Another Florida homeowners insurance company goes under

Article Courtesy of The News Service of Florida

By Jim Saunders

Published June 20, 2022


TALLAHASSEE — Saddled with financial losses and lacking reinsurance for this year’s hurricane season, another Florida property-insurance company is headed toward receivership.

The Florida Department of Financial Services late Monday filed a petition in Leon County circuit court to be appointed as a receiver for Southern Fidelity Insurance Co. The petition described Southern Fidelity, which has about 78,000 policies in Florida, as “insolvent.”

The move was the latest blow to the state’s troubled property-insurance market. Tallahassee-based Southern Fidelity became the fourth insurer declared insolvent since late February, following Lighthouse Property Insurance Corp., Avatar Property & Casualty Insurance Co. and St. Johns Insurance Co.

The petition, posted on the court website Wednesday, did not detail plans for replacement coverage for Southern Fidelity’s customers. But a June 3 document signed by state Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier said Southern Fidelity was trying to shift policies to other companies.

“Southern Fidelity has represented that it is in active negotiations with other property insurers to effectuate the transition of some or all of Southern Fidelity’s policies to that insurer as part of a wind-down plan,” Altmaier wrote in what is known as a consent order.

At least some policies likely will go to the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. which has seen its number of customers explode during the past two years as private insurers have shed policies and sought hefty rate increases.

As an example, Citizens Chief Operating Officer Kelly Booten said during a meeting last week that Citizens wrote about 13,000 policies for former customers of Avatar Property & Casualty Insurance Co., or about 39% of the policies Avatar had in the state.

As of May 31, Citizens had 883,333 policies, up from 463,247 policies two years earlier.

The Southern Fidelity petition came less than a month after state lawmakers held a special legislative session to try to shore up the property-insurance system. But the Southern Fidelity insolvency was not a surprise: The rating agency Demotech announced early this month that it had withdrawn the company’s financial-stability rating.

A final straw for insurance regulators was Southern Fidelity’s inability to purchase reinsurance by the June 1 start of the hurricane season. Reinsurance is critical backup coverage for insurers, but it has become more expensive and harder to find.

“Respondent’s lack of catastrophe reinsurance renders the continuation of its insurance business prospectively hazardous to its policyholders,” the petition said.

The petition said Southern Fidelity, which also has about 69,000 policies in Louisiana, South Carolina and Mississippi, agreed last week to the appointment of the Department of Financial Services as a receiver.

Altmaier notified state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis in a letter Friday, leading to the petition being filed Monday.