News Release

New Jersey Department of
Banking and Insurance
Commissioner Holly C. Bakke

For Immediate Release:  February 4, 2004

For Further Information::  Mary Cozzolino - (609) 292-5064

Department of Banking and Insurance Releases 2003 Auto Company
Performance Information for Consumers

$1.3 Million Returned to Consumers

TRENTON - In an ongoing effort to give New Jersey consumers the tools they need to choose the auto insurance policy that is right for them, the Department of Banking and Insurance released the first Auto Company Performance Report For Consumers.

"The Governor has made it clear that the new auto insurance marketplace must give consumers choices in companies, policies, and coverage options and the information they need to make those choices," said Banking and Insurance Commissioner Holly C. Bakke.

The information released by the Department will help consumers evaluate how their insurer compares to others in the marketplace. Commissioner Bakke explained, "As the competitive marketplace develops in New Jersey, the Department of Banking and Insurance is committed to providing drivers with the information they need to make good decisions regarding the coverage they want, they need, and how much they want to pay for their auto policy."

The information released today is the first step in a program that will result in the Auto Insurance Company Consumer Report Card that will be issued this summer. In addition to the Report Card, consumers will be receiving a Consumer Bill of Rights and have access to an interactive web-based guide to understanding coverage options. A new Three Scenarios Program will provide dollars-and-cents examples of what different choices mean, and a consumer friendly buyer's guide will make coverage decisions easier to understand. All of these tools were mandated as part of the Governor's auto reforms.

The information released includes several tools for consumers. The information ranks companies by valid complaint ratios, which is the number of valid complaints compared to the total number of cars covered by that company. Valid complaints are complaints in which insurer's actions were found to violate state insurance rules or laws or situations that should have been resolved by the insurer without Departmental intervention. The total number of complaints filed against each insurer is provided. This number can be an important indicator of the quality of communication between an insurer and their policyholders.

The 42 insurers currently insuring New Jersey drivers are listed. The Rutgers Group, with a market share of .63% had the highest valid complaint ratio, while Tokio Marine and Fire, with a market share of .05% had the lowest. The state's largest carrier, New Jersey Manufacturers, ranked near the bottom of the list at 39.

Also included in the information released today was an indicator of company financial strength produced by a leading national rating agency. It is important to note that 10 companies have been downgraded in the last year, indicating a continued need to strengthen the New Jersey marketplace for consumers, as compared to two companies that have been upgraded.

Commissioner Bakke also announced that the Department's consumer protection efforts on behalf of drivers yielded $1,272,755.80 in recoveries. This money was returned directly to consumers in the form of refunds. This recovery amount is a 58% increase over last year's recovery amount of $804,792.05.

"Policyholders have a right to expect insurance companies to play by the rules and to be held accountable when they do not. The Department is here to make sure policyholders are dealt with fairly and in accordance with the law," Commissioner Bakke said.

Over the last two years, the Department of Banking and Insurance has made significant progress in helping New Jersey drivers take full advantage of the choices the competitive marketplace is making available. Commissioner Bakke has begun visiting Motor Vehicle Offices throughout the state to talk directly to drivers regarding the choices they can make to control what they pay. Additionally, the Department has opened two consumer centers, in Newark and in Camden, to assist drivers in understanding their policy or filing complaints. The Department also has prepared a Consumer's Guide to Auto Insurance currently available for comment on the Department's web site.

"Today's information, along with the other tools the Department is preparing in order to implement the Governor's reforms, are moving New Jersey from a state where drivers felt powerless in managing their auto insurance, to a state where consumers truly are moving into the driver's seat," Bakke stated.

Policyholders who feel their insurance company is behaving improperly can file a complaint directly with the Department of Banking and Insurance by writing to Consumer Protection Services, Department of Banking and Insurance, P.O. Box 329, Trenton, NJ, 08625, calling 609-292-7272, or by accessing the online complaint form.