June 5, 2023

Citizens Insurance picks a new CEO. ‘The timing is very critical for us.'

TALLAHASSEE — Pointing to a need to move quickly, the Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Board of Governors on Tuesday chose Tim Cerio to become president and CEO of the state-backed insurer.

Cerio, who has long been an influential player in Tallahassee, has served as the Citizens general counsel since 2021. He will replace Barry Gilway, who announced Dec. 22 that he would retire as president and CEO after more than a decade in the position.

The transition comes after the Legislature in a December special session made major changes to the state’s troubled property-insurance system, including seeking to curb lawsuits and move policies out of Citizens into the private market. It also comes as lawmakers prepare for the March 7 start of the regular legislative session.

Members of the Board of Governors said Tuesday it is important to have Gilway’s successor in place, with board member Charlie Lydecker saying “time is of the essence.”

“The timing is very critical for us,” board Chairman Carlos Beruff said.

After Gilway announced his retirement last month, the board said Cerio would serve as an interim replacement. But the unanimous board vote Tuesday made Cerio the full replacement. The board also gave Beruff authority to negotiate a contract with Cerio.

“I’m just floored,” Cerio said after his selection.

Citizens was created as an insurer of last resort but has seen its policy count explode during the past two years as private insurers have dropped hundreds of thousands of customers, sought large rate increases and, in some cases, gone insolvent because of financial losses.

Adding thousands of customers a week, Citizens had 1,163,990 policies as of Friday. By comparison, it had 554,537 policies on Jan. 31, 2021, and 776,790 policies on Jan. 31, 2022, according to company data.

State leaders have long sought to hold down the number of policies in Citizens, at least in part because of financial risks if the state is hit by a major hurricane or multiple hurricanes.

Cerio pointed Tuesday to a focus on returning Citizens to the role of insurer of last resort and trying not to compete with the private market. Gilway has said Citizens often charges less for doverage than private insurers, creating an incentive for homeowners to stay in Citizens.

As an example of changes during the special session, lawmakers approved preventing Citizens policyholders from being able to renew coverage if they receive policy offers from private insurers that are within 20 percent of the cost of the Citizens premiums. That move was aimed at steering more customers into the private market.

But for residents in some areas of the state, Citizens has been virtually the only option for coverage. As a result, the Legislature has constrained the ability of Citizens to raise rates.

Cerio’s past positions included general counsel to former Gov. Rick Scott and chief of staff at the Florida Department of Health. He also is a member of the state university system’s Board of Governors.

Gilway, who has spent decades in the insurance industry, will serve in a consulting-type role for Citizens.

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