Farmer puts emphasis on helping consumers, growing insurance business

june25executiveseriesFor Ray Farmer, who has spent his entire career in the insurance business, retirement lasted all of one day.

“It was a Saturday,” said Farmer, 68. “It was a nice day.”

Farmer’s retirement was short-circuited in November 2012 when Gov. Nikki Haley asked him to run the S.C. Department of Insurance.

“My commitment was to finish out the term,” Farmer said. But then Haley won a second term in November and Farmer agreed to continue.

When Haley announced Farmer’s reappointment, she praised Farmer for improving customer service and creating a business friendly environment.

“His commitment to making the agency as consumer friendly as possible, while ensuring South Carolina remained one of the most business-friendly states in the country, has done great things for our citizens, and I know he is the right person to build on this progress going forward,” Haley said.
Under Farmer, the agency has improved service to all customers, including consumers, producers and insurance companies, the governor’s office said. Farmer has extended operating hours for front-line staff and improved the agency’s website.

Prior to his appointment, Farmer had served as vice president of the Southeast region of the American Insurance Association. He joined the trade group, which represents more than 300 insurance companies, in 1979. Previously, he was deputy insurance commissioner of the enforcement division at the Georgia Insurance Department.

He is an attorney, a member of the State Bar of Georgia and a graduate of the John Marshall Law School.

Farmer said he likes working at the agency, which has about 100 staffers, because it’s an opportunity to help people.

An early riser, Farmer usually arrives at his office on the 10th floor of the Capitol Center before 7 a.m. “I know how to turn on the coffee pot,” he said.

“We’ve made a lot of improvements here and a lot of progress,” Farmer said. “This is a great place, a great staff of public servants.”

The agency has two types of customers: consumers and the companies that write insurance, Farmer said. It’s the agency’s job to see both groups are helped and succeed.

Among improvements that the agency has made during his tenure is updating its website to make it more interactive and provide more information for consumers and companies.

There are links to the different types of insurance offered by carriers and even offers of personal help to consumers trying to come up with the best deal for a policy – whether its for auto or home.

His top priorities range from making sure consumers have access to long-term care policies that could soften the blow of nursing home bills to growing the state’s captive insurance business.

According to the agency’s website, 17 companies offer long-term care coverage in South Carolina. Farmer estimates that when the policies were first offered about 30 years ago, about twice that many were writing business in South Carolina.

The long-term care business is challenging because a number of companies underestimated the cost of extended care and didn’t charge adequate premiums.

“Companies lost a lot of money,” Farmer said. “We’ve had large requests” for rate hikes.

He’s concerned that insurers could raise rates so high that consumers can’t afford the premiums. At the same time, he wants to make sure companies that offer the coverage won’t pull out of the state after collecting 20 years’ worth of premiums.

“It’s not a moneymaker for companies,” Farmer said. “Companies that are writing business now, I think, are charging adequate payments.”

Being a coastal state and potential hurricane target makes property insurance another of Farmer’s priorities.

In South Carolina, 28% of property insurance policies cover coastal areas, compared with 9% in North Carolina and 5% in Georgia, Farmer said.

“We are a big target,” he said.

“We haven’t had a hurricane in 25 years, but we’ll have one,” Farmer said, referring to Hurricane Hugo, which swept through the Palmetto State in 1989.

“Our job is to make sure companies are solvent and that their rates are not excessive, that they’re adequate and not discriminatory,” Farmer said.

Growing the captive business is another priority. Captive insurance companies provide business owners and executives with more choices for financing and managing risk.

Farmer has focused on the Captives Division, licensing 20 companies since he took office. The state has more than 250 captive companies.

The captive business has generated more than $1 billion in economic benefit each of the past three years and created a number of top quality jobs, according to the governor’s office.

One regulatory challenge on the horizon is “edelivery” of insurance policies, said Farmer, who expects the General Assembly will take up the issue this year.

“Everything is going to be online,” Farmer said.

Insurance companies need to be “consumer friendly” in their delivery of products via the Internet.

He’d like to seen the companies adopt electronic platforms similar to banks where the customer enters into his personal portal to access information about accounts or apply for loans.

What he doesn’t want is for insurance companies to send a customer an email with a link to a website so that they can download their policy, and then require the customer to navigate around the website to find endorsements and other information.

“It needs to be consumer friendly and it needs to be a secured portal that the consumer can go to and know that no one else has that information,” Farmer said. “I don’t want them to go to that website and hunt for endorsements and download. That is not consumer friendly.”


See the article at Columbia Regional Business Report

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