Boom Times!

Finally, maybe a little good news in this difficult year. As we all know, the hardening of the traditional insurance market has produced a surge in interest in the formation of captives by new entrants into our industry, as well as an expansion of types and amounts of risks in current captives.

Anecdotally, all my recent discussions with VCIA members have circled around how busy they have been with inquiries and expansion plans since the beginning of the year. Ellen Charnley, president of Marsh Captive Solutions, reported not long ago that Marsh has broken records in the number of captives formed this year. Marsh formed a record 76 new captive insurance companies between January and July 2020, an increase of over 200 percent compared to the same period in 2019 – amazing!

Here in Vermont, DFR Deputy Commissioner Dave Provost and his staff have echoed the reports. Vermont has licensed over 25 captives already this year. For comparison, twenty-five new captives for the entire year is considered a good year normally! And usually the fourth quarter is the busiest for our friends at DFR, as organizations seek to form their captive programs before the new year.

Looking ahead, it doesn’t look like there will be much abatement in captive growth. With a continued hardening market forecast into 2021, and the impacts of the pandemic continuing to unfold, organizations will continue to seek the financial stability and cost savings that captives can often bring to their owners. Let the boom roll on!

Thanks, as always, for your continued support in these trying times. I look forward to hearing from you!

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Welcome Brittany!

I want to say a HUGE welcome from the Vermont captive insurance community to Brittany Nevins. As many of you have heard, Brittany recently joined Vermont’s Department of Economic Development as the new Captive Insurance Economic Development Director. She will be taking over from the estimable Ian Davis, now over at Peoples United (but still in our captive community!).

Brittany will be responsible for the marketing and business development of Vermont’s captive insurance industry, working closely with the Department of Financial Regulation and VCIA to continue to strengthen the state’s reputation as the premier onshore captive insurance domicile.  We have already had several calls and zoom meetings with hew and she is going to be great!

Located in Texas for the last 2 plus years, Brittany served as a community and economic development specialist for Travis County, Texas, managing its property tax rebate program for businesses that sought to develop in the Austin region. Prior to that, she was a policy specialist for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, where she provided support for a variety of agency regulatory programs.

On top of all that, having lived in Latin America for a little while, Brittany is also fluent in Spanish. And as VCIA and the State of Vermont continue to explore connecting the Vermont captive industry to the Latin American risk management marketplace, it will come in handy. Although, she did warn me translating our nomenclature, such as non-domiciliary reciprocal risk retention regulations, will not just flow off her tongue! And it coincides nicely with next week’s Online Captive Trade Mission with Mexico which VCIA and the State are hosting on September 30th.  By the way, this event is free for VCIA Members – details here.

So, please take a minute to say “hi” to Brittany and welcome her into our wonderful community, like you did for me ten years ago. Her email is brittany.nevins@vermont.gov.

Thanks, as always, for your continued support in these trying times. I look forward to hearing from you!

Rich Smith
VCIA President

May Day!

IanMay 1st is here and with it the signs of spring… new beginnings.

As you all probably have heard by now, Vermont’s intrepid Ian Davis is leaving the Mother Ship and heading off to a new position within the captive family as Senior Vice President, Captive Insurance Relationship Manager at People’s United Bank. Ian will be responsible for business development, qualification, expansion and overall relationship management for the bank’s captive insurance portfolio.

Ian served as Director of Financial Services at the Vermont Department of Economic Development, leading the marketing and business development activities in support of the State’s captive insurance industry for three years. In that role he stepped into large shoes left by Dan Towle, who is the current president of CICA.

I am so glad for Ian in his new position and so, so glad he is staying in our world of captive insurance. Don’t get me wrong: he will be missed in his role with the State as he was the consummate professional, truly representing Vermont’s best in captive insurance. But very smart of People’s to recognize talent by putting Ian in a leadership role in their captive insurance arena.

As the State looks to fill Ian’s position, the estimable Tim Tierney will step in as interim director. Tim is Director of Recruitment and International Trade at Vermont’s Department of Economic Development. He already was helping us on our planned Mexico Trade Mission this September, and I am looking forward to continuing our work.

So goodbye… and welcome, Ian! I look forward to our continued partnership and, more importantly, our good friendship.

Thank you and stay safe!

Rich Smith
VCIA President

COVID – 19 (are virtual happy hours our future?)

Day Five of our quarantine. My family made the decision to self-isolate when my son returned from San Francisco this past Monday. His work took him on the subway, he was working in a restaurant downtown, and he took a cross-country flight so it seemed like a no brainer. Certainly, it is a little easier to self-isolate in rural Vermont than in downtown New York, or even Burlington, Vermont.

We are certainly in strange times and unchartered territory for most of us – even those of us whose job is risk management! I have found myself rationalizing that things can’t get that bad and that it will clear up soon, even with the reality slamming us in the face. It is hard for any person, company or government to jump to more draconian measures, even when we see what is happening in other places hit by the virus before the United States. A little dose of paranoia might make us, as a society, get a little ahead of the curve. Maybe its time to trust your inner Cassandra*.

That being said, my wife and I joined a few friends of ours on a virtual cocktail hour last night. I opened a bottle of wine, brought out some cheese, and then connected with the two other couples through videoconferencing. It sounds a little silly, but it worked great – and we were able to get a dose of social interaction at our kitchen table!

It still doesn’t explain why for some reason I stocked up on potato chips and Ben & Jerry’s last Sunday…

Thank you and stay safe!

Rich Smith
VCIA President

*Cassandra was a woman in Greek mythology cursed to utter true prophecies, but never to be believed. In modern usage her name is employed as a rhetorical device to indicate someone whose accurate prophecies are not believed.

COVID – 19 (redux)

Wow…. what a week. It’s hard to get my head around the speed at which the coronavirus has spread and its impact around the world. Countries in virtual shutdown, borders closed, business at a near standstill in many places.

Since last Friday, the news of major conferences cancelling (or at least postponing) is astonishing but warranted. One of the captive insurance industry’s major events is the CICA conference. Having had to cancel is truly a heartbreaking choice, but Dan Towle made the right choice – as painful as it was.

Dan was kind enough to contact me soon after he made the decision and walk through the decision matrix, as well as some of the hurdles he still faces in resolving all that needs to be resolved when you cancel a conference like his. He described the calls and discussions with his board and key members of his organization before having to make such a tough call.  One of the things that resonated with me from our conversation was the need to take a step back from the event you are planning and ask yourself “are we really asking people to travel and meet in a large group with this uncertainty?” With the news that followed of the growth in infections just days later it was clearly the responsible decision.

VCIA and the State of Vermont had to grapple with much the same choice when we decided to postpone the trade mission we had scheduled to Mexico City later this month – at a much less heartbreaking scale than Dan of course. Still, it was disappointing. That being said, it was much easier for us to reschedule, which we have done. The trade mission to Mexico City has a new date of September 22nd.

As for the VCIA conference in August, we are proceeding on schedule, with the hope that all this will be behind us by then. Like Dan, we may be faced with a tough choice come summertime, so I plan to stock up on Pepto Bismol in the meantime.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you!

Rich Smith, VCIA President

COVID – 19

The complexity and uncertainty of the coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak is worrisome, to put it mildly. As of this writing, the virus has infected 90,000 people and left more than 3,000 people dead, mostly in China, but the spike in cases around the world remind me of those doomsday movies where it shows a map with the plague hopping from one place to another with ease.  When we get mixed messages from our leaders, and health experts debate the proper response, it is not surprising to see a growing anxiety in the general populace.

I have heard from two large companies in the insurance world that have very different responses for their employees. One has banned all non-essential travel not only overseas, but here in the US as well. The other has taken a more wait and see approach, advising employees to use “common sense” when traveling. Many businesses have asked their employees to work from homes – which won’t help someone on the factory floor or who works in a restaurant.

A couple of things come to mind as I try to get my head around the potential impact to captives. First, most traditional insurance policies have exclusions for pandemics in their policies. According to the Insurance Journal, the world’s largest insurers learned lessons from previous health crises, including the 2003 SARS outbreak, and have tightened up their policies, inserting communicable-disease exclusions to prevent potential losses. That means consumers and companies will bear the brunt of the cost for disruptions related to the virus. Whether captive insurance can help mitigate potential losses is something that we have begun to look into more closely.

The other impact is something captives and traditional insurers have been dealing with for some time. Investment returns have been stingy for the insurance world for many years and many have diversified away from more traditional bonds to equities. Investment losses rather than claims will likely cause the biggest hit to insurers from the coronavirus outbreak, according to a report from Moody’s Investor Services Inc.  Moody’s said, “A prolonged period of market weakness would also hurt insurers’ investment income and reduce their access to capital…”

As for me, I seem to swing back and forth after every news story I hear on the virus on what “common sense” means. Without a doubt, the COVID-19 has already had an impact on the world economy and our general sense of health and safety.  I believe in the resilience of the captive insurance industry and know that many of the people involved with risk management at their organizations will play an important part in stemming this outbreak.  Let’s all hope that we see the end of this sooner rather than later.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you!

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Come Together

rich-in-washington

This week a group from the Captive Association Leadership Council (CALC) coordinated a visit to Washington DC to provide an educational baseline on the captive insurance industry to key policymakers and staff.  The idea is that providing a baseline on captives with the participation of numerous state captive associations will build a foundation for future discussions when presented with potentially adverse actions in Washington or opportunities to advance the industry as a whole.

CALC is an informal coalition representing most captive association leaders in the industry. This first visit as a coordinated group included me, Dan Towle from CICA, Joe Deems from NRRA, Joe Holahan representing the Captive Insurance Council of the District of Columbia, and Julie Bordo, President of PHC Mutual Insurance Company RRG (a captive owner and VCIA Member).

We met with staff members of key committees in the House and Senate (House Financial Services and Senate Banking) in the morning before heading over to Treasury to meet with key members of the Federal Insurance Office and Tax Policy. We explained the role of captives and the importance not only to the organizations that utilize them, but to the economy overall. We discussed some of the issues regarding the bad actors misusing captives, as well as tried to dispel myths regarding the industry. We heard directly from Treasury on issues they had concerning captives, which provided us with helpful insight.

This CALC trip to Washington DC is the first of what we hope will be many, to strengthen connections with key committee staff as well as home-state Senators and Members of Congress. Our inaugural trip was a success – connections were established with key staff who we will reconnect with if and when legislative issues arise regarding captives or RRGs.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you!

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Tough Mudder

Business Insurance recently ran a story “Extreme sports test liability protections” (Feb 17) which described the challenges extreme race organizations have with potential liability issues.

“Drowning,” “near-drowning,” “animal bites,” “permanent paralysis” and “death” are all listed in waivers for these events. Signage posted by the organizers of race Tough Mudder — a major name in the sport — famously tells participants sweating through the obstacles to “remember, you signed a death waiver.” Yikes!

According to the article, in parallel with the rising popularity of the events are a growing number of lawsuits alleging organizers are liable for injuries incurred on the courses of the events.  The article goes on to say several companies in the industry are suffering financial problems, although it is unclear whether liability issues are contributing to their troubles.

After reading the story, two things come to mind.  First, these organizations should take a page from the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association. In 2016, the Association formed a risk retention group (RRG) domiciled in Vermont. With a risk retention group, many people, companies or organizations pool their money and insure themselves collectively. The key requirement is that they are like entities — in this case hang gliders and paragliders — but it could be extreme racing organizations just as well.

“Working with Vermont was wonderful,” Tim Herr, secretary and risk management officer for Recreation Risk Retention Group Inc., (RRRG) said. “They understand the small niche insurance market. The first meeting is always filled with trepidation, but we showed them our plans and they understood what we needed and wanted to do.”  RRRG now has 29 member groups covering the flights of more than 9,000 USHPA members, 83 USHPA chapters, and more than 30,000 hang gliding and paragliding students annually.

The second thing that comes to mind upon reading the BI story is this:  did you know that some members of Vermont’s very own Department of Financial Regulation captive staff participate in these crazy races?! Deputy Commissioner Dave Provost himself, and Director of Examinations Dan Petterson have regularly put themselves at great bodily harm in these extreme obstacle course events.  And I think Sandy Bigglestone, Director of Captives, has tried it at least once too!

So, our two takeaways today are:

  1. Vermont regulators have personal knowledge of risks associated with extreme sports, and are willing and able to assist with unique risks from organizations of all sorts; and
  2. Don’t mess with Vermont (or at least, Vermont’s DFR)!

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you!

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Happy Holidays and See You in 2020

Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays to all of the VCIA family! It was another great year for captives in Vermont, and next year portends to be even better for the industry as a whole.

As I have talked to many of VCIA’s members in the course of the past month or so, “busy” seems to be the word that encapsulates the tone. I think that has been due to two main factors: the increasing sophistication of risk managers in smaller and medium-sized organizations, and the beginnings of a hardening insurance marketplace.

Vermont is set to add another 20+ captives to its stable of over 1000 licenses by year’s end, notwithstanding the competition, due in large part to Dave Provost and his team at DFR’s continued steadfast regulation, Ian Davis’ doggedness in pursuing captive leads, and captive service providers, who continue to recognize Vermont as the premier captive insurance domicile! Overall VCIA membership has increased 2% this year with 446 member organizations thanks to Janice Valgoi and her tireless work in adding to our roles.

I want to say thank you to VCIA’s Board of Directors for all their support and guidance over the past year to the association. I want to especially thank Wilda Seymour of Franklin Casualty Insurance Company RRG for her contribution as board chair starting in October of 2018, and welcome back Jan Klodowski of Agrisurance Inc. as our chair as of this past October.  Longtime captive expert attorney extraordinaire, Stephanie Mapes of Paul Frank + Collins, came on as our vice-chair.  Many thanks to Andrew Baillie of AES Global Insurance Company, independent consultant Donna Blair, Lawrence Cook of Sedgwick, Dennis Silvia of Cedar Consulting, Anne Marie Towle of Hylant, and Derick White of SRS. And on behalf of the staff, I would also like to welcome Tracy Hassett of EdHealth and Jason Palmer of Willis Towers Watson to the board.

We continue our strong focus on events and on legislative and regulatory issues on behalf of our members. Many thanks to Jim McIntyre, and his partner Chrys Lemon, in Washington and Jamie Feehan in Vermont for their wonderful service to VCIA.   And my great thanks to the VCIA staff! Without their hard work, smarts and enthusiasm, we would not be able to accomplish any of the wonderful things we do for our members.  Thank you to Diane Leach, Elizabeth Halpern, Peggy Companion, Janice Valgoi, Dave Rapuano and Megan Precourt – you are all terrific!

Most of all, thank you for all your support and another great year!

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Mixy Business

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Many thanks to all you who joined us Wednesday night for VCIA’s annual Holiday Mixer. We had around 120 of nearest and dearest friends attend at the Hilton taking time to greet and socialize with fellow VCIA members on a cold and ultimately snowy Vermont evening.

Many thanks to our sponsors of the event: our friends at Crowe right up the street, and the folks of NAMIC Insurance Solutions (NAMICO) who came all the way from Indianapolis! Tim Sullivan, Kristen Strasser, and Ted Doughman braved the “friendly” skies to join us.  It is one of my favorite nights of the year, when friends come together with no agenda except to enjoy each other’s company as we head into the holiday season.

I also want to congratulate David Guerino as SVP & Managing Director of KeyState Captive Management.  Dave was there with some of his fellow KeyState colleagues as well, Jeff Vigne and Alicia Huskes. KeyState is a relatively new VCIA member and just announced plans to establish an office in Burlington, Vermont in early 2020.

Thank you again and I look forward to hearing from you!

Rich Smith
VCIA President