do, Citizens will be ready to carry out its mission because we have invested in top-quality leaders and employees with the expertise and training necessary to get the job done.

Carlos A. Lacasa is chairman of the Board of Governors for Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-run property insurer.

Comments
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18
Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission has wasted months as a politically motivated scam masquerading as a high-minded effort to ask voters to improve the state’s fundamental document. The commission on Monday added amendments to the Nove...
Published: 04/16/18
Editorial: Redner’s court win on medical marijuana sends message

Editorial: Redner’s court win on medical marijuana sends message

Florida regulators have done far too little to make voter-approved medical marijuana widely available for patients suffering from chronic illnesses. A circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled last week there is a price for that obstruction, finding t...
Published: 04/15/18
Updated: 04/16/18