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Gilway column: Rebuilding the Citizens brand

A little over a year ago I was asked to take the reins of an organization that had taken a series of hits that severely undermined the confidence of the people of Florida.

As we enter the heart of the hurricane season and welcome a new chairman and board members, it is fitting that I give the customers of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and all Floridians a glimpse of how far we have come this year in our efforts to earn the public's trust.

Over the past year, Citizens has made many critical and long-overdue changes to the way we do business. Some are readily apparent, while others will take effect very soon. In all cases, the results have been good for our company, our employees, our policyholders and all Floridians.

Our most important action has been to improve transparency and rebuild the foundation at Citizens. I promised that the headline-grabbing actions of the past would not be tolerated under my watch. We immediately tightened travel and expense policies as part of an overarching self-examination that continues.

Spearheading this effort is a leadership team, including a new head of human resources and a new vice president for internal audit. They soon will be joined by a new chief financial officer and an inspector general.

We have a new ethics and compliance officer in place and more than a dozen high-caliber professionals in our newly restructured Office of Internal Audit. Together they provide the oversight capabilities needed for an organization with 1,300 employees and more than 1.2 million policyholders.

Citizens has reduced the risk of assessments in the event of a major storm by $6 billion compared to last year. We have done this through a series of prudent risk transfer efforts that have spread Florida's risk to an eager and increasingly cost-effective global market.

We have also experienced success in our depopulation program that has helped return policyholders to well-capitalized private market companies. In fact, our goal is to reduce Citizens' policy count to less than 1 million by year's end. That's down from 1.4 million when I took over a year ago.

While my marching orders are clear — to return as many policyholders to the private market as possible — that does not preclude us from providing top-notch service and catastrophe response to our policyholders. In fact, in an effort to meet the needs of policyholders when the private market is unable to do so, we reinstated certain coverages that were previously removed.

It is critical to give our customers superior service for as long as we provide their coverage. We're working to accomplish this by bolstering employee training and focusing on efficiencies including consolidating operations, improving data quality and updating our technology. In January, we launch a consumer clearinghouse that will help match qualified homeowners with private insurance carriers willing to provide superior coverage at comparable prices. To ensure all Floridians are aware of our efforts, we are leveraging the power of social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to expand our communication and provide timely, pertinent information to a new generation of customers.

We don't want to be the biggest insurer in Florida, but while I am here, we will continue to strive to provide quality service. After a year on the job, I reiterate my pledge that Citizens will continue its efforts to rebuild itself as a model of operational efficiency, customer service and ethical behavior of which all Floridians can be proud.

Barry Gilway is president/CEO and executive director of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

Gilway column: Rebuilding the Citizens brand 08/15/13 [Last modified: Thursday, August 15, 2013 5:13pm]
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