Back to the Future… with VCIA’s Annual Tax Update!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving last week and were able to spend it with friends and family. As we move into the continued uncertainty with COVID, it is always good to take a step back to appreciate and be with loved ones (or ones that at least like you).

One certain thing you can count on this time of year is VCIA’s annual captive tax update webinar, scheduled for December 15 at 2:00 ET. This year we present “Back to the Future” where our esteemed captive tax specialists review 2021’s most significant tax developments and explore the possible impacts of proposed legislative action by the current administration.

Our panel consists of Daniel Kusaila, Partner at Crowe LLP, Chaz Lavelle, Partner at Dentons Bingham Greenbaum LLP, and Brandy Vannoy, Partner at Johnson Lambert LLP. With the help from content advisors Stephanie Brassard of Johnson Lambert LLP and Dana Marino of Innovative Captive Strategies, the panel will provide an analysis of state and federal tax activity from 2021.

Our panelists will also provide an overview of recent, notable court cases and IRS actions. This includes a discussion on “lessons learned “ for large captives from small captive cases and a “fact or factors” segment highlighting key drivers that impacted the decisions made by the courts.

Our tax specialists will be monitoring the current tax landscape through the days leading up to this webinar to ensure the audience receives real-time updates on the state and federal tax environments.

Also, I want to say congratulations to Dave Angus, recently appointed as counsel to the captive insurance law practice at the firm of Paul Frank + Collins in Burlington, Vermont. Dave brings his captive insurance and transactional practice from The Angus Firm to PF+C’s captive insurance team and has been a long-time member (and twice chair) of VCIA’s Legislative Committee. Congratulations, David!

Stay well and see you soon!

Rich Smith,
VCIA President

The People of Washington Have Spoken!

Captive Review reported that Washington State voters rejected a recent law that imposes premium taxes on captive insurance companies licensed in other states that are doing business in Washington State this past Tuesday! When asked to give their views on introducing the 2% premium tax, voters opposed it by a 19 point margin. It was just one of a number of new taxes rejected by voters under the advisory votes on tax increases that must be held under state law.

As you all have heard me say in an earlier post, the Washington State captive law passed earlier this year sets a terrible precedent whereby acquiescing some regulatory oversight by the Washington State insurance commissioner on captives domiciled in other states. Under the legislation, S.B. 5315, captives licensed elsewhere and operating in Washington would be required to pay an initial registration fee of $2,500 and be assessed an annual two percent premium tax on insurance provided to their parents or affiliates for Washington risks.

The reality is that the non-binding vote is unlikely to have an impact – the law will remain in effect unless state legislators vote to repeal the measure, which is unlikely to happen. I don’t think Washington State citizens delved into the issue of the captive tax and, after weighing the strong evidence of its inappropriateness, decided to reject it. No, this was a broad anti-tax vote on several taxation measures in the state, and the captive tax was dumped into a bunch of other unpopular taxes.

That being said, the vote did give me a moment of hope!

Stay well and see you soon!

Rich Smith,
VCIA President

Signed, Sealed and Delivered

Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed a bill this past Wednesday that makes some tweaks to Vermont’s captive statutes.

Every year, without fail, VCIA works with our members and Vermont’s Department of Financial Regulation (DFR) to bring a consensus bill to the Vermont legislature that makes rational, sensible changes that allows our industry to thrive in this State.

Sure, some years there are some sexy items in the annual captive legislation, like the creation of dormant captives (slow down my heart!).  However, the changes usually look at streamlining and clarifying the law to make it both easier to navigate the rules to the game and do the business of captives.  This year was one of those years.

When starting a captive, there is a certain practical order to things, i.e., the captive needs to be incorporated before a license can be granted or needs a tax ID number before bank accounts can be opened.  The new law will bring the statute in line with modern practices and procedures. 

The act also reorders language regarding protected cells to make it easier to follow. Similarly, captive statute references the traditional insurance statutes when it comes to mergers and redomestications. With enough difference in the captive insurance merger and redomestication language, the new act creates a separate section within the captive statute.

Finally, the changes in Vermont law will make it easier for captives to merge, provided there is unanimous consent of the parties (shareholders, members, or policyholders).

There are a couple of tweaks, but like I said, there was nothing earth shattering in the new act. Just another piece of legislation advancing Vermont’s captive insurance industry.

Thank you and I look forward to seeing you soon.  

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Slippery Slope

Just as we here in Vermont are starting to pack up our skis (not the hardcore, of course), the captive insurance industry is facing a new slippery slope.

Legislation approved March 9 by the Washington State Senate would set new requirements for captive insurance companies licensed in other domiciles but doing business in Washington State.  Under the legislation, S.B. 5315, captives licensed elsewhere and operating in Washington would be required to pay an initial registration fee of $2,500 and be assessed an annual two percent premium tax on insurance provided to their parents or affiliates for Washington risks. Captives affiliated with public institutions of higher education would be exempt from the premium tax.

Besides being poorly drafted, the bill sets a terrible precedent whereby acquiescing some regulatory oversight by the Washington State insurance commissioner on captives domiciled in other states. This is the culmination of a battle over the past few years between Washington’s Office of Insurance (OIC) and reality. For whatever reason, the OIC has not liked that companies in Washington can set up captives to better manage the risks of their organizations. The OIC seems to have turned a blind eye on the benefits of captives to these organizations, and in turn to the State of Washington, and instead sniffly says “we don’t approve”.  

For the companies and organizations headquartered in Washington, it has been frustrating I know. Finding a solution that gives some clarity to their operations as well as boundaries around taxes and potential fines forced a deal that neither helps the State of Washington, the companies doing business there, nor  the broader captive community. At some point, this law if passed could discourage the use of captives by Washington State businesses and nonprofits. All it will do is limit control and add costs. Washington could have instituted a self-procurement tax like several other states – instead, the OIC chose pride over prudence.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Tax: An Early Holiday Gift

For those of you in the United States, I hope you had a warm and safe Thanksgiving. As we head into the holiday season you can only be thinking of one thing – taxes. OK, maybe not, but we have pulled together our own version of the Three Wise Men to provide you with VCIA’s annual captive tax update on a webinar next week.

On December 8th, VCIA hosts the webinar “Captive Taxation: What You Need to Know” with Chaz Lavelle, a Partner with Dentons Bingham Greenebaum LLP, Dan Kusaila, Partner at Crowe LLP, and Sean Barnes, VP Finance and Administration and CFO with United Educators.

Chaz and Dan have years (and I mean YEARS) of experience and knowledge of captive tax issues and will bring you the latest 2020 tax developments, and outline what will occur in 2021, which is projected to be a busy year in captive tax.  Sean will attempt to corral these two as he moderates the session. Sean brings the captive owner perspective as the chief financial officer and chief investment officer for United Educators Insurance, a Reciprocal Risk Retention Group, one of the largest and most successful RRGs in the industry.

So please join us next Tuesday, December 8, by clicking here to register!

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

That’s NOT the Spirit

The big news at the CICA conference in Tucson (other than my travails in getting home) was the placement of Nevada-based Spirit Commercial Auto Risk Retention Group (RRG) into permanent receivership and how it might impact the alternative risk transfer market. A story broken by Christopher Diemel of the Risk Retention Reporter examined the problems of Spirit dating back to 2013, where there were clear warning signs that the company was not living up to its obligations. On February 27, 2019, the Eighth Judicial District Court of Nevada entered its permanent injunction and order appointing the Nevada commissioner of insurance as permanent receiver of Spirit Commercial Auto Risk Retention Group, Inc.

Chris’s report outlined developments at Spirit in 2018 including an auditor’s letter alleging material misstatements, the restatement of the company’s 2017 annual statement, and a loss portfolio transfer deal in excess of $100 million.  However, it was the response (or lack thereof) by Nevada regulators that is most troubling to me – and a warning to the industry as a whole.

The concern that the NAIC might again put RRGs under the microscope is real, however, the industry overall is solid. By all measures, captive insurance companies, including RRGs, have far better metrics than traditional insurance companies.  A 2018 report by rating agency Demotech revealed that RRGs remained financially stable, as cash, assets, and liabilities all increased since 2017 Q2. According to Demotech, the results suggest RRGs are adequately capitalized and are able to remain solvent if faced with adverse economic conditions or increased losses.

The Spirit case is a prime example of the differing levels of regulation by states. Chris’s report provided examples of RRGs that ran into trouble but were quickly and efficiently handled by state regulators in other domiciles. I don’t know what exactly happened in Nevada, but to me the issue isn’t rogue captives or RRGs, or less than scrupulous service providers. It is state regulators failing to do the right thing – and that’s not good for any of us.

Thank you all very much, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Washington State News

Rubber stamp "TAX"You have probably already heard of the recent pronouncement by the Office of the Insurance Commissioner in Washington State “allowing captive insurance companies that have unlawfully insured any risk in Washington State in the past 15 years to pay a substantially reduced fine and premium tax penalty for self-reporting the activity.”

The fact that the Washington State believes they can basically outlaw captive insurance with a press release is disturbing at best. It contradicts established federal law on insurance and creates a direct threat to the industry for those organizations that have risks in the state covered with a captive.  In the original legal filing by the K&L Gates law firm on the Microsoft case, they laid out the comprehensive argument that (1) the Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) does not have the authority to regulate self-insurance; (2) the captive was not in the business of making contracts of insurance and therefore excluded from the definition of “insurer”; (3) the captive is outside the scope of the OIC’s authority under the federal McCarran-Ferguson Act litigated under Todd Shipyards; and (4) the OIC was outside its bounds to try and tax premiums related to risks outside the State of Washington.

VCIA is working with CICA and our other captive insurance partners on a cohesive response to the bulletin. In the meantime, I would advise captives with Washington State presence to check with their captive advisors on the issue.  We strongly urge you to give it some time before deciding to comply with the release.

I look forwarded to hearing from you!

I Kind of Like the Swamp…

I am down in Washington for a couple of days meeting with various Congressional staff people about moving the Captive Clarity Bill forward, slowly but surely.

The Captive Clarity Bill is seeking to clarify (hence the name!) an issue passed in legislation a number of years ago.  Within the Dodd-Frank Act was passed the Nonadmitted and Reinsurance Reform Act (NRRA), which was intended to streamline the regulation and taxation of surplus lines insurance. However, some of the definitions in the Act are so broad that questions have been raised about its effect on captive insurance. If captive insurance is considered “nonadmitted insurance” under the NRRA, captive insureds may be required to pay a premium tax to their home state in addition to their captives paying domiciliary state premium taxes, and be partially regulated by the insured’s “home state.”

Currently, captives are taxed and regulated in the state that they are domiciled regardless of where their corporate owners’ headquarters may be located. Under NRRA, the home state could assert the right to tax the self-procured insurance premiums written within the captive entity even though the state of domicile already charges the captive a premium tax.  It would suddenly penalize many companies by double taxing them for being domiciled in a state that is not their home state.  Although the Act does not give states any additional taxing authority, the prospect of nondomiciliary states accessing additional insurance transactions to tax has increased the risk of states attempting to impose new taxes on captive insurance. On the other side of that coin, domiciliary states may be at risk of losing their ability to collect premium taxes and regulate certain aspects of captive insurance.

Ian Davis, Director of Financial Services for the State of Vermont, and I will be meeting with our Vermont contingent, Patrick Satalin with Rep. Welch (D-VT), and Erica Chabot and JP Dowd with Senator Leahy’s Office. We will also be meeting with key Congressional staffers, including John Hair with Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) – Chairman of the Housing and Insurance Subcommittee, Saat Altey with Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) – Member of the Senate Banking and Insurance Subcommittee, Brandon Beall, Professional Staff for Insurance, Senate Banking Committee, and Amanda Fischer, Director of the Democrat/Minority Policy for the House Financial Services Committee. Finally, I will be meeting with Richard Ifft in the Federal Insurance Office at the Treasury Department. Phew… I need a break just looking at the list!

Jim McIntyre and I will be providing a full legislative report during the VCIA Annual Conference to VCIA Members attending the  Annual Meeting, so come on by and find out more!

We look forward to seeing you in Vermont in August. Thank you all very much, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Thank you and Congratulations!

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ICCIE-award-squareAs I wrote about in last week’s blog, VCIA hosted our annual Member’s Legislative Day in Vermont’s state capital, Montpelier, yesterday and it was a big success!

Our members, including many who came in from afar, got to hear from Vermont’s Lt. Governor, David Zuckerman, as well as Commerce Secretary Mike Schirling at our luncheon, and then later in the day from the Speaker of the House, Mitzi Johnson, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Tim Ashe, and finally from House Minority Leader Don Turner. Even though they represent different parties under the Gold Dome, what they do have in common is their unwavering support of the captive insurance industry in Vermont.

At lunch the Vermont State Economist provided a view of the State and national economy for members. VCIA and ICCIE board member presented the second ICCIE Fellow designation to Vermont’s own Kate Boucher from Premier Insurance Management Services. Congratulations, Kate, much deserved!

VCIA testified before House Commerce and Senate Finance on the captive bill that was introduced this week and to provide an overview of VCIA and the captive industry. Joining me was Ian Davis, Director of Financial Services for the State of Vermont, VCIA’s board vice chair, and Jan Klodowski, vice president for Agri-Services Agency, LLC, a subsidiary of Dairy Farmers of America.  As usual, Ian and Jan did a great job!

And finally, under the sure hands of Dave Provost, the House Commerce committee passed out this year’s captive bill with an 11 – 0 vote.
For a copy of the captive bill, please click here

Thank you all very much, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Happy Holidays and See You in 2018

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I just wanted to wish all of you Happy Holidays as we head out of 2017 and into 2018. It’s been another busy years in captives, that included a horrific hurricane season, the decision of the Avrahami case on 831(b)s, the specter of continued cyber security issues with the hacking of Equifax (among others), and the soon-to-be-passed Tax Reform bill – all of which impact our industry.

That being said, captive insurance is growing and remains a robust part of the world’s risk management sector. Vermont broke through the 1000 captive license mark and looks to add around 25 new captives before year’s end. With challenges and opportunities that lie ahead such as healthcare, drones, (more) cyber risk, and AI (artificial intelligence – get used to it), captives will show how entrepreneurial and innovative our industry can be!

Thank you all for another great year and Happy New Year!

Rich Smith
VCIA President