All Hat… No Cattle

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I always loved this Texan saying, and it is so appropriate as I am heading off to San Antonio to the humongous RIMS conference there next week and I have neither hat nor cattle.

A small, but intrepid, Vermont contingent heads to the RIMS conference every year where we proselytize on the magnificence of captives to the passing hoard (usually about 10,000 or so folks). Ian Davis will be our valiant captain as a bunch of us hang out at the cool Vermont booth for the conference. And Dave Provost and a number of the DFR champions will join us as well. So if you are going to be down there, please swing by the booth and grab a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s or pure Vermont maple syrup!

Speaking about the opposite of All Hat, No Cattle, Business Insurance handed out a couple of their 2018 US insurance awards to risk management programs recently, and one of our outstanding members picked up a trophy.  The honor for 2018 Risk Management Team of the Year went to global electrical power company AES Corp., American International Group Inc. and Marsh L.L.C. for their innovative approach of embedding terrorism and resultant damage cyber coverage within AES’ existing global captive property program, eliminating potential gaps between policies, providing additional limits and expanding cover to all AES insured assets. Andrew Baillie, program director of global insurance for AES, is the facilitator at our session of captive owners looking at international issues at VCIA’s annual conference this August.

Registration for the VCIA Annual Conference opens May 1st. We look forward to seeing many of you there for another excellent program!   Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Blockchain Gang

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If you are like me, no matter how many times you see a You Tube video on how blockchain works – you think you understand it. Then someone asks you to explain it and all you say is, “you know, it’s a distributed ledger system” like you know what the hell that means… but I digress.

Some recent articles in insurance trade mags noted that insurers need to be thinking about blockchain technology, as well as virtual currencies like bitcoin, and how to approach these areas of emerging risk as they become harder to ignore.  As a quick reminder, blockchain is the technology used for verifying and recording virtual currency transactions through a shared database. And virtual currency, such as bitcoin, is an unregulated digital form of currency that can be used as a substitute for legally recognized currency and eliminates the so-called “middle-man,” which includes banks and clearing houses.

Because it has only recently become more prevalent, and the hazards of blockchain technology and virtual currencies are still being quantified, there is hesitation among insurers about whether these risks are insurable – which sounds like an opportunity for the captive insurance community.  One emerging risk in particular, developer errors and omissions, represents potentially the most critical risk that threatens the survivability of a blockchain startup. Given the concerns regarding data and privacy risk, coupled with the SEC taking a closer look at digital currencies and blockchain technology, insurers have shied away from this space.

On the flip side of the coin, blockchain has the potential to become a useful tool in the transaction of insurance in the coming years.

One such trial, Allianz Risk Transfer (ART) partnered with Ernst & Young and digital agency Ginetta to create a blockchain prototype solution.  Their prototype looks at three common process flows in the captive insurance cycle – annual policy renewals, premium payments and claims submission and settlement. It translates these processes into the distributed ledger environment decreasing the time from start to policy, policy to premium and claim to settlement.

Additional use cases focusing on first notice of loss, subrogation and parametric insurance are being developed as well.  ART is one of several groups involved in the development of distributed ledger technology for the insurance and financial services industries, as the insurance world grapples with this emerging technology.

Correspondingly, a new law in Vermont takes advantage of the blockchain’s ability to confirm that information transferred to it is authentic by presuming that documents written to the blockchain are authentic for purposes of any legal proceeding in a Vermont court. Once again, Vermont law is poised and ready for changes that may soon come to the forefront in the financial services industry.

All this presents an interesting dynamic on the future of captive insurance. Captives are leaders in these types of shifts in the insurance world so I would not be surprised to see us catch this new wave and ride it to success!

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Hard Market, Schmard Market

chartThe siren song begins at the change of every year: based on historic losses in the year just ending, we can expect to see a hardening of the insurance market in the upcoming year. In fact, by all reports last year’s losses were high – Swiss Re’s preliminary sigma estimates for insured global losses resulting from natural and man-made disasters in 2017 are around $136 billion, well above the annual average of the previous 10 years and the third highest since sigma records began in 1970. Total economic losses soared in 2017 to $306 billion from $188 billion in 2016 primarily due to the three hurricanes—Harvey, Irma, and Maria—that hit the United States and the Caribbean, and wildfires in California.

The fact that we are seeing a “new normal” in loss rates certainly will be exacerbated by climate change – but that is a different story. To me, the story continues to be how even with last year’s near record losses, the insurance industry (which in the past would have triggered a substantive hardening of rates) has barely registered a blip.

One area we see this in is the reinsurance market. As stated in an article in Business Insurance, David Priebe, New York-based vice chairman of Guy Carpenter, said “Despite substantial catastrophe losses in 2017, the market demonstrated significant resilience with no notable capital withdrawal and moderate price increases.”

There are good reasons why the insurance marketplace remains so stable. Better loss control, better data, and more capital looking for a home have all contributed to this stability. And I would argue that the maturation of the captive insurance industry played a role by giving risk managers more options and flexibility.

Hard markets usually spark a corollary growth spurt in captive insurance formations. As prices harden, and insurance becomes more scarce, organizations form captives to fill the gap. But even without the hardening market, we continue to see growth in captive insurance. As Brady Young, president and CEO of Strategic Risk Solutions (SRS), told Captive.Com recently, he sees captives evolving in the future to be more of an offensive tool to support overall corporate strategies to serve customers and generate incremental profits. Brady also states, “captives can and will do more to reduce organizations’ overall cost of risk and squeeze out more of the inefficiencies of the traditional commercial insurance market… and in terms of specific lines of business or growth areas, captives will help solve the mismatch between the demands of companies and industries that have new risks and service models where traditional insurers struggle to provide the needed solutions.” He would know!

Next time I get asked by a reporter whether I think a hard market is coming our way, I will give them the same answer I gave at the end of last year: hard market, schmard market (which translates to not likely).

Speaking of Brady, come join us next Tuesday, February 6, in Atlanta where Brady and I will participate in VCIA’s world-famous Road Show outlining the advantages of captive insurance. We will be joined by Sandy Bigglestone, Director of Captive Insurance at the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, Christy Williams, President of Green Mountain Sponsored Captive Insurance Company, Christopher Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer of MCIC Vermont, Inc. (A Reciprocal Risk Retention Group), and Ian Davis, Director of Financial Services for the State of Vermont.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

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

Viva Las Ve-rmont!

Sure, it seems easy – especially when you are the largest and most sophisticated captive domicile in the US. But the work that Ian Davis, Dave Provost, Sandy Bigglestone and the rest of the State of Vermont team put into attracting so many new captives to license in the state should not be overlooked.Captive-Licenses-2017

What I am talking about here is the recent report that 2017 proved to be another highly successful year for Vermont’s captive insurance industry.  Vermont added 24 new captive licenses, bringing its total to 1,112 with 566 active captive insurance companies. This is almost exactly the average number of new captives licensed yearly in Vermont (roughly 25) regardless of the marketplace. There are now more than 40 states with captive laws on the book and with the current uncertainty of state self-procurement taxes that put a thumb on the scales in favor of “home states”, Vermont still excels.

The new captives were made up of 11 pure captives, 5 sponsored captives, 3 Risk Retention Groups (RRGs), 3 special purpose financial insurers, 1 branch captive and 1 industrial insured captive – as usual, a healthy mix of sizes, types and industries.  Risk Retention Groups account for three of the new licenses, bringing the active total to 90.  Vermont continues to hold a dominant market share with over 60% of all RRG premium volume being written by Vermont companies.  As David Provost, Vermont’s Deputy Commissioner of Captive Insurance, always says Vermont’s focus will always be licensing quality companies, not chasing numbers.

Don’t forget that January 24 this year is VCIA’s annual Legislative Day in Montpelier, Vermont’s capital. It’s a full day of meeting and hearing from Vermont’s political leaders on the captive industry and issues facing the State broadly. Go to www.vcia.com and register today!

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Rich Smith
VCIA President

A Nice Little Holiday Gift from Congress

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As reported by Business Insurance on December 13th, the House Financial Services Committee adopted legislation that aims to preserve the U.S. state-based system of insurance regulation and gives Congress greater oversight and transparency on international insurance standard negotiations.

As beneficiaries of the strong, state-based insurance regulatory framework, the captive insurance industry applauds the goal of this legislation. The bill was introduced in response to concerns expressed about the covered agreement signed by the United States and the European Union to address the U.S. lack of equivalency related to the bloc’s Solvency II directive for the insurance industry. Although we supported the covered agreement in terms of trying to create parity between jurisdictions, the NAIC objected to what they believe to be a lack of transparency and consultation with state regulators on the issue.

As reported in BI, the bill states that entities representing the United States may not agree to insurance-related international agreements unless they are consistent with and recognize existing federal and state law, particularly on the regulation of insurance. U.S. federal entities participating in negotiations would be required to coordinate and consult with state insurance commissioners, according to the bill.

Whether this bill gets enough immediate traction to pass in the next year remains to be seen. I think it does bode well that Congress reiterate the near supremacy in states regulating insurance (I say “near supremacy” because Congress can always change its mind!).

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Come Hell or High Water

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Back in July I wrote a blog about the possibility of some sort of border tax being proposed by Congress as part of a broader tax reform bill that could have a negative impact on the captive insurance industry.  Well, as I write this blog the House and Senate have passed versions of tax reform that both have an effect on our industry.

Now, here’s the deal with this bill: Congress is so desperate to pass a bill that shows they achieved something that this bill isn’t on the fast-track, it’s on a rocket with limited guidance control! So there will be a tax reform bill on the President’s desk by Christmas. Using the streamlined “budget reconciliation” process, the GOP needs only a simple majority in the Senate rather than the standard 60 votes, and because Republicans currently control 52 seats, victory seems assured provided defections are be minimized.

Its politics over policy, I am afraid. And though it seems certain that there will be a reduction in the corporate tax rate to 20%, both houses are looking for place to “pay for” these cuts in other areas, and insurance is a pretty easy target. Domestic reinsurers and specialty insurers would be the primary beneficiaries of tax reform, along with insurance brokers and standard commercial insurers, but captives with off-shore reinsurance agreements will be paying more. Relevant to the P&C insurance industry are provisions affecting net operating losses, discounted loss reserves, and, for P&C carriers with a diverse portfolio, the provisions affecting amortization of policy acquisition expenses.

Luckily for you all, VCIA will be presenting a webinar next week to try and make sense out of this chaos. On December 14th, a group of noted captive tax specialists will  also explore the recently introduced Tax Reform bill, its impact on captives, and the process it will go through to get passed by Congress.

Panelists include Daniel Kusaila and Thomas Jones, each of whom have been recognized by Captive Review as well as receiving numerous other industry awards, as well as Charles Boustany, Jr., MD, former U.S. Congressman on the influential House Ways and Means Committee and former chairman of the Subcommittee on Tax Policy.  Charles is currently a partner with Capitol Counsel LLC, a Washington law firm with expertise on taxation and insurance issues. His insight will bring great value to this session.

Click here to register today!

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Rich Smith
VCIA President