Black Swans for Thanksgiving

I, for one, am glad its Thanksgiving next week. First, I love the feast! Family and friends (well, er, no friends this year) gather for dinner and conversation – no gifts, no chocolates, no decorations. Just like me: boring but predictable. Second, like everybody I could use a break from the craziness that is 2020, and Thanksgiving does allow one the opportunity to take a reality “time out” at least for a day.

But as my mind drifted to turkey, another bird edged its way into my brain. The proverbial black swan that is at the top of mind for many of us in the insurance community. An article yesterday in the London Times by Alex Wright highlights how many in our world are working to create insurance solutions for things that historically have been labeled uninsurable, like the pandemic.

As Alex outlined in his article, traditionally, companies have mitigated against risk by taking out an insurance policy. Underwriters would spend hours poring over reams of historical data to determine the likelihood of the risk occurring before giving a quote.  But black swans don’t fit this mode well, as by definition they defy historical data – at least in the linear manner we usually think of.

The burgeoning world of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning is looking to change that. The key benefit of AI in insurance is that it can quickly process large data sets and identify significant trends that mere mortals are unable to do.

Dr. Marcus Schmalbach created the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) World Risk Index, a parametric index that uses machine-learning to gather data from a range of trusted and verifiable sources, many of which aren’t considered in traditional underwriting. That data is then rigorously analyzed alongside information the technology has gathered from previous experiences to look for patterns and links between events and determine the likelihood of a major event occurring. Among the areas his group has successfully modelled is business interruption loss in the event of a pandemic based on the data they crunched.

Climate change, natural disasters, political and trade conflicts, all could be better priced in the insurance world with new AI applications. AI can also reduce paperwork and the time taken to receive a quote or claim. Using parametrics, AI can also establish if an event has happened, thereby triggering payouts and avoiding any disputes.  Captives are well poised to take advantage of such innovation.

While nobody can predict the future with 100% accuracy, AI will allow insurers to detect anomalies that will help anticipate future events, like pandemics, and maybe better prepare us for the black swans. Perhaps roast black swan instead of turkey….

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

Rich Smith
VCIA President

It’s an Election…. Now What Happens?

In case you may have missed it, we had a national election this week where the United States picked who will be our President for the next four years… well, almost. As of this filing, the winner has not been declared and there is talk of court cases and recounts. Such is the way of our world these days.

I have been asked several times (OK, once) how I think the captive industry might be impacted under a Biden administration if he were to win. The short answer, from my perspective, is probably not much. Certainly, there are macro issues that may change if Biden were to tack toward a more open border economy than Trump as seems likely. And he is probably going to tighten some of the regulations that Trump loosened in his four years. Perhaps those policies offset each other, but all the same, I don’t think it will have a huge impact on our industry. And I don’t see much of a change in the IRS’s attitude against 831(b)s!

The hardening of the traditional (re)insurance marketplace that ostensibly started last year looks like it will keep steaming ahead into the upcoming year. That will most likely have a greater impact on our industry than policy shifts under a new administration. Certainly, policies impacting the economy, world affairs, and the continuing pandemic will have an effect, but captives are very good about adapting to new risks and economic environments.

One policy change that might provide a little boost to captive formations is if Biden raises the corporate income tax that was lowered under Trump. The lowering of the corporate income tax decreased the federal tax benefit to captive owners, as the accelerated deduction for losses incurred but not recorded will be worth less at a 21 percent tax rate than at the previous rate.  I will be curious to see if a raise to the corporate income tax (if it happens) will have a perceptible effect in our current market.

So, my advice to you all is to strike “impact to captives” off the list of things you are worried about regardless of who ultimately wins. However, if you want to hear more about what may be coming our way in terms of policies, laws and regulations that will impact the captive industry, join VCIA’s annual members-only Captive State of the Union with Dave Provost, myself and other luminaries as we discuss the outlook as part of VCIA’s Annual General Meeting on November 18th. Click here for full information and how to register.

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

Rich Smith
VCIA President

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

And We Are Off!

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Thanks to all of you who joined us for another successful VCIA Legislative Day this week at Vermont’s State House in bustling Montpelier! Our members, including many who came from afar, got to hear from Vermont’s new Secretary of Commerce Lindsay Kurrle, as well as Vermont’s Commissioner of Financial Regulation Mike Pieciak during our luncheon. Later in the day our members met and heard from Vermont’s Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson, and House Minority Leader Patty McCoy. Although these dignitaries 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 our luncheon, special guest economist Jeff Carr unveiled a recently completed economic contribution study of the captive insurance industry in Vermont. Suffice it to say that this industry is a tiny powerhouse here in Vermont! Immediately following, the folks from DFR provided a Q & A session for our members on recent updates and activities at the department. We provided a live stream via Facebook for our members.

In the afternoon, we testified before the House Commerce Committee, where Vermont’s Director of Financial Services, Ian Davis, and I gave updates on VCIA and the state of the industry. New VCIA Board Member, Tracy Hassett, President of EdHealth, did a terrific job describing her organization and the reasons they formed a captive in Vermont. In Senate Finance, Ian and I repeated our testimony and Deputy Commissioner Dave Provost concluded with a review of this year’s captive bill, S-255.

The great news is that the following day, Senate Finance voted out the bill 7-0 clearing the first hurdle in the legislative process. There are several sections of the bill, including lowering the minimum capital for sponsored captives from $250,000 to $100,000. The bill also proposes to expand to sponsored cell captives what we passed last year to all captives: provide flexibility in investments by giving companies the option to follow the old rules or develop a plan for DFR approval. Finally, the bill proposes to clarify disclosure requirements for agency captives – we may have been too prescriptive in the disclosure requirement built into the statute when passed last year.

Please click here to access a copy of the bill.

Thank you again to all of you who participated, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Rich Smith
VCIA President

The Numbers Are In

2019 proved to be another successful year for Vermont’s captive insurance industry with 22 new captive licenses added, bringing its total to 1,159 with 585 active captive insurance companies. This is roughly the average number of new captives licensed yearly in Vermont over the past 10 years or more, regardless of the marketplace, highlighting the resiliency of both the captive marketplace and Vermont as a domicile.

The new formations were made up of 14 pure captives, 4 sponsored captives, 2 Risk Retention Groups (RRGs), 1 special purpose financial insurer and 1 industrial insured captive, with an estimated Gross Written Premium of $24.8 billion.  A healthy mix of sizes, types and industries, ranging from healthcare, manufacturing and financial services to religious institutions, entertainment and nonprofits, are all represented. 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 next week on January 22nd VCIA is hosting its annual Legislative Day in the Vermont State House in Montpelier, Vermont.  This totally unique event underscores the excellent relationship that our captive industry has with Vermont’s policymakers. Register today to join us to meet with Vermont’s legislators, captive industry peers, and hear remarks over lunch from State Economist Jeff Carr who will be presenting the recently released economic impact study.  Go to www.vcia.com and register today!

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Cool Captives from Vermont

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

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

Vermont has built an ARC (Affiliated Reinsurance Company)

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At a cyber security roundtable hosted by Vermont’s Department of Financial Regulation on May 17, Vermont’s Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill creating a new reinsurance option for U.S. companies affected by a key provision of the U.S. tax overhaul.

The half-day roundtable provided a discussion of emerging cybersecurity regulatory regimes of the banking, insurance and securities industries.  VCIA board member, Anne Marie Towle, Executive Vice President for JLT Insurance Management and the Captive Practice Leader, served on a panel that explored Innovation and Developments in the Cybersecurity Insurance Market and Risk Management Alternatives with a number of other experts, including Fred Eslami, Associate Director with the alternative risk transfer group at A.M. Best. It was an excellent presentation in the inaugural DFR series seeking to provide the insurance and financial services industry in Vermont with education and resources.

The bill the Governor signed (H.719) offers an onshore affiliated reinsurance alternative to insurance companies affected by the Base Erosion Anti-Abuse Tax on reinsurance ceded to offshore affiliates.  The BEAT provision included in the tax reform package adopted in December aims to circumvent profit movement overseas by imposing a minimum tax on certain deductible payments made to a foreign affiliate, including payments such as management fees and royalties, but excluding costs of goods sold, beginning in tax years after Dec. 31, 2017. It applies a minimum tax of 10% of taxable income.

It started when Ed Koral, Specialist Leader at Deloitte Consulting (and recent VCIA board member – see, we are all over the place…) approached the State of Vermont with a need for an onshore alternative for those reinsurers offshore that will be impacted by BEAT.  The concept is very similar to the Special Purpose Financial Captive, without the requirement for a securitization transaction. One of the key provisions of the law is the investment flexibility it provides companies. Unlike more prescriptive investment rules, these new affiliated reinsurance companies will develop an investment policy that addresses diversity and liquidity concerns, and the Department of Financial Regulation will work with the company to approve it.

This new law once again represents Vermont’s ability to adapt quickly to regulatory changes in support of the financial services industry.

At the upcoming VCIA Annual Conference August 7-9 there will be terrific education for captive professionals, including Hot Topics with Dave Provost, who will undoubtedly talk about this new legislation. Other sessions include Innovative Spotlight: Financing Unique Risk, Economic Headwinds and Tailwinds Impacting Captives, Owner Lessons Learned in Establishing a Captive, and The Cognitive Captive: Artificial Intelligence for Smarter Insurance. Register soon at http://www.vcia.com to get the best rates! Early rates expire June 30th.

We look forward to seeing you in Vermont in August. Thank you all very much!

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Welcome Home!

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Some good news for Vermont was announced right before the New Year a week ago: the University of Vermont Health Network will move its captive from Bermuda to Vermont!

The network’s Board of Directors unanimously approved the move of VMC Indemnity Co. Ltd., a captive that provides medical malpractice insurance coverage, according to a statement by the six-hospital system issued Friday.  UVM Health Network established their captive back in the late 80’s, when Vermont’s captive insurance industry was just getting off the ground, and one of the few domiciles that made sense for many healthcare captives was Bermuda.

A nonprofit corporation will be established to become the network’s captive insurer and it will seek approval from the Internal Revenue Service to operate as a tax-exempt organization.  The UVM healthcare system has more than 1,000 physicians and 2,000 nurses and other clinicians in Vermont and New York.

Needless to say, we are very pleased to have VMC Indemnity redomesticate to Vermont!

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Rich Smith
VCIA President