Space…The Final Frontier

Rich-KurkVery cliché, I know, but still so true.

The fact that we now have a burgeoning space industry opens up opportunities for the insurance world. Most insurance companies offer some type of Space and Satellite Insurance which covers things like satellite launch and in-orbit, contingency, in-orbit third party liability, or some combination thereof.  But with space tourism becoming a reality in the not-too-distance future, captive insurance has an opportunity to play a role in the risk management of our last frontier.

The global banking firm UBS believes there will be very lucrative ramifications from the space flight efforts currently led by Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Blue Origin, and stated that in a decade high-speed travel via outer space will represent an annual market of at least $20 billion and compete with long-distance airline flights. Space tourism will be a $3 billion market by 2030, UBS estimates.

UBS pointed to SpaceX’s plans to use the massive Starship rocket it is building to fly as many as 100 people around the world in minutes. SpaceX said that Starship would be able to fly from New York to Shanghai in 39 minutes, rather than the 15 hours it takes currently by airplane – pretty cool.  And even though space tourism is still nascent, UBS said they believe the sub-sector will become mainstream as the technology becomes proven and cost falls.

The legal risk of orbital space tourism is uncharted territory, and the liability risks to these companies could be huge.  Under current regulation, commercial passengers will have to sign an “informed consent” form to confirm that they recognize and accept the risks. This provision has been enshrined in US law by the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act 2004. Such liability waivers remain untested in the courts.

Although there are large insurance firms looking at space tourism, it seems that there is a yawning gap for the liability coverage of the space firms. Captives have always done well with filling this void with targeted, bespoke coverage. So, brush off your old Star Trek DVDs and let’s hope that we have a panel at the VCIA conference in the next ten years devoted to the extraterrestrial!

For all you Trekkies out there we have the next best thing to Captain James T. Kirk: for our closing luncheon on Thursday at the VCIA Annual Conference the week of August 5th we have former astronaut Mike Massimino as our special keynote. He is a recurring character on The Big Bang Theory, a professor at Columbia University, the first person to tweet from space, and a New York Times best-selling author.  Mike will speak of pursuing his passion and tell incredible stories about his experiences in outer space manning space missions. Having one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, Mike will speak of the teamwork and problem-solving skills needed to train for and accomplish one of NASA’s most difficult space missions. Don’t miss this fun closing event!

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

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Cool Captives from Vermont

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I just returned from Chicago where I was a guest of the folks from Strategic Risk Solutions at their annual client symposium. It was a great 1 ½ days of education and networking with the captives, service providers and staff of SRS (many Vermonters, of course!).

I was asked to speak on a panel with regulators from a variety of captive domiciles on the way Vermont regulates captives, specifically the examination process. Hardly my expertise, but as you all know, I am always game!

At the lunch on Wednesday, SRS President & CEO Brady Young recognized three of their clients for the innovation they all employed in their captives. All three were Vermont captives naturally! They were Agrisurance Inc., whose parent company is Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), the largest co-op in the country and fourth largest worldwide; Maple Red Insurance Company, captive for Turner Construction, one of the largest construction management companies in the United States; and ProMutual Solutions/Axial Benefits Group cell programs. 

Congratulations to you all, and congratulations to SRS for a very successful event!

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

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Playing Well in the Insurtech Sandbox

Concept of Insurance policyLegislation to enable insurtech experimentation and innovation in Vermont is on its way to the Governor’s desk for his signature. In the next week or so, Governor Phil Scott is expected to sign the insurance and securities bill (S-131).  Among other things, this bill creates an insurtech “sandbox” which will allow more R&D in this area with specific guidelines. It also updates Vermont’s surplus lines laws.

The regulatory sandbox in S-131 will provide the flexibility necessary to accommodate new concepts at the same speed as insurance technology develops. It does so by lowering or eliminating the hurdles facing this sector in bringing developments to market amid an insurance regulatory landscape that does not always accommodate such development. Not everyone will be able to play in the sandbox environment, as eligibility criteria limits the number of clients and a limited time period for the developers is part of the package. Overall, though, it’s a great step forward.

Earlier this year, Commissioner of Financial Regulation Mike Pieciak and Secretary of State Jim Condos signed a memorandum of understanding outlining their collaborative efforts to explore emerging blockchain technology and its use in the digital recordkeeping practices of the captive insurance industry.  They jointly issued a Request for Information (RFI) to identify vendors that may work with the State to launch a pilot program allowing new captive insurance companies to register with the Secretary of State using blockchain technology.  The pilot program will help the state identify areas where the use of blockchain technology in regulatory and other government business may increase data security and reduce costs for residents and those doing business in Vermont.  There were more than 20 submissions which the department is currently reviewing.

The support of the insurtech sector and the blockchain pilot program are great examples of Vermont’s openness to technology trials and innovations in our State, and Vermont’s awareness that the insurance industry as a whole is ripe for innovation.

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

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Give Peace (Church) a Chance

 

boatsMy thanks to Phil Leaman and his board of directors at Peace Church Risk Retention Group (a reciprocal) for inviting me to join them for their meeting in Vermont last week. Phil is COO of Peace Church RRG, and spoke at VCIA’s recent Road Show in Philly.  Peace Church is part of a larger umbrella organization that provides services to approximately 140 organizations with programs for aging, disability and behavioral health.  Phil is also an active member of VCIA’s Legislative Committee and participates first hand in VCIA’s legislative and regulatory efforts.

I was on the panel with two absolute pros from Vermont’s Department of Financial Regulation captive insurance examination office, Dan Petterson and Heidi Rabtoy. We gave an overview of DFR’s regulatory regime, VCIA’s activities on behalf of our members, and how both organizations work cooperatively for the industry.  What a great opportunity for the State and VCIA to get directly in front of a captive board to report on our activities and take their questions! I think they left with an even better feeling of being domiciled in Vermont and being a member of VCIA than when they arrived – at least I know I did!

In speaking with Dan and Heidi afterward (and Deputy Commissioner Dave Provost), we all agreed we would welcome other opportunities to get before captive boards of directors.  So, keep us in mind for your next captive board meeting in Vermont. Having us there makes Vermont look good and can make you look good, too!

On another note, thanks to everyone who came out Wednesday afternoon and evening for VCIA’s Board Meeting and Annual Spring Mixer. The evening on the deck of the Burlington Sailing Center overlooking Lake Champlain was absolutely gorgeous. Add in good food and drink, and great friends, and it was a super event! Thank you to Johnson Lambert LLP for sponsoring the mixer.

 

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

Rich Smith
VCIA President

It’s time we stop being ostriches…

 

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How much longer is our industry (and by that, I mean the general insurance industry) going to keep ducking one of the most (if not THE most) important risk issue of our time: climate change?

Regardless of what your philosophical or political beliefs may be, the evidence is clear that we are facing unprecedented changes in the earth’s climate – well at least going back a few thousand years. And still, the one industry that is supposed to be out in front on risk management has its head in the sand.

As late as last year, Business Insurance reported that “the majority of insurers, particularly in the United States, do not integrate climate change into their risk management practices despite historic flooding in many communities”. Reinsurers, on the other hand, seem to have had a better response to climate change-related financial risk, according to the study by the University of Waterloo called Insurance and Climate Change Risk Management: Rescaling to Look Beyond the Horizon.

As reported in Gloria Gonzales’s article in BI, most insurance companies assumed the risk to property from extreme weather is static and based their premiums on historical data. Insurers have not adjusted as extreme weather events have increased in severity, frequency and unpredictability, according to the study.

“As extreme events become more frequent, insurers that ignore climate change will not put away enough money to cover their claims,” Jason Thistlethwaite, a climate change economist at the University of Waterloo, said in a statement. “To recoup those losses, they’ll have to raise rates or pull coverage from high-risk areas. When this shift happens, thousands of people will lose coverage or it will be unaffordable.”

“Some insurers are better at understanding climate change than others,” Mr. Thistlethwaite said. “These organizations will survive and likely be able to sell climate services to their counterparts struggling to understand the problem. Those that don’t will fail.”

As I blogged more than a year and a half ago, the insurance industry, including captives, needs to step up and lead on this issue. No industry is better placed to clear-headedly explain the risks and provide much-needed leadership on mitigation and sustainability. It’s what we do!

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

Rich Smith
VCIA President

The Gospel of Captives and Temple

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As I mentioned in my last blog, we were in Philadelphia last Tuesday for one of VCIA’s famous Road Shows serving up our sermon on the gospel of captives to a group of around 100 attendees. My heartfelt thanks to all the participants and our sponsors: Trion-MMA, Old Republic PMA, Kroll, and the State of Vermont.

Jeff Packard of Old Republic PMA acted as our MC, introducing the panels while providing entertaining (and educational) anecdotes of his many years in the captive industry. Our panelists were terrific as well! Kirk Watkins, Captive Practice Leader of Trion-MMA, walked through the basics of captives including types, lines and the process of setting one up. Then Ian Davis, Director of Finance, and Sandy Bigglestone, Director of Captives, provided an overview on regulation and licensing of captive insurance in the State of Vermont.

The second panel included two of Vermont’s captive insurance owners, Gary Langsdale, University Risk Officer for The Pennsylvania State University which owns Nittany Insurance Company, and Phil Leaman, COO of Resource Partners and Peace Church Risk Retention Group (A Reciprocal). Both provided excellent information from their many years of experience in operating captive insurance companies.

Gary outlined the complexity of his captive which covers 8 million sq. ft. of floor surface in 700 buildings, a 107,000-seat football stadium, 45,000 students, 16,000 faculty and staff, 1900 owned motor vehicles, two large hotel and conference centers, and, my favorite, a nuclear reactor sharing a driveway with the child care center!  Phil talked about how his captive covers Quaker, Mennonite, and Church of the Brethren facilities serving the aged and other assisted living populations.  With approximately 140 organizations and 16,843 insured units, Peace Church has gross written premiums of $55,433,689.

But most of all, we had around 30 students from Temple’s Fox School of Business studying risk management or actuarial sciences who joined us that afternoon. This extremely poised, intelligent group of young adults asked the best questions and provided all of us great hope for the future of the captive industry. My sincere thanks to Michael Zuckerman, Assistant Professor at the Fox School of Business and Management’s Dept. of Risk, Insurance and Healthcare Management, for bringing such an inspiring group of students!

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

Rich Smith
VCIA President

VCIA Legislative Day – Cyber-up!

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As we all know, cybersecurity is one of the main issues facing society today. From data breaches that expose personal information to malware that can infect computer systems, in our growing IOT (internet of everything) world it’s the problem of the day. The insurance industry, including captives, have focused on cybersecurity for some time now. Both to provide their clients with the proper mitigation policies and to protect their own data systems, our industry continues to be in the forefront.

Who would have figured that in our small state, Vermont hosts one of the top cybersecurity institutions in the nation! Located in Northfield, Vermont (just south of our State’s capital, Montpelier) Norwich University hosts the NU Applied Research Institutes (NUARI).  NUARI was federally chartered in 2002 to address cyber incident management challenges through research, training programs and technology development and has been a global leader for more than a decade in developing cyber war gaming, distributed learning technology, distributed simulation technology, critical infrastructure exercises, and cybersecurity curriculum.  Norwich provides a truly unique program utilizing state-of-the-art forensic tools unheard of at other institutions of this size.

We are honored to have the President of NUARI, Phil Susmann, address our members at next week’s VCIA Legislative Day in Montpelier. Phil will speak at lunch in the Capital Plaza Hotel on January 23rd along with DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak and a welcome from Lt. Governor David Zuckerman.

Legislative Day is a chance for our members to meet the State’s top political leaders and hear about the issues that are facing Vermont in the upcoming year. It’s also a great chance for the captive industry to say “thank you” for the over 30 years of support from politicians and policy leaders from all stripes: Democrats, Republicans, Progressives and Independents.

There will be meetings with legislative leaders and presentations to House and Senate committees. And don’t miss the Q&A opportunity with Dave Provost and the DFR Team after lunch! The event concludes with a fabulous evening reception where legislators, elected and appointed officials and VCIA Members mingle and exchange information about Vermont’s captive insurance industry and make plans for its continued success in 2019.

So, if you haven’t done so already, register here for a great day!

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

Rich Smith
VCIA President