Woo-hoo! It’s Official: Vermont Kills It in 2020

The numbers are just in and Vermont rocked it last year with the number of new captives licensed in 2020.  Vermont licensed 38 new captive insurance companies in 2020, bringing the state’s total number of licensed captives to 589.  A “normal” good year for Vermont in terms of new captives is usually between 20-25; so, 2020 was a banner year.

Sure, the hard market in the traditional insurance industry helped drive the surge, but let’s give credit where credit is due: Brittany Nevins, Vermont’s new captive insurance economic development director!

OK, she had some help from the all-star line-up at Vermont’s Department of Financial Regulation. You know the crew: Dave Provost, Sandy Bigglestone, Christine Brown, Dan Petterson, and the wonderful team in the Captive Division. And she might have had help from Vermont’s vaunted captive insurance service providers and captive managers who helped facilitate this blistering pace. But Brittany jumped right into the job, and without missing a beat, picked up right where Ian Davis (her very successful predecessor now at Peoples United Bank) left off. In a year when everything else was less than ideal, it is nice to celebrate a huge success!

Don’t forget to see Brittany and the DFR team in action next Wednesday during VCIA’s Annual Legislative Day, held online this year.  On January 27th, VCIA Members will hear updates from DFR and ask probing questions; attend a presentation kicking off the 40th anniversary of the captive industry  in Vermont; and have a chance to hear from the new leaders in the State of Vermont and ask them probing questions as well!

And if all that hasn’t got you interested; the State of Vermont is providing an exclusive Legislative Day giveaway: all registrants will be entered for a chance to win an awesome Lake Champlain Chocolates Gift Basket – so what are you waiting for!

Please RSVP to megan@vcia.com if you can join us on January 27th for Legislative Day. I hope to “see” you there! Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Rich Smith,
VCIA President

40 Great Years… and Many More to Come

Seems like just yesterday, but this is the 40th Anniversary of the captive insurance industry in Vermont! In 1981, the Vermont Legislature passed the Special Insurer Act, which was designed to provide a unique and attractive statutory framework for captive formation. As most of you know, this landmark law and subsequent amendments and regulations have become the model of captive regulation.

As a way to kick off the 40th Anniversary, VCIA and the State of Vermont will be hosting the Members-Only annual Legislative Day on January 27, 2021, but instead of our members traipsing down to Montpelier, we will be hosting the event online. 

The event will start off with Dave Provost, Sandy Bigglestone, and their team at the Department of Financial Regulation (DFR) hosting a Captive Division update that will review any new or upcoming regulations, other DFR news, and answer any questions members might have.

Then, DFR Commissioner Mike Pieciak will host a one-hour webinar with Vermont legislators and members to celebrate the 40th anniversary of captive insurance with an overview of captives by Dave Provost and his team, a report from Vermont’s Captive Insurance Economic Development Director Brittany Nevins, a quick update on VCIA by yours truly, and then a presentation by Julie Bordo, President & CEO, PCH Mutual Insurance Co. Inc. (RRG), a Vermont-domiciled captive owner.

Our final event will be a Zoom meeting with Vermont’s political leaders. Members will get a chance to hear from these leaders, many new to their positions, on what their priorities are for the upcoming year. They will also be able to ask them all those questions they have been saving up just for this occasion!

And if all that hasn’t got you interested; the State of Vermont is providing an exclusive Legislative Day giveaway: all registrants will be entered to win an awesome Lake Champlain Chocolates Gift Basket – so what are you waiting for!

Please RSVP to megan@vcia.com if you can join us. I hope to “see” you there! Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Rich Smith,
VCIA President

Not in all my days

I don’t usually think it’s appropriate to comment on events in Washington, but I feel compelled to address the events at the Capitol on Wednesday. I like to consider myself a rational and measured thinker, but Wednesday’s attack in Washington horrified me. I truly believe January 6th will go down as a dark day in America’s history no matter where one might stand politically.

This is no longer an issue about which party’s policies are right or wrong – including the very emotional issues of things like racism or abortion. This is an existential issue for our country when the very foundation of what makes us who we are is under attack.

I commend the statements from many leaders in the insurance industry condemning the events of this week.  A number of these executives said in a letter that attempts to delay the certification of the electoral vote, which finally took place early Thursday after the Capitol was cleared of protestors, were “counter to the essential tenets of our democracy.” Among those signing the letter were: Brian Duperreault, CEO of American International Group Inc.; Dan Glaser, president and CEO of Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc.; Philip Ryan, chairman of Swiss Re Americas; and Alan Schnitzer of Travelers.

The statement continued, “Our duly elected leaders deserve the respect and bipartisan support of all Americans at a moment when we are dealing with the worst health and economic crises in modern history. There should be no further delay in the orderly transfer of power.”  The fact that we are even worried about the orderly transfer of power should boil the blood of every American.

I worked on Capitol Hill for three years and was awed and inspired every day I would walk into that building – a symbol of freedom and democracy that Americans and other nations looked up to.  To say I am angry is an understatement. I support and commend Vice President Mike Pence’s remarks after Wednesday’s riot: “To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win,” he said. “Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people’s house.”

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Rich Smith,
VCIA President

2020: Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out!

Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays to all our VCIA family! I think we all will be glad to see the backside of 2020 and look forward to happier times in 2021. It was tough on all of us, and tragic for many, as we climb out of the grips of the pandemic. With the advent of the vaccines there is lightness on the horizon… even as we head into our shortest days.

2020 was not all bad, however. The captive industry continues to see exponential growth in numbers of licenses and interest around the country and around the world. Vermont has licensed more that 35 captives (not including many, many cells) already, and there is a stack of them waiting to get out of the gate on January 1st.

This is the time of year to look back on things to be grateful for as well. Now, more than ever, family and friends are so important to our wellbeing. I am also extremely grateful for working in such a wonderful and collaborative industry – it truly feels like family as well. My thanks to Dave Provost, Sandy Bigglestone, and their team at Vermont’s Department of Financial Regulation for their continued steadfast regulation; to Brittany Nevins, who so quickly and successfully slipped into Ian Davis’ shoes fighting to keep Vermont as the premier captive insurance domicile. Their good work flows beyond the borders of Vermont, positively impacting the captive industry overall.

Thank you to VCIA’s Board of Directors for all their support and guidance over the past year to the association, especially during these challenging times. I want to especially thank Jan Klodowski of Agrisurance Inc. as our chair until October and the captive attorney extraordinaire, Stephanie Mapes of Paul Frank + Collins, as out new chair since then.  Many thanks to our new vice chair Andrew Baillie of AES Global Insurance Company, independent consultant Donna Blair, Lawrence Cook of Sedgwick, Dennis Silvia of Cedar Consulting, Anne Marie Towle of Hylant, Derick White of SRS, Tracy Hassett of EdHealth and Jason Palmer of Willis Towers Watson.  And a fond farewell and heartfelt thanks to former board chair Wilda Seymour who has recently stepped off the board. All have provided their amazing talents and time to the association.

We continue our strong focus on events and on legislative and regulatory issues on behalf of our members. Many thanks to Jim McIntyre, and his partner Chrys Lemon, in Washington and Jamie Feehan in Vermont for their wonderful service to VCIA.   And my great thanks to the VCIA staff! Without their hard work, smarts and enthusiasm, we would not be able to accomplish any of the wonderful things we do for our members.  Thank you to Diane Leach, Elizabeth Halpern, Peggy Companion, Janice Valgoi, Dave Rapuano and Megan Precourt!

Most of all, thank you for all your support and see you next year!

Rich Smith
VCIA President

Brighter Days Ahead


It is certainly a relief to hear that the vaccines being developed to counter COVID are beginning to be rolled out. It has been a difficult year, and although we are not out of the woods yet, it’s nice to finally see the light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.  Not surprisingly, Pfizer, one of the vaccine developers has a captive in Vermont!

Looking ahead to January, VCIA will be hosting our annual Legislative Day, but instead of crowding in the committee rooms at Vermont’s State House, we will be working with Vermont’s Department of Economic Development, and Department of Financial Regulation to put on a Virtual Legislative Day for our members on January 27th.  It will include the usual Q&A opportunity with Dave Provost and his team, as well as introductions to the new leadership under the Golden Dome: Lt. Governor Molly Gray, Speaker of the House Jill Krowinski, and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. More details to come soon.

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

Rich Smith
President, VCIA

Tax: An Early Holiday Gift

For those of you in the United States, I hope you had a warm and safe Thanksgiving. As we head into the holiday season you can only be thinking of one thing – taxes. OK, maybe not, but we have pulled together our own version of the Three Wise Men to provide you with VCIA’s annual captive tax update on a webinar next week.

On December 8th, VCIA hosts the webinar “Captive Taxation: What You Need to Know” with Chaz Lavelle, a Partner with Dentons Bingham Greenebaum LLP, Dan Kusaila, Partner at Crowe LLP, and Sean Barnes, VP Finance and Administration and CFO with United Educators.

Chaz and Dan have years (and I mean YEARS) of experience and knowledge of captive tax issues and will bring you the latest 2020 tax developments, and outline what will occur in 2021, which is projected to be a busy year in captive tax.  Sean will attempt to corral these two as he moderates the session. Sean brings the captive owner perspective as the chief financial officer and chief investment officer for United Educators Insurance, a Reciprocal Risk Retention Group, one of the largest and most successful RRGs in the industry.

So please join us next Tuesday, December 8, by clicking here to register!

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

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

Friday the 13th – It’s Your Lucky Day

All of us in the captive industry, and throughout the broader risk management industry, are very rational thinkers who rely on science to determine the course of action we take in life, right?  A recent report published on November 10, 2020 in Captive International reminded me of how human behavior, with all its biases and superstitions, is a very difficult element in any kind of modelling.

The report, titled Viruses, Contagion and Tail-risk: Modeling Cyber Risk In The Age Of Pandemics, aims to better understand what modelers looking at pandemics and cyber risk can learn from each other.  The report highlights the lack of data from both types of viruses in trying to determine useful models for risk management. However, what caught my eye was this statement: “Although pandemics originate from pathogens, it is the individual and societal reactions to them that are hardest to model…”

I have always been fascinated by behavior economics as it tries to tackle our human foibles in a way that can be interpreted by economists to better understand how our world works. Even very intelligent, seemingly rational individuals are swayed by their internal biases. Science and economics are getting much better at “adjusting” for these very human traits and captive insurance will no doubt benefit as the industry sharpens risk modelling in everything from workers comp to liability. But just in case, hold on to that lucky talisman for now.

On another note, I want to wish Kevin Heffernan of Artex bon voyage as he announced he will be retiring in March 2021. Kevin has been with Artex for many years in a number of leadership roles and for the past 14 months has led captive operations across the US as executive vice president. Kevin was the first finance chair for VCIA at the start of my tenure over ten years ago and he did an excellent job of guiding the committee as well as providing me solid  advice on a wide range of topics Thank you, Kevin, and good luck!

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

Boo!

As if there aren’t already enough things to be frightened of, the World Economic Forum recently released an international jobs report that highlighted the top concerns for global business compared with previous years. Unemployment and spread of infectious disease were the top two risks cited by business executives globally, with fiscal crisis — last year’s top concern — falling to third place.  Not really surprising.

The Regional Risks for Doing Business 2020 survey results are based on 12,012 responses from business leaders in 127 countries. They were given a list of 30 global risks and asked to select the five global risks that they believe to be of most concern for doing business in their country within the next decade.

Cyberattacks have dropped down the list of top concerns for global businesses compared with previous years but remains the biggest risk for U.S. businesses.  While the top risks for global businesses are mostly related to economics, climate-related risks are causing greater concern this year, with natural catastrophes, extreme weather events and failure of climate change adaptation all rising up the list, the WEF said in a statement accompanying the report.

Captives will continue to be integral to their owners in optimizing recovery and building greater preparedness into their business models in order to be more resilient in the face of future disruptions. For more information of the survey, go to this link:

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/10/risks-for-doing-business-survey-unemployment-coronavirus/

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

Rich Smith
VCIA President