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Why I’ll Always Be a Flood Agent

As a proud native of the great state of Louisiana, I am no stranger to hurricanes and tropical storms
March 1, 2012

By Richard A. ClementsOfficial PIA Portrait. Used for web.
Secretary/Assistant Treasurer
PIA National

As a proud native of the great state of Louisiana, I am no stranger to hurricanes and tropical storms. My wife Charmaine is still haunted by memories of Hurricane Betsy in 1965. She was 12 at the time and living in a house in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans when Betsy hit. Flash ahead 40 years, and our lives were turned upside down by Hurricane Katrina. There were many more hurricanes in between.

People sometimes ask me why I’m so adamant about selling flood insurance. If you’ve ever been through a Katrina or a Betsy and been lucky enough to live to tell about it, then you know why. I’ve always felt a sense of responsibility to tell my neighbors who haven’t been through it about the danger and the need to protect themselves from floods.

You would think that flood insurance would remain an easier sell in areas with fresh memories of catastrophes. After Katrina, a lot of people insisted on getting flood insurance. There’s nothing like losing your home to flooding to concentrate your attention. I know from unfortunate personal experience.

The trouble is, memories can fade. People can forget. Almost seven years after Katrina, I’m starting to see resistance to purchasing flood insurance again. In fact, I hear many of the same excuses. “I can’t afford it.” “I’ll get it later.” “Since it’s not required, I’m going to do without it.” It’s great that the United States has escaped getting hit by a major hurricane for a long time, but the downside of dodging bullets is it can lead to complacency. If having flood insurance is an imperative in the first year after a big storm, it should be just as important seven years later, if not more so.

In 2001, my cousin bought a house in Chalmette, Louisiana, where flooding wasn’t perceived to be a problem. Because he was in a “moderate-to-low” risk zone, the insurance wasn’t required. He wasn’t going to buy it until I told him just how little it would cost – in his case, about a dollar a day. Fortunately he took my advice, since he lost his home to Katrina four years later. He didn’t hesitate to buy a policy for his new home. Now he says he’ll always have flood insurance, even if he lives at the very highest point of the very highest mountain in the world (he is a true believer, as they say).

It Can Happen to You

The thinking that we have to counter is “it can’t happen to me.” Take it from me, it can, it does and it did. People in “low-risk” areas of the country have discovered they can lose their homes to flood, too. Low-risk does not mean no risk. Residents in Vermont and upstate New York who lived hundreds of miles from where Hurricane Irene made landfall, still lost everything due to flooding. Similarly, people in places like Atlanta and Nashville were devastated by days of rain in 2009.

The good folks at the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) have many interactive tools at www.FloodSmart.gov and www.Agents.FloodSmart.gov to educate consumers and empower agents to sell flood policies. The agent site also offers information about a co-op program that reimburses independent insurance agents up to $7,500 of their advertising costs, and a direct mail program that enables agents to customize outreach on a larger scale. I use both myself.

After all these years, I count conversations that convince my customers to get a flood policy as “wins” and those that do not as “losses.” I still win some and lose some – and I make sure that every customer who turns me down signs a form that shows the coverage was offered (which protects me from E & O issues).

Of course, the real satisfaction is when my customers say yes, they want flood insurance. Those words are music to my ears.

Richard A. Clements is secretary/assistant treasurer of PIA National and PIA National’s representative to the Flood Insurance Producers National Committee (FIPNC).

*This article first appeared in the March 2012 PIA Connection.