Allstate policy change affects few in Beaufort County

gmartin@islandpacket.comJuly 11, 2012 

Beaufort County Allstate customers are mostly -- but not entirely -- unaffected by the company's recent decision to drop about 10,000 of its homeowners insurance policyholders statewide.

Beginning with policies that renew Oct. 9, the company will drop home coverage for customers who don't also have Allstate auto insurance and whose homes are more than 10 years old and insured for less than $220,000.

Allstate has only one exclusive agency in Beaufort and Jasper counties, an office on Hilton Head Island that opened this month. A Ridgeland office closed last year.

The agent at the Hilton Head office, Stephen Helwig, said it was too early to tell whether any policyholders would be affected.

He indicated that the relatively high property values in southern Beaufort County may effectively exempt local customers from the policy change, as it only applies to those with homes insured for less than $220,000.

"This might be wishful thinking, but it may not have as much of an effect in higher-end areas," he said.

Attempts Wednesday to contact Wendell Sutton, an insurance agent also selling Allstate policies at his Bluffton office of Hub International -- an independent business -- were unsuccessful.

About 25 to 30 clients at Kinghorn Insurance in Beaufort will be forced to switch insurance companies as a result of the announcement, according to Garrett Wreden, one of the company's partners. The business is an independent agency representing Allstate and other insurance companies.

"We have to make sure we find a suitable alternative for them," he said, calling those affected a "minuscule but important" segment of Kinghorn's overall clientele.

Wreden said Illinois-based Allstate's decision likely was dictated by an analysis of "catastrophe models," such as those assessing hurricane risk along the coast.

"Insurance companies ask themselves, 'What is our total exposure in property damage along the coast?' " he said. "They're a publicly traded insurance company and are beholden in some degree to Wall Street ... (and) they're an arm's length removed from where we are."

He added such models aren't only influenced by hurricane risk, but would take into account recent tornadoes, hailstorms and windstorms in areas farther inland.

Beaufort resident Daryl Ferguson, who recently met with a member of Gov. Nikki Haley's staff to discuss his recent study indicating the coast is at relatively low risk for hurricanes, said Allstate's decision may be poorly informed.

"They're either using the wrong model, or they only want to offer insurance where there's no risk on their part," he said, questioning Allstate's obligations to its shareholders as a motive for its decision.

"How could they not be profitable right now," Ferguson asserted, "when we have among the highest rates in the country?"

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