By William Rabb 

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Dan Alexander has seen the worst of the Florida property insurance market from the inside-out – from agents who’ve quit to carriers that have gone insolvent or stopped writing new business, to having to manage policyholders that are mad at the world over soaring premiums.

“We’re working harder now than at any time I can remember,” said Alexander, vice president of Thompson Baker Agency in St. Augustine, one of Florida’s oldest agencies. “Anytime you have all that’s going on in Florida now, it creates a workload on staff that’s unbelievable.”

In the last six months, Alexander has had three commercial lines producers and one personal lines agent resign due to the workload and the constantly shifting property insurance landscape. As Florida carriers have gone out of business or have drastically curtailed the types of properties they’ll write, it’s meant a mad scramble at times. For one $80 million commercial site, for example, Alexander for years was able to secure coverage with only two carriers.

Alexander (FAIA)

“This year, it took eight carriers to cover the whole property,” said Alexander, who has been in the business for 31 years. “One would write one building but not the others and so on.” On top of that, the total premium jumped by 50%.

Alexander’s agency is not alone.

Other Florida agency heads said that the turbulence in the Sunshine State, along with the nationwide retirement of older staff, plus mergers and acquisitions and the challenges of having more people work from home, has made for an insurance environment unlike any other.

“I’m doing all I can just to keep people on board now,” said Tim Castle, president of Mynatt Insurance in Sarasota. “The turnover has been terrible, so I really kiss my people’s butts now.”

When one new staff member complained that she couldn’t keep up with the increasing load, GreatFlorida Insurance agency owner Gordon Gillespie had little sympathy.

“I said, ‘Yes, you can, because I’ve been having to do it all by myself for months,’” he said.

For many agencies in Florida, the challenge of keeping producers and staff on board has been aggravated by the continued growth of Citizens Property Insurance, the state-created insurer of last resort. Thanks to Citizens’ lower rates in many parts of the state, policyholders have flocked there. The corporation reports that it is picking up almost 30,000 policies per month and will top 1 million policies in force in just a few months.

But Citizens’ commissions paid to agents are usually 5.5%, compared to as much as 10% for other property insurers. That’s little incentive to keep overworked producers in the industry, agency heads said.

The Florida Association of Insurance Agents did not have data on the number of agents and staff that have left the insurance business in the last year. But the Florida Department of Financial Services’ licensee search page shows that so far this year, most numbers are down: The number of agencies licensed from Jan. 1 to July 10 this year was 2,551, down from 2,562 for the same period in 2021.

The number of licenses issued in the property/casualty business dropped, from 14,672 to 14,093. And the tally of customer representatives licensed so far this year is slightly less than the same time frame in 2021.

And it’s not just Florida that’s feeling the heat.

Big I, the national association of independent agents, said its nationwide survey of employment trends, done every two years, won’t be published until later this year. But anecdotally, some agencies around the country appear to be struggling to keep staffers on board.

“Nearly every agency I hear from tells us they need new employees, from customer service reps to producers,” said Chris Boggs, vice president of agent development, research and education at Big I.

The effects of the so-called Great Resignation, an employee exodus brought on in part by the coronavirus pandemic, may not have had the impact on insurance agencies that many feared it would. Retirements, along with mergers and acquisitions, seem to have had more effect, paring down the workforce for some. And some remaining employees don’t like being owned by a large corporation, Boggs said.

“There is an incredible need for new talent in the agency market,” he said. “I don’t credit the Great Resignation for this because the warning about the coming ‘talent hole’ existed long before COVID and current market conditions.”

All of the changes have forced agencies to focus more on recruiting and retention.

Boggs (Linkedin)

“Talent recruitment has been a priority for independent agencies for many years prior to the pandemic primarily due to retirements in the independent agent system, M&A activity, and competition for top talent from colleges, community colleges, and high schools,” said Bob Rusbuldt, president of Big I. “Much of the flight in the IA system appears to be within it, not from it – agency to agency, not from an agency to another industry. Remote work and technology have been a catalyst for personnel moving one from agency to another.”

The shortage of talent has prompted some agencies to go with the flow and hire people from out of state, Alexander said. But the virtual reality has created other headaches because it appears to have made it harder to reach some carriers’ representatives in a timely manner.

“On umbrella policies, we used to get a quote back in 24 hours, every time,” said Alexander, a former chairman at FAIA. “Now, a lot of times, you can’t get a phone call returned or an email answered for a couple of days it seems like.”

Relief may not come any time soon. Four Florida property carriers in 2022 have been declared insolvent and 12 have stopped writing new business in the state, forcing agents to find new carriers for thousands of customers. Other carrier insolvencies and pullbacks are expected this year and next, despite new Florida laws adopted in May that aimed to reduce reinsurance costs for some carriers, curtail fraudulent roof claims and limit claims litigation.

“It’s going to be a tough business for a while, I’m afraid,” Alexander said.