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

Happy Holidays and See You in 2018

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I just wanted to wish all of you Happy Holidays as we head out of 2017 and into 2018. It’s been another busy years in captives, that included a horrific hurricane season, the decision of the Avrahami case on 831(b)s, the specter of continued cyber security issues with the hacking of Equifax (among others), and the soon-to-be-passed Tax Reform bill – all of which impact our industry.

That being said, captive insurance is growing and remains a robust part of the world’s risk management sector. Vermont broke through the 1000 captive license mark and looks to add around 25 new captives before year’s end. With challenges and opportunities that lie ahead such as healthcare, drones, (more) cyber risk, and AI (artificial intelligence – get used to it), captives will show how entrepreneurial and innovative our industry can be!

Thank you all for another great year and Happy New Year!

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

Well, hello Molly!

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Former VCIA President, Honorary Member, and all around wonderful friend, Molly Lambert stopped by our offices last week, and, as many of you know, she is Vermont’s most respected community servant. Molly is doing a little work for a local affordable housing organization here in Burlington, Champlain Housing Trust, and it just so happens the stars align that bring the world of captive insurance and affordable housing.

This past year, the Vermont General Assembly passed an amendment in a housing bill that added captive insurers as a listed group that can take advantage of a tax credit that supports affordable housing. Currently banks and traditional insurance companies can take advantage of the credit. This change was welcome by both the Governor and legislature, as affordable housing is a priority for both.

CPA Mutual Insurance Company of America Risk Retention Group is the first captive insurance company to take advantage of Vermont’s Affordable Housing Tax Credit program. The captive purchased credits from the Champlain Housing Trust who will use the proceeds to create permanently affordable homes in Essex, Vermont.

CPA Mutual’s captive management company, Strategic Risk Solutions, worked with VCIA and the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation to bring the initiative to the legislature. The purchase of the tax credits will provide a reduction in state tax liability spread out over the next five years, while providing a lump sum up front for Champlain Housing Trust to subsidize four condominiums for sale in its shared equity program.  The revenue from the sale of the credits will subsidize the purchase of the homes. In exchange for this down payment assistance, buyers agree to share any market appreciation if they decide to sell at a future date.

William Thompson, president of CPA Mutual, commented: “This was an easy decision for us. To play a role in increasing the availability of affordable housing in Chittenden County is critical right now, and investing in the tax credits makes good business sense, too.”

Just like Molly to be on the side of good community and good business!  Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Border Patrol

taxes__illustrationWith Republican control of the Executive and Congressional branches of government enactment of tax reform in 2017 is highly possible.  Various proposals are being considered during the 2017 Congressional session and insurers have a lot at stake as Congress considers comprehensive tax reform.   Such legislation aims to lower individual and corporate tax rates, eliminate or limit most tax deductions, credits and exclusions, and dramatically restructure how the US taxes earnings of U.S. companies that sell goods and services outside the US.

Probably the biggest issue right now is a border adjustment tax proposed by Speaker Ryan. Taxes would apply based on the destination of where goods and services are consumed, rather than where they are produced or where the business has its headquarters.   This tax would make it virtually impossible for US insurers to buy global reinsurance, which they commonly use to spread risk and keep insurance rates affordable. It is still uncertain whether financial services transactions will be taxable if this proceeds, but the impact to reinsurance costs are estimated to be in the billions. In most other countries that have a similar value-added tax, or VAT, financial services transactions because the actual “destination” of such cash flows is difficult to discern.

Under current tax law, US insurers can write off the costs of international reinsurance just like any other cost of doing business, helping them to keep policies affordable. They cede about 20 percent of direct written premiums to reinsurers annually.  If insurers are not able to buy reinsurance to spread their risk, all the risk would be concentrated in the US rather than spread globally. This would make the insurance market less competitive, and result in higher premiums. The Brattle Group estimated that the impact of the tax is anywhere from $8B to $34B – a large range due to the fact that there is limited information on the proposal as of yet.

A border-adjustment tax is one of the ideas that has been floated in Washington as part of a major tax reform effort expected this year. To date, specific legislative proposals have not yet been put forward by Congress or the White House.  VCIA is working with the same coalition that opposes the Neal Bill on this issue to request a similar exemption.

Whatever road Washington takes on tax reform, it must act carefully and avoid the unintended consequences of a proposal like a border-adjustment tax.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Rich Smith
VCIA President