Q&A With Florida Commissioner Altmaier, an Agent Turned Regulator

April 24, 2017 by

Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier is just about to complete his first full year in the position since taking over for Kevin McCarty last May, and there hasn’t been a dull moment since he took the post.

Altmaier, 35, is one of the youngest insurance regulators in the country but his experience with the industry began more than 10 years ago as a young agent with Peggy Browning Insurance Agency in Tallahassee. He began working at OIR in 2008 as an examiner in the property/casualty oversight unit and quickly rose through the ranks to become chief analyst for that department in 2012 and director in 2014. In March, 2015 he was named OIR’s deputy commissioner for P/C.

Even with his experience at OIR and as an agent, filling the shoes of McCarty who served 13 years in the position was no easy task, and from workers’ compensation court rulings to rate increases to the state’s first hurricanes in 11 years, not to mention assignment of benefit’s abuse, Altmaier’s first full year has been a busy one.

In his first interview with Insurance Journal, conducted at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Insurance Summit in February, Altmaier discussed how he hopes to work with the insurance industry, and how his experience starting off as a young agent in the business prepared him for his current role.

Insurance Journal (IJ): You’ve almost completed your first full year as insurance commissioner, though you already worked at OIR so you had experience with the various hot topics. But now, as head of the department, what are some of your priorities?

David Altmaier: I have a view that our insurance consumers should have a marketplace that makes reliable insurance products available to them at affordable prices. My priority, throughout the course of our day‑to‑day regulatory activities, is looking for things that could potentially challenge that notion and determining what we can do to remove that challenge from the market so that consumers can still have access to those products…that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.

IJ: As a former insurance agent who worked for an insurance agency, you’re familiar with how the industry works. Have you found that useful in your new role and in working with consumers?

Altmaier: I would go further than useful. I would say that it’s been invaluable experience in my career as a regulator. The interesting part about working in the insurance agent’s office is that was my first taste of the insurance industry. My first lessons learned about insurance were learned through the perspective of the consumer. Everything from buying new insurance, whether it’d be auto, or home, or life, or long‑term care, to filing claims, to paying premiums, to questions about why the rates are going up; all of those things I gained familiarity with through the lens of how a consumer deals with [it].

That’s really framed my perception of our regulatory activities. I always keep in mind while, at the end of the day, it’s a brief period of time on my resume, it’s such a critical experience in my opinion, for me to have that perspective as we go through our day‑to‑day activities.

IJ: Do you find yourself now that you are on the consumer side, having to be more protective of the consumers or looking at the industry a little bit more suspiciously?

Altmaier: I don’t think that there’s a suspicion per se because I think the insurance industry – they have a goal to take care of their consumers. The important thing is to make sure that we maintain a balance between consumer protections and market stability. Obviously, at the end of the day, we’re going to make the decisions that we believe are in the best interest of the consumers.

We just have to be careful that we don’t sacrifice long term consumer protections for short term consumer protections…We don’t want to cause insurance products to become less reliable, or less available, or less affordable in the long run because of decisions that we make that might have some perceived short term advantage for consumers.

IJ: You said the insurance industry’s goal is to take care of consumers. That is a point that is very important and often lost on those outside the industry. How could the industry could do better at making that point known?

Altmaier: It’s a good question. I think the best thing that they could do is just make sure that as they operate, especially on the claims side, is to make sure that they are putting their best foot forward.

A saying that we like to banter around in the office is that you’re only as good as your worst claim. You have to take care of every single claim that comes in the door because that’s why consumers buy insurance products. It’s a promise to them that when they have a claim, the company’s going to be there to indemnify them for that loss. To make sure that that experience is positive for the consumer, I think, is the most important thing a company can do to demonstrate to its policyholders that they are there to take care of them in their time of need.

IJ: Now that you’re in the position of regulator, how do you think that the industry and regulators can be more effective in working together?

Altmaier: We have a very fine balance that we walk. At the end of the day, we’re a regulator. It’s our job to enforce compliance with Florida law. It’s our job to make sure consumers are treated fairly. Insurance is just such a different business than others because companies are selling a promise to their consumers. That’s a much different product than you might buy at any other kind of retail store. It’s incumbent upon us to make sure that the companies operating in our state are able to make good on those promises when that day comes.

That being said, there are opportunities that even as a regulator, we can partner with the industry to make sure that we understand the challenges that they face in meting out those promises. For example, we can understand a little bit better about what they’re seeing on the claims side, what they’re seeing on the premiums side, on the competition side, and things of that nature.

I’ve always believed that as regulators, we make our best decisions when we consider as many different perspectives on those issues as we can so that the decisions we ultimately make are as informed as they can possibly be. That means liaising with the industry. It also means spending a lot of time talking with consumer groups, consumer advocacy groups, agency groups…

We spend a lot of time working with the industry, but we also spend a lot of time working with all of the other industry stakeholders. Because even though we only directly regulate the insurance companies, the decisions we make with respect to them impact so many other people that might not necessarily be in our jurisdiction.

I do think there’s opportunities for us to partner with the industry to better understand the challenges that they face. That’s also true for the various other stakeholders that are in our marketplace.

IJ: Do you think that the industry unfairly gets a bad reputation?

Altmaier: Sometimes it’s unfair, and sometimes it’s fair. At the end of the day, they make for an easy boogeyman. That’s unfortunate, because I know a lot of people in the industry. I know that they all have very good intentions. They all are interested in servicing their consumers and making sure that they have the best experience possible.

Any time you have a bad experience with your claim or things of that nature, it’s easy to point to the insurance company and say, “They’re just trying to lowball that so that they can make more money at the end of the year.” That’s unfortunate.

We, as regulators, strive to do our best to make sure that if there’s a perception that that’s happening, that we are implementing as many of our resources as we can to make sure that we’re either addressing it if it is happening or telling the story if it’s not happening.

Listen to the Podcast Interview with Florida Insurance Commissioner Altmaier

IJ: I’m sure you are aware of the insurance industry’s talent crisis. What would be your advice to the industry as a young person who started out as an agent and moved on to a different role? What was your experience? What advice would you give them in improving that ability to attract?

Altmaier: I think that giving opportunities to your mid‑level, entry‑level positions goes a long way in making them feel part of the team and giving them the appetite to further professionally develop.

I had a lot of opportunities when I joined [OIR] to work on various projects that made me really feel as if I were part of the team and that I was making a difference, not only in our organization but in our state, as a whole. That gave me a sense of drive to continue to develop professionally and to look for the next step and to determine how I could be of better use to the state and to [OIR].

I’ve kept that in mind as we have projects that come up at [OIR] in looking for our talented mid‑level and entry‑level employees and making sure that they don’t feel as if they’re just going through the day‑to‑day operations of reviews and analysis and things of that nature. But giving them challenging work and meaningful work so that they stay engaged.

We spend time at the local universities, introducing folks to insurance. Florida State has a great risk management and insurance program. We get a lot of great talent from FAMU, the other local university. Tapping into that can go a long way in introducing folks into the insurance industry.

I know that before I became involved with the insurance industry, I didn’t realize how complex the industry was. I didn’t realize all the various ways you can be involved in the insurance industry. There’s legal professionals, accounting professionals, actuarial professionals, government professionals, media professionals, all involved in the insurance industry. There’s so much opportunity. Making sure that message gets out is extraordinarily important.