Back to the Future… with VCIA’s Annual Tax Update!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving last week and were able to spend it with friends and family. As we move into the continued uncertainty with COVID, it is always good to take a step back to appreciate and be with loved ones (or ones that at least like you).

One certain thing you can count on this time of year is VCIA’s annual captive tax update webinar, scheduled for December 15 at 2:00 ET. This year we present “Back to the Future” where our esteemed captive tax specialists review 2021’s most significant tax developments and explore the possible impacts of proposed legislative action by the current administration.

Our panel consists of Daniel Kusaila, Partner at Crowe LLP, Chaz Lavelle, Partner at Dentons Bingham Greenbaum LLP, and Brandy Vannoy, Partner at Johnson Lambert LLP. With the help from content advisors Stephanie Brassard of Johnson Lambert LLP and Dana Marino of Innovative Captive Strategies, the panel will provide an analysis of state and federal tax activity from 2021.

Our panelists will also provide an overview of recent, notable court cases and IRS actions. This includes a discussion on “lessons learned “ for large captives from small captive cases and a “fact or factors” segment highlighting key drivers that impacted the decisions made by the courts.

Our tax specialists will be monitoring the current tax landscape through the days leading up to this webinar to ensure the audience receives real-time updates on the state and federal tax environments.

Also, I want to say congratulations to Dave Angus, recently appointed as counsel to the captive insurance law practice at the firm of Paul Frank + Collins in Burlington, Vermont. Dave brings his captive insurance and transactional practice from The Angus Firm to PF+C’s captive insurance team and has been a long-time member (and twice chair) of VCIA’s Legislative Committee. Congratulations, David!

Stay well and see you soon!

Rich Smith,
VCIA President

The People of Washington Have Spoken!

Captive Review reported that Washington State voters rejected a recent law that imposes premium taxes on captive insurance companies licensed in other states that are doing business in Washington State this past Tuesday! When asked to give their views on introducing the 2% premium tax, voters opposed it by a 19 point margin. It was just one of a number of new taxes rejected by voters under the advisory votes on tax increases that must be held under state law.

As you all have heard me say in an earlier post, the Washington State captive law passed earlier this year sets a terrible precedent whereby acquiescing some regulatory oversight by the Washington State insurance commissioner on captives domiciled in other states. 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.

The reality is that the non-binding vote is unlikely to have an impact – the law will remain in effect unless state legislators vote to repeal the measure, which is unlikely to happen. I don’t think Washington State citizens delved into the issue of the captive tax and, after weighing the strong evidence of its inappropriateness, decided to reject it. No, this was a broad anti-tax vote on several taxation measures in the state, and the captive tax was dumped into a bunch of other unpopular taxes.

That being said, the vote did give me a moment of hope!

Stay well and see you soon!

Rich Smith,
VCIA President

Signed, Sealed and Delivered

Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed a bill this past Wednesday that makes some tweaks to Vermont’s captive statutes.

Every year, without fail, VCIA works with our members and Vermont’s Department of Financial Regulation (DFR) to bring a consensus bill to the Vermont legislature that makes rational, sensible changes that allows our industry to thrive in this State.

Sure, some years there are some sexy items in the annual captive legislation, like the creation of dormant captives (slow down my heart!).  However, the changes usually look at streamlining and clarifying the law to make it both easier to navigate the rules to the game and do the business of captives.  This year was one of those years.

When starting a captive, there is a certain practical order to things, i.e., the captive needs to be incorporated before a license can be granted or needs a tax ID number before bank accounts can be opened.  The new law will bring the statute in line with modern practices and procedures. 

The act also reorders language regarding protected cells to make it easier to follow. Similarly, captive statute references the traditional insurance statutes when it comes to mergers and redomestications. With enough difference in the captive insurance merger and redomestication language, the new act creates a separate section within the captive statute.

Finally, the changes in Vermont law will make it easier for captives to merge, provided there is unanimous consent of the parties (shareholders, members, or policyholders).

There are a couple of tweaks, but like I said, there was nothing earth shattering in the new act. Just another piece of legislation advancing Vermont’s captive insurance industry.

Thank you and I look forward to seeing you soon.  

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

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

The Devil Gets His Due: 831(b)s

The Internal Revenue Service has pumped up the volume on their efforts to go after fraudulent 831(b) captives and their promoters. And although no industry likes the thought of being singled out by our nation’s tax collectors, it is hardly surprising.

Solomon Teague of Captive International recently reported that the IRS has scored some notable victories against abusive micro-captive insurance tax shelters in recent years, with settlement offers to some 200 captives last September. Flush with victory, the IRS has established 12 new examination teams to go after taxpayers using 831(b) captive insurance vehicles to avoid paying taxes, thereby significantly ramping up the pressure that has grown up around these shelters.  It will open additional examinations and use all available enforcement tools, including summonses, to obtain the necessary information, the IRS said in its statement.

The IRS has been concerned about abusive micro-captives for several years. It has named these transactions on its Dirty Dozen list of tax scams since 2014. In 2016, the Department of the Treasury and IRS issued Notice 2016-66, identifying certain micro-captive transactions as having the potential for tax avoidance and evasion.

As Solomon reported, the IRS’s position was bolstered by three US Tax Court decisions, each confirming that certain micro-captive arrangements are not eligible for federal tax benefits, along with settlement offer letters to “up to 200” micro-captives that it suspected were not engaged in legitimate insurance activities. According to the IRS, nearly 80 percent of taxpayers who received its settlement offer elected to accept it. “The IRS has collected huge sums of money in recent months from the settlements it has reached and has amassed quite a war chest. The more it goes after these captives the more money it makes, so it is only logical that it keeps up the pressure,” according to an expert in his article.

VCIA, and others in the industry, has been warning about the impact of these less-than-honest facilities for some time. What the IRS is doing only affects a very small portion of the captive insurance sector, being risk-pooled 831(b) captives. The IRS is not taking any actions against captive insurance companies generally. The IRS is not even pursuing all captive insurance companies that have made the 831(b) election. No Vermont captives have been under scrutiny.

It will be interesting to see how this is reflected in the captive numbers released by the states whose insurance departments made a big deal about mass-licensing so many captives, nearly all of which were 831(b) captives of the risk-pooled varietal. As we have seen before in the captive industry, new captive domiciles will sometimes loosen regulatory standards in order to drive new captive formations – and put out press releases attesting to the growth in their states.

As I said in the beginning, no industry likes the headlines about IRS scrutiny. But I am hopeful this will clean up a particularly bad set of apples in ours.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you!

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Taxing Talk

2019-tax-panelJoin us next week As VCIA presents its annual captive taxation update! On December 12th, a group of noted captive tax specialists will inform you of the latest 2019 tax developments impacting captive insurers. Our panel will provide details on specific tax authorities and court rulings released over the past year to provide further insight into the ever-shaping landscape of captive taxation. The panel will also explore the latest changes from the U.S. Tax Reform bill enacted a couple of years ago, its impact on captives, and how best to plan for year-end.

Our panelists will be Saren Goldner, Partner at Eversheds Sutherland, Kristen Hazel, Partner at McDermott Will & Emery, and Alicia Miller, Tax Senior at Crowe.  Each of these experts are considered respective authorities of captive taxation in their various capacities, and all are members of firms who have a strong presence in the captive industry and work tirelessly for the benefit of all.

This webinar offers a great opportunity for all stakeholders to keep up with the latest tax developments in efforts to make informed decisions at the highest level of corporate governance for your captive.  You will walk away learning about recent changes from the U.S. Tax Reform bill that will affect the status of captive insurers; Washington State’s recent approach toward taxing captive entities and some results of recent court cases;  the basics of Johnson & Johnson’s successful appeal in its $55 million NJ Self Procurement Tax Refund Case; recent developments involving insurance characterization, including risk pools and alternative premium characterization; and the IRS’s continued focus on smaller captive insurance companies and understand best practices learned from the cases in this area.

Click here for more information. I hope you will be able to join us!

Rich Smith
VCIA President

It’s a Hard Market

OK, time to fess up. In a blog in February 2018, I dismissed the rumor that a hardening insurance market was on its way. As a matter of fact, I stated “Next time I get asked by a reporter whether I think a hard market is coming our way, I will give them the same answer I gave at the end of last year: hard market, schmard market” – ouch!

Well, as we are all aware, the insurance market has certainly been hardening over the last year. Even though I still believe that the broader insurance market is more stable now, with better loss control, better data, more capital, and the maturation of the captive insurance industry, it is tightening. According to the second quarter 2019 Marsh Global Insurance Market Index, commercial property rates in the U.S. increased nearly 10% in the second quarter, which is twice the level of recent quarters.

And though the hardening market is impacting several different lines, I thought the explanation as reported in Business Insurance by Bret Ahnell, Executive Vice President of Staff Operations at FM Global, on property insurance (a large area in the captive marketplace) was instructive:

1.) The commercial property insurance industry has been losing money.  There have been declining rates industry-wide for more than a decade while carriers have offered broader coverages.  At the same time the industry has been contending with increased risk as a result of global economic expansion.  In fact, the property and casualty industry has been above a 100 combined ratio in 6 of the last 9 years. Only 2013-2015 were profitable, explained by extremely low losses from natural disasters.  Yet, when big natural catastrophe losses resulted from events, including hail, hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, and monsoons, the industry again posted losses in 2017 and 2018.

2.) Bonds markets have remained lackluster.  While investment yields in the stock market have been favorable during this time, the returns in the bond markets — which most insurers primarily rely upon for investment income — have remained lackluster.  The result is the industry hasn’t been able to use their investments to offset bad underwriting results. Carriers have had to adjust rates and coverages as needed to better ensure an underwriting profit.

3.) Regulators are gaining more sway in underwriting behavior.  The role of regulators is having an impact on underwriting behavior and discipline.  More than ever the insurance industry needs to be able to demonstrate sustainable business models and profitability across each line of business.

4.) New U.S. tax laws have increased tax liability while driving down profitability. Where previously carriers could write off 35% of a loss, today, it is only 21%, which ultimately means more selectivity when placing capacity.

It all adds up to a commercial property market that requires underwriting discipline and a continued correction over time. And, in this market, those clients who understand and commit to property loss prevention and risk engineering will do better than those who don’t.  That means captive owners will most likely be adding more to their risk portfolios.

On that cheery note, I hope you all have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving!

Rich Smith
VCIA President

CNN_SOTU_logoJoin me on November 20th for an informative and timely update on VCIA legislative activities on behalf of our members and the industry. The session is free, for VCIA Members only, and is not to be missed!

I will be joined by David Provost, Deputy Commissioner for Captive Insurance at the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, and Jim McIntyre, VCIA’s representative in Washington DC for an overview of new and pending regulations in the state and in Washington D.C. and the NAIC.  Between these two guys, they hold enough knowledge on captive insurance to fill an old UNIVAC 1107 mainframe computer (OK, admittedly an iPhone holds tons more data, but we old mainframes have to stick together)!

Learn about VCIA’s activities on your behalf, and the status of important current issues like:

  • What’s happening in Washington, DC
  • TRIA Reauthorization
  • Cannabis Safe Harbor Act
  • IRS Letters to 831(b) Captives
  • Update to the Liability and Risk Retention Act (LRRA)
  • Activities and updates from the NAIC, including the RRG Task Force
  • Non-domiciliary state actions: Washington State, Johnson & Johnson decision
  • Vermont’s captive 2019 bill and what’s ahead for Vermont’s 2020 captive bill
  • DFR legislation creating an insurance “sandbox” to test innovative technology or insurance models.
  • Vermont Department of Financial Regulation updates

I hope you will be able to attend this Members Only event.  If you aren’t already a VCIA Member, this would be a great time to join! Click here for more information and to register.

Thank you very much, I look forward to hearing from you.

Rich Smith
VCIA President