April 05, 2012
Contact: David Neustadt 212-709-1691
Department Of Financial Services Expands Probe Into Force-Placed Insurance, Demanding Explanation For High Rates; Will Hold Public Hearings
Seeks basis for consistently high profits at homeowners’ and investors’ expense
Hearings to be held on whether rates are excessive and to probe payments between insurers, brokers, agents and mortgage servicers
Benjamin M. Lawsky, Superintendent of Financial Services, today announced that he is intensifying the Department of Financial Services investigation into force-placed insurance by requiring the largest licensed force-placed insurers operating in New York to provide a detailed accounting of their expenses, claims payments and profits.
The Superintendent will hold public hearings in May to review whether rates for force-placed insurance are excessive and to examine the relationships between and payments to and from insurers, banks, mortgage servicers and insurance agents and brokers. Testimony will be taken from homeowners harmed by force-placed insurance and from the banks, insurers, reinsurers and brokers who operate in the force-placed market. Information gained from the hearings will guide the Department in any action with respect to force-placed insurance.
In light of the concerns raised by the investigation’s initial findings, the Department is requiring insurers to provide more extensive and detailed information and supporting documentation, including:
· An actuarial or statistical justification for force-placed insurance rates currently on file with the Department;
· A detailed explanation of how rates and expected loss ratios are calculated;
· A detailed explanation and itemized report of insurers’ expenses relating to force-placed insurance; and
· A detailed explanation and itemized report of the payments insurers receive relating to force-placed insurance.
The Department has sent formal document requests, issued under Section 308 of the Insurance Law, requiring the following firms to provide information: Balboa Insurance Company, QBE Insurance Corporation, QBE Financial Institution Risk Services, Inc., American Security Insurance Company (Assurant), American Bankers Insurance Company of Florida (Assurant), Meritplan Insurance Company, American Modern Home Insurance Company, Empire Fire and Marine Insurance Company, and Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland.
“It appears that force-placed insurers charge very high premiums, but pay out only a very small percentage of those premiums on claims—as little as 20 cents on the dollar. In addition, questionable payments are made to various players in the force-placed business, further increasing the profits to insurers and banks,” Superintendent Lawsky said. “We have asked insurers to provide a complete breakdown of how much they collect and where every penny goes so we can determine if the premiums are appropriate and the basis for these payments.”
Since October 2011, the Department has been conducting a broad industry-wide investigation of force-placed insurance. The investigation has revealed that, for force-placed insurance, the percentage of premiums paid on claims, known as the loss ratio, is extremely low—in most cases, dramatically lower than the expected loss ratios insurers filed with the Department. For example, based on the investigation, while most insurers filed a loss ratio of 55%, one major insurer’s actual loss ratios for the last six years averaged 22% and another averaged less than 20%. This raises serious concerns about whether premiums for this insurance have been artificially inflated.
The investigation thus far indicates that high rates for force-placed insurance appear to be due in part to relationships between and payments by insurers to banks and their affiliates, including mortgage servicers and insurance agents and brokers. Insurers pay high commissions to the banks or their affiliates presumably to guarantee the insurers will receive business. Early findings of the investigation suggest that 15 percent or more of premiums collected by force-placed insurers flow to the banks through insurance agents affiliated with the banks.
The insurers may also give banks a share of the profits by giving some of the insurance premium to a reinsurer owned by the bank. Since the claims payments are so low, the banks could be gaining a substantial portion of the profit without actually taking on a great deal of risk.
In addition, the investigation to date reveals that the banks now have a significant conflict of interest. Often, it is the banks’ servicers who are supposed to file insurance claims, but have a strong reason not to do so. When the mortgage is owned by investors, filing a claim will benefit the investors, but reduce the profits of the servicers’ owners, the banks.
Force-placed insurance is taken out by a bank or mortgage servicer when a borrower does not maintain the homeowners’ insurance required by the mortgage documents. This can occur if the homeowner misses a mortgage payment, the homeowner allows the homeowners’ policy to lapse, or if the bank or mortgage servicer determines that the borrower does not have a sufficient amount of coverage. Force-placed insurance is typically far more expensive than homeowners’ coverage purchased by a homeowner—anywhere from two to ten times more costly—yet often provides less protection for the homeowner while protecting the lender’s or investor’s interest in the property.
“There appear to be a number of very significant problems with force-placed homeowners’ insurance. The price is often extremely high—as much as ten times the normal rate for homeowners’ insurance. And sometimes consumers have this high priced policy forced on them when their own insurance is still in place. At the hearings, we will explore whether banks are using force-placed insurance to increase their profits at the expense of homeowners and investors,” Lawsky said.
The high cost of force-placed insurance adds to struggling homeowners’ debt burden and makes it even more difficult for them to avoid foreclosure. The high cost also harms investors in mortgages or mortgage-backed securities, because servicers advance the insurance payments and then recoup those payments out of investment income before investors are paid.