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

Let the Games Begin (and Congrats Vermont – Again)!

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The Vermont General Assembly began the first half of the legislative biennium this month. Both houses of the Vermont legislature now have a supermajority of Democrats, so Governor Scott (R) will have less room to push back on any legislation he doesn’t support. That being said, the House Commerce Committee’s new chair is Mike Marcotte, a Republican and former vice chair of the committee. Senate Finance remains in the hands of veteran Ann Cummings; both these committees oversee captive insurance in Vermont and both are strong captive insurance supporters.

As we do every year, VCIA initiated a process to build an agenda for suggested changes to the captive statutes for the 2019 legislative session.   With the results from our membership survey in hand, we meet with  Vermont’s captive management firms and law firms to hear their suggested changes. Then comes an iterative process with Dave Provost’s team at Vermont’s Department of Financial Regulation resulting in a consensus bill to present to the legislature. This year’s captive bill will be mostly tweaks and technical corrections, but even those are important in staying current in our ever-changing industry.

On another note, congratulations again to DFR and the State of Vermont! For the fifth straight year, Vermont was ranked the BEST  insurance regulatory environment in the United States, according to the R Street Institute’s  Insurance Regulation Report Card, an annual examination of which states best regulate the business of insurance.

Don’t forget that January 23rd  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

The Great Wall and Beyond

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As I mentioned in my last blog, I traveled to China right before the Thanksgiving holiday to speak before the 2018 Jing-Jin-Ji International Insurance Forum in Tianjin. My presentation focused on the introduction of Vermont’s captive market, development and supervision. I also participated on a panel that discussed the captive rules in Asia, U.S. and Europe, best practice and the latest innovation, with insurance supervisors from Hong Kong, Singapore and Guernsey as well.  I focused on how Vermont regulators create a “partnership” with the captive insurance companies while keeping a strong regulatory hand on the tiller. I emphasized the support from Vermont’s political leadership as well. This message was well received by my Chinese captive insurance colleagues.

IMG_1613It was a great trip, especially to see and hear how the China captive market is emerging. As I mentioned last time, there is a relatively small number of captives in China right now – and mostly held by state-owned enterprises (SOEs) like COSCO shipping, Sinopec and China Railway. However, there is a growing interest in captive insurance for private enterprises and other SOEs looking to better manage their risk.

The Chinese captive industry is very limited in scope right now. Like most regulators when presented with a new-fangled way of doing business, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission is taking a go-slow approach to captive insurance. The industry in China is looking to pick up steam and get interested parties from privately owned businesses to consider captives. They are also interested in helping move Chinese regulators to broaden the limits on captives currently in place.  And while it may be a long-shot to get a Chinese captive to domicile in Vermont, the fact that they are looking at VCIA as a place to learn illustrates the continued leadership of Vermont in the growing worldwide industry.  I look forward to continuing this dialogue and seeing how the Chinese captive industry evolves.

IMG_1614I want to thank in particular my colleague Geoffrey Cao, President of the Chinese Captive Insurance Association, who invited me over and played gracious host while I was in China. And a HUGE thank you to Christina Kindstedt, Senior Vice President of Advantage Insurance Management (USA), who provided a go-between with me and my Chinese counterparts, as well as helping with my trip every step of the way.  Thank you both so much!

I look forward to hearing from you!

Rich Smith
VCIA President