by Julie Furst
Something pretty special happened this week. Some meetings. Wait, what? When hearing the word 'special,' meetings rarely make even the bottom of the list. But hear me out.
Agent volunteers from every corner of the state headed to Albany. Big I team members came in. Let's face it, January in Albany is not 80 and sunny. But though there for business, the rooms we shared were warm from the relationships built and a shared purpose. What makes these gatherings powerful are the people and each life experience they bring with them. I felt that strongly this week.
A peek at what I saw:
Strategic Planning Meeting - Through small breakout discussions and a large group conversation, we worked through what an independent agency will look like in 10 years and what our association needs to do to help you. Will IAs still be relevant? Yes, we predicted, but it will be different. We drafted supports to build or expand upon. Tools and one-on-one support for tech, attracting talent, helping perpetuate to the next generation, advocating for agencies with lawmakers and carriers.
Board meetings always begin with insights. Something thought-provoking to set the stage for our work together. Ted Walsh shared a pretty incredible video to kick us off this time. I loved the sentiment as much as I loved that this very successful man chose this message for the group. Positioned around a horseshoe table, the board is engaged in constant discussion. This agent board steers the direction of the association. I'm happy to say they're proud of what we do and wish more agencies understood all the fantastic resources available to them.
Our Legislative Meet & Greet was...magic. Filled with lawmakers, we put faces to the people we advocate for. And they listened and asked questions. When you hear the word 'insurance,' we shared, don't just think of it as all big companies; remember, our industry is full of local businesses trying to do the best for their community. We learned about the lawmakers too. Some are new in their positions, eager to understand, with hopes to make a difference. Every time I'm there, I still feel wowed looking at the capitol building.
View from my room
Meeting us for dinner were two past board chairs, Andy Kaufman and Chris Brassard. They were greeted like great friends you hadn't seen in a while, with big hugs and huge smiles. The connection clearly doesn't fade. 30 of us were gathered around three candlelit tables in the loft of a small Italian restaurant steps from the capitol. We shared stories of families and beginnings, passions, and laughter. There were stories of survival and triumph, challenges, traditions with grandkids, and adventures. We were authentically interested in each other. It showed as I looked around the room.
These people, meeting together, form our community. Your community. And when we share space, share thoughts, and build on each other's ideas, it's special.
Every week you experience different collections of people. Many different little groups through work, hobbies, family, or friends. Take a moment as often as you can to see each individual you encounter as a person, as the sum of many unique experiences, talents, and fears, and try to connect.
Big I New York members have been calling to ask what we know about the situation with Florida-based insurer UPC. Based on publicly available information, this is what we know for certain right now.
- UPC is the brand name for the companies in the group United Insurance Holdings Corp. The group includes Interboro Insurance Company, which is domiciled in New York.
- United Property & Casualty Insurance Company, domiciled in Florida, is licensed to write personal and commercial property insurance in seven states, including Florida and New York. The other five are on either the Atlantic or Gulf coasts.
- UPC has incurred losses exceeding $35 million in each year going back to at least 2018. The company lost more than $151 million in the first nine months of 2022, up from more than $59 million in the same period of 2021. The net loss in the third quarter of 2022 was nearly as great as the loss for the first nine months of 2021. Underwriting actions including non-renewals, moratoria on writing new business, and withdrawals from state marketplaces have not helped.
- Policyholders’ surplus dropped by two-thirds between the end of 2021 and September 30, 2022, from $169.2 million to $56.9 million.
- The group’s stock price has ranged from $0.29 to $4.22 per share in the last 52 weeks; it currently sells for $1.75.
- UPC does not have an A.M. Best financial strength rating. Demotech, another company that evaluates the financial strength of insurers, withdrew its rating last August.
- Interboro, on the other hand, continues to enjoy an “A” financial strength rating from Demotech. Its policyholders’ surplus was $25.4 million at the end of the third quarter of 2022, down from $34 million at the end of 2020.
- UPC filed a plan of runoff with the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation last November. Its policies in all states will be canceled as of May 31, 2023. The OIR and the company agreed to the plan in December. UPC is under administrative supervision by the OIR. This permits the company to remain solvent while paying claims as it exits markets.
- Interboro continues to write and renew personal lines policies in New York.
Any policies you may have with UPC will be either non-renewed or canceled between now and May 31. Policies you have with Interboro should remain unaffected.
On January 10th, in the Assembly Chamber, Governor Kathy Hochul delivered her second State of the State Address. In her address, the Governor declared, “the state of our state is strong." Throughout her speech, the Governor outlined her various priorities for the upcoming Legislative Session, which she is calling the “Achieving the New York Dream," Agenda.
Some of the priorities she mentioned in her speech include increasing housing in the State, raising the minimum wage, expanding access to mental health services and child care services, continuing to work on meeting the State's climate goals, and potential changes to New York's bail laws. The Governor also released her 2023 State of the State Book, which provides more details on her agenda, as well as proposals that were not specifically mentioned in her speech. Some of the highlights from the State of the State Book include:
- A “New York Housing Compact" Strategy to address New York's housing crisis by building 800,000 new homes over the next decade;
- A transformational plan to strengthen mental health care, which includes increasing capacity for inpatient psychiatric treatment by 1,000 beds and adding 3,500 housing units to serve individuals with mental illness;
- Major public safety initiatives and investments to drive down gun violence and violent crime;
- Raising the minimum wage annually and index it to inflation;
- A Cap-and-Invest Program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change;
- $165 million in relief to more than 800,000 utility customers; and
- A plan to make child care more affordable, accessible, and fair in New York.
The State of the State book includes several proposals of interest to independent agents:
- A comprehensive lead poisoning primary prevention program, with specific focus on preventing lead exposure in rental housing. The proposal would mandate inspections of pre-1980 housing, remediation if lead hazards are discovered, and state funding to defray the costs to landlords. Notably, the proposal does not include a ban on the use of lead paint exclusions in habitational coverage. We have long opposed a ban on such exclusions, and urged policymakers to focus on proven prevention strategies, such as Governor Hochul has proposed.
- Improving the customer experience by reducing bureaucratic “friction" that imposes a time tax on New Yorkers. While light on specific details, this broad directive could be a vehicle for the inclusion of photo inspection reform and the replacement of the DMV IIES system with a modern online verification system.
These proposals will be fleshed out with specific legislative language in the coming weeks, then will go through two rounds of amendments during February. Both houses of the legislature will then release their own budgets, and legislative leaders and the Governor will negotiate a final budget, which is due by April 1st.
We will continue to watch the budget process closely and keep you updated.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced last week that it has purchased $502.5 million in reinsurance from 18 carriers on potential flood insurance losses during 2023. The coverage will apply to portions of insured losses that exceed $7 billion from a single flood event.
This is the seventh consecutive year that FEMA has purchased reinsurance on the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP.) FEMA paid $90.2 million in premium for the coverage.
Read more on the FEMA website
Employers in debt to the New York State Insurance Fund (NYSIF) may now be able to arrange installment payment plans to settle what they owe, under a law that took effect last summer. If you insure any businesses with outstanding premiums due to NYSIF, you may be able to help them pay off their balances.
State law makes an employer who has not paid its billed premium and assessments to NYSIF ineligible to purchase another policy. It also states that NYSIF is not required to offer insurance to an employer at least partly owned by someone who has an outstanding premium debt to it. The amendment to that law gives NYSIF new discretion regarding these employers.
The bill was sponsored by State Sen. Jessica Ramos, Democrat and Working Families Party member of Queens, and then-Assemblywoman (now Senator) Nathalia Fernandez, Democrat of Bronx and Westchester Counties, at NYSIF’s request. It passed the state Senate and Assembly unanimously last May and was signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul on June 30. It took effect immediately.
The amendment permits NYSIF to issue a new policy to either type of employer by consenting to a payment plan for the employer to pay off the unpaid balance. The employer must meet four conditions:
- Any uncompleted required payroll audits or self-audits must be completed at the time the new policy is issued
- The employer’s prior payment and policy history must meet NYSIF’s underwriting standards
- Before a new policy is issued, the employer must demonstrate the ability to pay the deposit premium on the new policy and first installment of the past-due premium payment plan
- NYSIF must be satisfied that the employer has the ability to pay both the overdue balance and the premium payments on the new policy within 12 months from when the new policy is issued.
The final payment on the overdue balance is due within 12 months from when the new policy is issued. If the employer defaults on either the overdue balance payment plan or the premium due on the new policy, NYSIF can cancel the new policy. If that happens, the employer is ineligible for NYSIF coverage until all overdue amounts are paid off.
A law that took effect January 1 requires all New York automobile insurance policies to include supplemental spousal liability insurance coverage. Insureds may opt out of purchasing the coverage. Big I New York members should prepare now to begin informing their personal and commercial auto insurance clients of this change.
The measure, sponsored by former Assembly Insurance Committee Chair Kevin Cahill (Democrat from Kingston,) passed the State Assembly by a vote of 110 to 39 on May 31, 2022. The State Senate approved it the following day by a vote of 60 to 3. Gov. Kathy Hochul signed it into law on December 23 on the condition that the two houses would immediately enact amendments pushing back the effective date and permitting it to expire.
Supplemental spousal liability insurance is coverage for an insured's legal liability for the death of or injuries to a spouse, even where the injured spouse must prove the other spouse's culpable conduct before recovering damages. It applies only to primary auto liability coverage, not to umbrella liability coverage. We have not heard of instances where one spouse sued another, but the coverage could become important when an insurer for another driver pays for damages and subrogates against the insured driver. It might also become important in relation to a supplementary uninsured/underinsured motorist claim.
Previous law required insurers to offer the coverage to all insureds at the inception of new policies and on renewals. Industry data standards setting organization ACORD published a form in 2003, ACORD 65 NY (2003/01), to enable documentation of the insured’s acceptance or rejection of the coverage.
The amended law strikes the requirement that the insured must make a written request for the coverage. It now says that every insurer issuing or delivering an automobile liability policy that meets New York requirements must provide the coverage unless the insured “elects, in writing and in such form as the superintendent (of financial services) determines, to decline and refuse (the) coverage.” All new and renewal policies must inform the insured of this.
The law took effect on January 1, 2023. However, the governor signed it on the condition that the legislature would change the effective date to later in the year and make the change expire at a future date. “I recognize the importance of this legislation, and have reached an agreement with the Legislature to move back its effective date in order to give the Department of Financial Services adequate time to update its regulations and forms in order to fully comply with the requirements created by this legislation,” she wrote. “The agreement also includes a sunset date at which time the law can be re-authorized, consistent with how the State has handled other supplemental insurance provisions.”
A law taking effect in March adds new restrictions to homeowners insurers’ ability to underwrite breeds of dogs residing in a home or apartment. The law, which builds on one that took effect a year ago, effectively requires insurers to provide liability coverage at full policy limits for most dogs regardless of breed.
The New York State Assembly approved the bill last March by a vote of 115 to 32, and the Senate followed in May by a vote of 49 to 13. Gov. Kathy Hochul signed it into law on December 15, 2022.
Previously, insurers were prohibited from:
- Refusing to issue or renew
- Cancelling, or
- Surcharging a rate or premium
based solely on the breed of a dog in the household.
The amended law, which applies to policies issued, renewed, modified, altered or amended on and after March 15, 2023, further prohibits insurers from:
- Restricting, or
- Reducing coverage
based on dog breed.
The law applies to homeowners and renters insurance policies. It also applies to commercial policies insuring one- to four-family dwellings if the named insured is an actual person and not an organization such as a limited liability company or a corporation.
Be aware that after March 14, your carriers will no longer be able to add exclusions or sub-limits to the liability coverage in any of these types of policies based solely on dog breeds.
We are knee-deep in 2023. This is the time of year when Big I NY gets a lot of questions from members about what they have to do to comply with the Cybersecurity Requirements For Financial Services Companies regulation. Though the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) has proposed a number of changes to that regulation, none of them are in effect yet. Therefore, your obligations are the same this year as they were last year.
Here are answers to the questions we get most frequently:
- The agency must complete and submit the online Certification of Compliance to the DFS between now and April 15.
- Agencies that fail to submit the Certification of Compliance by April 15 may be subject to fines by the DFS.
- Licensed agency employees who are covered by the agency's cybersecurity program (which is likely all of them) are not required to submit a Certification of Compliance.
- Instructions on how to complete the Certification of Compliance are available on our website and also on the DFS website.
- This is the sixth year that agencies have been required to submit the certification, so Big I New York will not provide phone assistance with completing it this year.
- The agency is not required to re-submit the Notice of Exemption unless it has grown too large to qualify for the limited exemption.
- Licensed agency employees are not required to re-submit the Notice of Exemption unless they have changed employers or names.
- DFS does not offer a way for the public to determine the exemption a specific licensed individual submitted.
Members can obtain our resources on how to comply with the regulation at any time at www.biginy.org/cyber. To learn about the changes that may be coming to the regulation, check out:
On January 4th, Assemblyman David Weprin (D, Queens) was named chair of the influential Assembly Insurance Committee. Weprin succeeds former chair Kevin Cahill (D, Kingston) who lost re-election in 2022.
Virtually all legislation affecting the insurance laws and regulations in NY must be approved by the Insurance Committee before a full vote of the Assembly can be taken. As such, it is one of the most important legislative committees to our industry.
Assemblyman Weprin represents the 24th Assembly District in Queens, the same district represented by his father, the late Assembly Speaker Saul Weprin, for 23 years and his brother Mark Weprin, for over 15 years. In 2017, Weprin was named Chair of the Assembly Committee of Correction. Prior to serving as the Chair of Committee on Correction, Weprin served as Chair of the Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities from 2014 – 2016.Weprin was also named Co-President of the National Association of Jewish Legislators in January 2017.
We congratulate Assemblyman Weprin on his new role as chair of the Insurance Committee, and look forward to working with him on the many issues facing our industry and customers.
For the first time ever, New York has won the coveted “Presidents Cup", awarded to the state whose past presidents contribute the most to InsurPac. Additionally, New York shattered its annual InsurPac fundraising goal, raising nearly $53,000. Nationally, InsurPac reached an all-time record high of $1.27 million, making it one of the largest small business political action committees in the nation.
We wish to thank each and every agent who generously contributed to InsurPac in 2022. We also extend our deep gratitude to all our past presidents who went above and beyond this year. Your support is critical to making the Big “I" a force to be reckoned with in Washington, D.C.