The Devil Gets His Due: 831(b)s

devilThe 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

Zombieland

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It’s a little unfortunate that months and years of good work to close the gap at the NAIC, and with others, on the misconceptions of the regulation of Risk Retention Groups can be set back in what amounts to an instant.

As many of you know, with the hard work and leadership of Sandy Bigglestone and Christine Brown of Vermont’s Department of Financial Regulation, and Sean O’Donnell of the DC Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking, there was much progress on creating a common regulatory approach to RRGs and educating non-domiciliary states to that end under the auspices of the NAIC’s RRG Task Force.

Over the past year, the Task Force has been working diligently to provide additional guidance to both state insurance regulators and industry regarding the registration process for RRGs in non-domestic states. The process started last year with a letter from the National Risk Retention Association (NRRA) citing concerns regarding fees and delays in the review of registration forms, supported by a letter from the VCIA. The discussion that followed also raised concerns from non-domiciliary states, such as incomplete registration forms or potentially non-compliant RRGs. As a result, a drafting group was formed to develop frequently asked questions (FAQ) and best practices documents, and updates to the NAIC Uniform Risk Retention Group Registration Form, which made great progress toward the goal.

Unfortunately, in response to a bill that would expand the Liability Risk Retention Act to allow certain, narrowly defined, RRGs to provide property, zombie tropes about how well RRGs are regulated rose again from the grave. The NAIC sent a letter opposing H.R. 4523, the Nonprofit Property Protection Act, and stated in the letter “RRGs have historically had a higher insolvency rate when compared to admitted insurers.”  The letter was signed by the current NAIC president-elect, Ray Farmer, Director of South Carolina Department of Insurance, among others.

As a joint response from VCIA, CICA and NRRA pointed out, this is simply untrue.  According to a study conducted by the Risk Retention Reporter, which uses data from A.M. Best for the period 1987 to 2017, RRGs had a yearly insolvency rate of 1.2% as opposed to 1.5% for the entire property-casualty and life and health marketplace.  In brief, RRGs during this 30-year period were less likely to become insolvent that traditional carriers.

It is noteworthy that the NAIC did not cite any authority for its conclusion.  And at the actual hearing for the bill this week Chlora Lindley-Myers, Director of the Missouri Department of Commerce & Insurance, repeated the claim – again with no backup data!  RRGs are subject to a different regulatory regime than traditional insurers, but that does not mean that the standard is “lower”. RRG regulation by the domiciliary state is subject to the accreditation process by the NAIC itself.

I hope this does not mean a complete move backward at the NAIC regarding RRGs. I have immense faith in Vermont’s regulators, and other allies in the industry, to keep pushing forward – and finally burying these long-discredited zombies.

To view a copy of the joint letter click here.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you!

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

Buckle Up – Turbulence Ahead

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Unlike 2016 when all the polls were wrong, the 2018 midterms turned out mostly as predicted—the House of Representatives flipped to Democratic control, and the Senate remained in Republican hands, with the Republicans likely expanding their majority. Though it is too soon to tell exactly what the divided Congress will mean on every issue and for every committee, with the help of VCIA’s Washington advisors, Capitol Counsel, here are some thoughts on how this all impacts the captive insurance industry.

November was dominated by party leadership elections and policy negotiations behind closed doors on outstanding issues. The most pressing order of business for the lame duck is appropriations. The Continuing Resolution (CR) funding many government functions is set to expire on December 7. After leadership elections, negotiations on government funding should continue; however, these negotiations will be contentious since President Trump has said he will not sign an appropriations bill without funding for “the wall,” and Democrats have adamantly opposed significant wall funding. Several authorizations are set to expire during the lame duck session and require action from Congress. Given the flip of House control, clean, short-term extensions may be the most likely path as the new House Democratic majority may choose to fight on more favorable ground next year.

With the leadership elections in November, and after some handwringing, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) retained her position and looks set to take the gavel as Speaker in January. In the Senate, though the Republicans retain the majority, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) will likely remain on the Banking Committee and will remain a voice on the left on all issues financial services. Though they may not be able to pass any bills on these issues in a Republican-controlled House, we expect their messages to be echoed by future-Chair of the Financial Services Committee Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) in the House, meaning a continued spotlight on these issues.

Although Rep. Waters does not have a stated position on the captive insurance industry one way or the other, it is most likely she will defer to the NAIC on most issues that impact insurance.  She is the polar opposite of the current Chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX). She is active on financial consumer issues and has been highly critical of the Trump administration for rolling back consumer protection, however, she is also seen as a dealmaker, and so it is unclear if she will govern the committee to the left, or if she will moderate and move to the center as Chairman.

There are a number of insurance-related issues that may see action next Congress.  The captive insurance industry is hopeful that Congress will ultimately pass the Captive Insurers Clarification Act, originally introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) to amend the Nonadmitted and Reinsurance Reform Act (NRRA), which was intended to streamline the regulation and taxation of surplus lines insurance. Some of the definitions in the Act are so broad that questions have been raised about its effect on captive insurance. If captive insurance is considered “nonadmitted insurance” under the NRRA, captive insureds may be required to pay a premium tax to their home state in addition to their captives paying domiciliary state premium taxes, and be partially regulated by, the insured’s “home state.”

As Congress comes back to town, it is clear that there will be significant action in both the lame duck and in the next Congress on many areas of importance to the captive insurance industry. Even with divided government, there are issues that must be addressed such as government funding and expiring authorizations, and there are areas where there could be bipartisan agreement.  So, while much has changed as a result of the election, the work of Congress and the administration will continue. As we have learned over the past two years, Washington, D.C. is full of surprises. There will likely be issues that arise that we could not predict, and how President Trump positions himself and the administration in the next two years will be important. If the President chooses to work with House Democrats on areas of interest, following the populist tone he has sometimes taken, we could see more compromise and agreement than expected – let’s hope so.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Credit Risk

Rich-monopoly-manWith the renewed tension between the US and China, well, lets’ face it, the World, on trade issues, it’s a good idea to look at a captive to help mitigate such risks. President Trump just announced $250 billion dollars in tariffs targeting Chinese products, on top of previous tariffs already announced. One could argue whether it’s a good policy or not, but the facts that there will be increased risks in international trade is a fact.

As countries ratchet up the rhetoric and retaliation, insurers are weighing how companies will deal with the pressure. Trade credit insurance protects companies from the risk that buyers will be unable to pay. If governments implement more tariffs, it could increase the cost of production and ultimately put stress on retailers and distributors to either raise prices on consumers or shrink profits. If the stress is enough to put the buyer out of business, the supplier would activate its trade credit insurance to get reimbursed for defaulted payments, for example.

As reported in Insurance Business America in June, the potential failure of an agreement on NAFTA also presents risks. If NAFTA fails or is dramatically renegotiated, companies will be forced to redraft their production models and their supply chains. That will take a lot of money, time and could significantly increase their credit risk.

Forward-thinking organizations with international exposure are now seeing the benefits of bringing their own captive insurance company into the equation as a way to control the risks. Thus, trade credit and political risk are joining the growing list of non-traditional lines that captive managers are now using to better leverage the benefits of their captive.  Structured many ways, using a mix of fronting and reinsurance, some of the benefits could be:

  • Diversification of the captive into trade credit risks, which are not historically correlated with property and casualty risks
  • Additional premium flow into the captive and resulting investment income
  • Non-cancelable trade credit insurance coverage
  • An additional set of experienced eyes on the credit risks that the customer is taking onto its balance sheet

Ultimately, trade credit insurance can help companies apply longer-term risk management strategies. However, the continuing trade war puts every part of the economy at risk, and any trade risk insurance can only help so much.

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

Rich Smith
VCIA President

I Kind of Like the Swamp…

rich-swamp-2I am down in Washington for a couple of days meeting with various Congressional staff people about moving the Captive Clarity Bill forward, slowly but surely.

The Captive Clarity Bill is seeking to clarify (hence the name!) an issue passed in legislation a number of years ago.  Within the Dodd-Frank Act was passed the Nonadmitted and Reinsurance Reform Act (NRRA), which was intended to streamline the regulation and taxation of surplus lines insurance. However, some of the definitions in the Act are so broad that questions have been raised about its effect on captive insurance. If captive insurance is considered “nonadmitted insurance” under the NRRA, captive insureds may be required to pay a premium tax to their home state in addition to their captives paying domiciliary state premium taxes, and be partially regulated by the insured’s “home state.”

Currently, captives are taxed and regulated in the state that they are domiciled regardless of where their corporate owners’ headquarters may be located. Under NRRA, the home state could assert the right to tax the self-procured insurance premiums written within the captive entity even though the state of domicile already charges the captive a premium tax.  It would suddenly penalize many companies by double taxing them for being domiciled in a state that is not their home state.  Although the Act does not give states any additional taxing authority, the prospect of nondomiciliary states accessing additional insurance transactions to tax has increased the risk of states attempting to impose new taxes on captive insurance. On the other side of that coin, domiciliary states may be at risk of losing their ability to collect premium taxes and regulate certain aspects of captive insurance.

Ian Davis, Director of Financial Services for the State of Vermont, and I will be meeting with our Vermont contingent, Patrick Satalin with Rep. Welch (D-VT), and Erica Chabot and JP Dowd with Senator Leahy’s Office. We will also be meeting with key Congressional staffers, including John Hair with Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) – Chairman of the Housing and Insurance Subcommittee, Saat Altey with Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) – Member of the Senate Banking and Insurance Subcommittee, Brandon Beall, Professional Staff for Insurance, Senate Banking Committee, and Amanda Fischer, Director of the Democrat/Minority Policy for the House Financial Services Committee. Finally, I will be meeting with Richard Ifft in the Federal Insurance Office at the Treasury Department. Phew… I need a break just looking at the list!

Jim McIntyre and I will be providing a full legislative report during the VCIA Annual Conference to VCIA Members attending the  Annual Meeting, so come on by and find out more!

We look forward to seeing you in Vermont in August. Thank you all very much, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

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