It goes without saying that individuals and associations alike need to be properly covered by insurance; that's just common sense.
It’s even more important for Floridians considering the propensity of inclement weather and dangerous wind storms and hurricanes that affect the Sunshine State on an annual basis. The wide variety of choices can make obtaining insurance coverage a daunting process. To help boards and HOAs navigate these options with minimal hassle, the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) with offices in Tampa and a corporate headquarters in Manhattan, has become a one-stop-shopping resource for information on all manner of insurance needs.
Purpose & History
With property and casualty premiums totaling a trillion dollars (that's trillion with a T) in 2010, plus an additional nearly $600 billion more in life insurance premiums, insurance is a huge business with scores of companies offering competing services. The Insurance Information Institute exists to simplify, clarify and aid premium payers. According to Michael Barry, the group's vice president of media relations, “I.I.I. is an insurance trade association that is funded by property casualty insurance. We specialize in homeowners, automobiles, and business insurance, as well as life insurance and annuities. We're here to communicate with the public on important issues related to insurance.”
The Institute's main office in Manhattan was founded over 50 years ago, and, it exists to provide aggregated information without bias. Throughout the group’s history, they have earned a reputation for fair reporting and accurate information, making them experts in the eyes of both state and federal governments, in addition to industry regulators and the public. According to Barry, the I.I.I. maintains this reputation is by not allowing their operation to become a political lobbying concern, focusing instead on presenting facts as straightforwardly as possible and allowing individuals to draw their own conclusions.
As a result of this credibility, I.I.I. has nearly 90 member insurance organizations, for whom many of which they provide media services, and each year, the I.I.I. works on more than 3,700 news stories on insurance and handles more than 6,000 requests for information. Major insurance companies, including Allstate, State Farm Insurance, Nationwide, Allstate, Travelers and USAA Worldwide, are among the industry members that rely on I.I.I.
The Institute’s Florida office is located in Tampa. Lynne McChristian is the organization’s Florida representative and she regularly writes blogs and liaises with the press on issues related to hurricane preparation and storm damage, claims regarding the Citizen’s Property Insurance Co. and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, and more. She works with consumer groups and the media to build knowledge and provide informational resources and analysis related to property/casualty insurance and life insurance.
Leadership & Outreach
Guiding the I.I.I. is Dr. Robert P. Hartwig, CPCU, who assumed the post when former president Gordon Stewart retired in 2006. Hartwig joined the organization in 1998 as an economist and became the group's chief economist a decade later. Since taking on the presidency, Dr. Hartwig has focused his work on improving understanding of key insurance issues across all industry stakeholders including media, consumers, insurers, producers, regulators, legislators and investors.
In support of these goals, the I.I.I. conducts programs, issues reports, provides statistics, and boils down complicated industry jargon into plain language for consumers, reporters, and others in the industry. By their own count, the I.I.I. receives over 50,000 questions from the general public annually. To address more common concerns, they have numerous books and pamphlets available for the general public and for companies. The titles are clear and helpful, such as 9 Ways to Lower Your Auto Insurance Costs and Insurance for Your House and Personal Possessions.
The I.I.I. also helps maintain the Washington, D.C.-based National Insurance Consumer Helpline (800-942-4242), a telephone service that is designed to aid any consumer with insurance needs. They are also accessible through various social media, like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube and Flickr.
In line with their goal of providing timely information, they have responded to the ferocious storm seasons of recent years with numerous news releases focusing on hurricane-related insurance issues and seminars designed to inform consumers in high-risk storm areas on the East Coast about preparing for storm season, making use of new media and communications in emergency action plans, and minimizing homeowners' exposure to storm-related damage.
The I.I.I. maintains a separate website (www.insuringflorida.org) chock full of insurance information for Florida-based consumers. The institute also issues a monthly digest of reports from a variety of sources, providing timely information to all those interested. You can find a wealth of hurricane facts and statistics. For example, seven of the 10 costliest hurricanes in U.S. history have impacted Florida and six of the storms affecting Florida occurred within just two years: 2004 and 2005.
The website even has articles on insuring golf carts in senior communities, what types of auto insurance to buy, choosing a hurricane deductible, tips on making your home more resistant to hurricane damage, information about Citizens Property Insurance Co., properly insuring your co-op or condo, and acquiring flood protection through the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
Information on the I.I.I. website is offered in both English and Spanish. For example, a new business can find a page asking basic questions starting with finding the right insurance agent, exactly what is covered with business owner policies, how to file claims, the need for workers compensation insurance and much more. Each question links the user to a page filled with the specific answers, complete with tips and suggested links. The advice is practical and in clear, concise language. A separate glossary section helps decipher some of the terms that can bring a policy owner to tears.
One of the most useful tools on the site is a directory of companies in specific fields, making the search for qualified insurance agents an easier one. Homeowners and insurers alike can access articles and papers written about current issues that they would not necessarily have access to any place else—things like how your credit score impacts your insurance premiums, what types of dogs are considered most high-risk for biting, and more.
The I.I.I. also offers free downloadable software from their auxiliary site, www.knowyourstuff.org that allows homeowners and renters to take inventory of their belongings. The website is also available as a mobile iPhone or Android app. Users can take digital photos of their insurable items and scan receipts for their records, which can speed the claims process and also insure that they get a really fair settlement.
Another important resource that I.I.I. offers is a series of video releases on subjects ranging from business and commercial insurance lines to workers compensation and consumer insurance. There are also audio podcasts available in both English and Spanish.
In Real Time
Beyond the web, I.I.I. offers numerous books and pamphlets for consumers and businesses. Their pamphlets are free if requested with a self-addressed stamped envelope. Bulk orders are available for businesses interested in sharing information. The topics in the pamphlets go from wood stove safety to fire safety tips for high-rise apartment owners. Several pamphlets are also available in Spanish, including one on common auto insurance issues.
“We’ve also been very active in the neighborhood housing service,” Barry continues. “We have a nationwide network of organizations [in the directory] that try to help people who need affordable housing, and help them buy insurance and understand what they need to make their homes more insurable.”
As the legal system redefines liability issues or state laws change insurance requirements, I.I.I. will remain vigilant in their pursuit of timely information. Complex issues will be made comprehensible to the small business owner, the homeowner or the corporate executive, taking some of the complexity out of a necessary part of life. For more information about the Sunshine State’s insurance landscape, visit www.insuringflorida.org.
Hannah Fons is an associate editor at The South Florida Cooperator. Robert Greenberger, a freelance writer living in Connecticut, contributed to this article.