Hit Me with Your Best Shot

I just received my first shot of the COVID vaccine yesterday, and it provided a real boost of optimism that we are heading out of this weird nightmare. I would never have guessed how excited I’d be about getting a jab in the arm with a sharp needle!

Governor Scott of Vermont, who has been incredibly disciplined about taking necessary precautions, has said he expects the state to be more or less open by July 4th.  As we start to head into nicer weather up here in the Great North, that is  good news. Still a lot to be worried about when I scan the news from around the world: huge spikes in Brazil, slow rollout of vaccines in Europe, the fact that many in the developing world won’t see vaccinations until next year.

COVID is indeed an international issue – not only is there a truly humanitarian issue at stake, but the pace of vaccinations around the world will impact us all.  That’s why it was interesting to hear about the new Global Health Risk Facility (GHRF). The GHRF is a highly collaborative undertaking that insures the transportation and storage of COVID-19 vaccines, and other critical health commodities, for the benefit of low, middle, and upper-middle-income countries. The GHRF has been developed by Parsyl, a Lloyd’s Lab alumni, in close partnership with AXA XL, Ascot and McGill and Partners. AXA XL will lead the risk management and local policy implementation.

What’s also interesting (though maybe not a big surprise) is that  many of the pharmaceutical companies involved with the development and manufacturing of the vaccines chose to base their captives here in Vermont. How cool is that?! Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca all domicile their captive insurance companies here, for good reason.

I look forward to learning  more about how captives were utilized in these extraordinary times. Which is exactly what will happening as part of the VCIA Signature Series, this coming Tuesday, April 13th! One of our sessions is on disaster (and unforeseen event) preparedness and recovery. We will learn from captive owners whose programs have navigated the treacherousness of the pandemic, sure to be fascinating. Also in the line-up for that day is a great session about cyber-risk and it’s ever-expanding nature of threat. The day ends with a private forum for captive owners to get together, see each other (via camera), share ideas and collaborate. Should be a great day and it’s not too late for you to register! More info at http://www.vcia.com.  

Thank you and I look forward to seeing you soon.  

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Your Signature (Series)

Join VCIA for its Inaugural Signature Series Event on April 13th! The Signature Series is an online event consisting of two Captive Education Sessions, each followed by Guided Discussion Groups hosted by Industry Experts. The day also features a Captive Owners Forum.

The first session will be the dramedy  “Disaster! – What’s the Plan?” exploring the reactions, interactions, and strategies to prepare your company and captive program for the next unforeseen event. We’ll illustrate real time issues companies and captives faced in the wake of the declaration of the COVID-19 Pandemic and how to better prepare your company for future disasters and other major business challenges. Our cast of thespians will examine the importance of a disaster preparedness plan, its key components and how to craft such a plan for your company. The stars of this dramady are Julie Bordo, President & CEO of PCH Mutual Insurance Co. Inc. (RRG), Hugo Crawley, Chairman of TigerRisk Partners (UK), Gail Newman, Vice President of Risk Management for Bright Horizons Family Solutions, and Michael O’Malley, Managing Director of Strategic Risk Solutions.  It may be so good we take it into syndication!

Our second session will look to answer many questions around cyber risk and captives. As cyber-attacks become more frequent and increasingly harmful, are you prepared? What risk financing and management techniques are you using today to handle your cyber risk? Are you familiar with regulation and governance required to manage cyber exposure for your organization? How do you design a program which provides appropriate coverage cost-effective price, along with the associated vendor costs, to prepare if a cyber event occurs in your organization?

Elisabeth Case, Managing Director at Marsh, John O’Neil, Corporate Insurance Risk Manager at MassMutual, Dan Petterson, Director of Captive Examinations for Vermont’s Division of Captive Insurance, and Uso Sayers, Managing Director at Johnson Lambert, will share knowledge of best practices, and what coverages you need to ensure for, both in and out of your captive, to protect your organization from this ever-expanding threat.

And finally, for our captive owners only forum, two captive owners will lead a dynamic discussion with other captive owners exploring current industry challenges, solutions, new ideas and industry best practices. Melinda Young of NC3 and Brian Johnson of Alliance of Nonprofits for Insurance, RRG, will corral the issues most on the minds of captive owners using interactive technology.

Click here to register today!

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

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

Kickin’ it Off!

Great kickoff event for the 40th Anniversary of captive insurance in the State of Vermont this week. Each year in January, VCIA Members visit the Vermont State House for our annual Legislative Day. This special event highlights the successful working relationship between our Association and the State’s elected and appointed leaders.

This year, we switched to a virtual Legislative Day due to the pandemic and it was one of the most popular we have hosted! We started the day with a Q&A session from the leadership team at the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation’s Captive Division. They reviewed recent events and changes at DFR, as well as answered questions on what they saw on the regulatory horizon.

Midafternoon, DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak hosted an hour-long captive industry review, highlighting 40 years of innovation and superlative regulation in Vermont. Mike also talked about how members of the Captive Division and others in DFR had taken on important roles in tackling the COVID-19 emergency in the State – the Governor drew on the expertise and competence of Mike and his department in modeling the pandemic as well as assisting in the distribution of COVID resources to Vermonters.

DFR’s Dave Provost and Sandy Bigglestone provided an overview of the captive industry in Vermont to legislators, members and guests attending, followed by Brittany Nevins, Captive Insurance Economic Development Director at Vermont’s Agency of Commerce, who gave the economic and market report. Yours truly did a quick summary of VCIA, before passing the baton to Julie Bordo, President & CEO, PCH Mutual Insurance Co. Inc. (RRG), who hit it out of the park with a presentation of her captive program and the important role Vermont has played in its success.

The final event was a zoom meeting with VCIA members and the new leaders under the gold dome. Lt. Gov. Molly Brown, Speaker of the House Jill Krowinski, and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint shared their valuable time with us talking about the issues and priorities they see ahead for the State of Vermont.  The enthusiasm they all brought to our meeting with our members contributed enormously to the success of the day.  Sen. Balint recounted the time as a new member of the Senate Finance Committee she reported out the captive bill on the Senate floor with a song! (Something she had to apologize to her colleagues for later 😊).

The cherry on top (literally) is that the State of Vermont provided a Lake Champlain Chocolate Thank You Gift Basket to a randomly chosen attendee of Legislative Day. The winner was our good friend Adam Dubuque of Johnson Lambert who has been in the industry for 18 years – almost half of the 40 years captives have been in business in Vermont! Yikes 😉

Thank you again to all of you who joined us this week. I look forward to hearing from you.

Rich Smith,
VCIA President

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.