Risk and Insurance Management Conference 2011- Vancouver BC

May 5, 2011

Let me say first of all that Vancouver has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  It was a perfect spot to hold the premier risk management event of the year.  It’s unfortunate that the program wasn’t better attended.  I don’t know the exact attendance numbers, but I can say that as an exhibitor the traffic on the conference floor was light for the first two days and nearly non-existent on this, the final day.

Having attended RIMS for the past several years it was notable that risk management students were not to be found in the exhibit area.  In year’s past there has been an armada of students, resumes in hand, looking for student internships and after graduation work opportunities.  Perhaps this had something to do with the cost of travel or attendance fees or all of the above.  I find their absence troubling on two counts.  I’m interested in finding a summer risk management intern for my own business and I think that the industry needs a constant influx of these specifically trained young business people to fill the ranks of an ever aging insurance workforce.

There were some bright spots including a very string contingent of participants from Central and South America looking for guidance and help with their captive insurance initiatives.  The emerging marketplace in Latin America is creating opportunities that rival those in North America and we as a company are marshaling our resources to be able to meet the demand in these areas.

Next year RIMS will be in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia and I hope that the location draws lots of attention in the risk management community.  By teh way, you can follow me on Twitter now, dennissilvia

Will a Financial Tsunami Hit the World’s Insurance Markets?

March 17, 2011


By now no one on the planet is a stranger to the disaster in Japan that continues to unfold as I write this.  A devastating 9.0 earthquake that triggered a massive tsunami has inflicted on northern Japan a disaster of biblical proportion.  Even now unfolding are potential disasters at 4 nuclear reactors impacted by the earthquake.  Fuel rods have been left exposed, the containment chambers cracked open, and radioactive gasses are leaking into the atmosphere.  The magnitude of the disaster continues to grow by the hour.  Deaths are conservatively being estimated at 15,000 people although there are whole towns that are unaccounted for and this number will likely climb.

As bad as this is for the Japanese people, it will soon have a ripple effect across the planet.  Japan is the third largest world-wide economy and its government, businesses and people are one of the largest investors in the United States.  Those investments are being called back to begin funding the rebuilding of Japan’s infrastructure.  With that lending capacity out of the market the cost of borrowing will start to rise.  Boston-based AIR Worldwide, an insurance catastrophe modeling firm, has estimated the insurance costs associated with just the earthquake to be upwards of $35 Billion.  The overall costs will go up when the effects of the tsunami and the potential for radioactive leakage from the troubled nuclear plants are factored in.   Herein lies the second impact on the global economy.

Insurance analyst had estimated that it would take a $50B event or combination of events this year to turn the insurance market away from its decade-long pricing slide and trigger a hard market response.    The last 4 months have seen a $10B earthquake in New Zealand and another $10B in losses associated with continued unrest in the Middle East.  The Japanese earthquake and tsunami will easily tip the scales above $50B in just the first quarter of 2011.  If indeed the analyst are right we may see an unprecedented increase in insurance prices due to capacity problems with the global reinsurance market.

Captive insurance programs have often served as a refuge when overall insurance market prices increase.  The critical aspect to involvement in a captive insurance program now is the timing.   In order to derive maximum value to a captive program you must initiate it ahead of the crisis.  Businesses that have historically been at the forefront of risk financing instability like transportation, energy, manufacturing and medical professional liability need to take immediate action if they want to mitigate the impact of this global shift in insurance costs.  Captives, and other alternative risk structures, can provide insurance capacity where there is none in the market.  They can also mitigate your exposure to rising insurance costs.

If you are interested in discussing how an alternative risk program can benefit your organization we have a team of consultants and advisors ready to meet with you.  Contact us at 440-264-9992 so that we can direct you to one of our team members.

ALARYS Conference…Latin America is Open for Captive Insurance Business

October 13, 2010

The ALARYS conference for Latin American Risk Managers is just finishing up today in Southampton, Bermuda.  As an attendee I can tell you that it was well attended, that the conference speakers were top-notch and the message that Latin America is open for captive business was well communicated.

The potential that exists for doing business in Latin America, in particular Brazil and Argentina, is astounding.  Latin economies are stable and growing exponentially.  Latin Risk Managers that represent large multi-nationals have embraced the use of captives and many other localized risk managers are looking for creative risk financing programs and are seeing captives as a viable solution.

There are some hurdles to overcome for captives to become commonplace though.  In the US and Europe, captive growth went through several transitions overcoming resistance and compliance issues.  That same process will have to take place in Latin America.  The two largest insurance markets, Brazil and Argentina, have come a long way in the past several years to making this happen and I am confident that they will continue to make changes that are culturally appropriate and that make sense for their corporate citizens to take advantage of the capital efficiencies and loss controls that captive insurance can leverage.

As for me, I’m getting myself ready for the opportunities that will present themselves in the coming years.  I am studying the culture and history of Brazil and Argentina and trying to learn Spanish and Portuguese.  If Latin America is open for business I want to be first in line to help them.

House of Cards- 831(b) Small Insurance Companies

April 5, 2010

Don’t get me wrong….I’m a big fan of 831(b) Small Insurance Company structures.  Under this unique IRS rule the underwriting income for certain small insurance companies is tax-free to the insurance company.  Provided the ceded premium to the company is under $1.2M annually and there is real insurance risk transfer and risk distribution happening,  the company would only pay taxes on its investment income.

The difficulty isn’t in the structure, its how its being used.

The ancestor of 831(b) was the 501(c)(15) insurance company.  Provided there was real risk transfer and distribution and the ceded premium was less than $600K per year this company paid no taxes on its underwriting or investment income.  A nice structure for legitimate insurance transactions.  The structure was abused be zealous financial planners who “stuffed” millions of dollars of capital into the insurance company to support a small amount risk premium.  It wasn’t about insurance at all, but a mechanism to defer taxes on investments.  At the end of the day the IRS nailed down the abuses in 501(c)(15) companies and they have faded in popularity as a result.  This same crowd sees an opportunity in 831(b) to defer income on the underwriting of business risk.  It has become the financial wealth management tool de jour, only there are some problems associated it.

Typically these programs are put together upside down.  What I mean by that is that they are created primarily for the purpose of deferring taxation and not for any legitimate risk management purpose.  In order to make this financial planning tool work the consultants that use them must overcome two hurdles.  How do I create a risk coverage that I honestly hope will never have a loss and how do I create a risk sharing mechanism so that my client’s program satisfies the letter of the law regarding real insurance?   The first question is answered by creating coverages like terrorism coverage for medical practices or pandemic coverage for a manufacturer or stubbed my toe on the first Thursday of the month coverage (I made that one up!).  See, the question isn’t whether or not it could ever happen and if it did would it represent a significant risk to the policy holder, but rather that there is a policy that has been issued that I can put premium into my captive for.  Remember, this isn’t about risk management, it’s about tax and wealth management.

The second question is answered by allowing all the 831(b) companies that I have put together to share risk with each other on these sham policies.  Here is where the dangerous upper levels of the house of cards is built.  Should just a couple  of the coverages in one of the programs be challenged it could literally take down every one of the captives that share that questionable coverage’s risk.

I know, it doesn’t really sound like I’m really a big fan of 831(b) structures at all does it!  Well, I am, under certain conditions.  831(b) is an insurance company.  It’s business should be conducted like an insurance company; assuming real risk in exchange for a reasonable premium and for a legitimate purpose.  The process should start with risk and insurance and if there is some tax deferral advantages as an aside, then all the better.  It has to be built right side up and not purely as a scheme to beat the tax man.  We saw how well that went for the owners of 501(c)(15) companies, and if we think that the IRS won’t be looking at abuses in 831(b) as a means to enhance revenue we are only fooling ourselves.  If 831(b) is going to stand up to IRS scrutiny it has to be built on a foundation that is rock solid, with legitimate insurance coverages that can be shared without worry with other similarly structured captive insurance entities.

If you are contemplating this kind of structure at least seek out the services of an insurance professional who can point you in the right direction from a risk management perspective.  831(b) is a powerful tool when used properly, but if will only yield frustration and heartache if it is abused.

The Broomball Coefficient of Anticipation

January 18, 2010

I graduated with my BS in Business from Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, MI.  Located in the north-eastern most corner of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, it is a place of serious winter and unless you figure out things to do when it’s cold out you will never venture far from your dorm for months at a time.  The history of broomball is sketchy, but it is enough to say that it is one of those ideas that creative folks in cold places hatch to have fun in an otherwise hostile environment.

Broomball is played on the ice and has goals similar to hockey.  The players wear tennis shoes and use what looks like a corn broom cut off at the stitches to direct a small ball into the goal.  The action is much like hockey with one notable exception.  Tennis shoes don’t get any traction on ice.  That lack of precision in movement contributes to a need for planning plays that goes beyond anything in hockey.  Beside the typical dynamics at play in any sport, now you have the reduced ability to execute precisely.  You must introduce a “factor” into each play that actually causes you to execute before the precise moment you would normally execute the play because the ice is slippery.  In order to figure out just how much anticipation is needed you spend a lot of time on your butt or sliding past the goal or shooting and missing altogether.

Sounds like the real world doesn’t it!

When you are planning risk transfer and risk financing mechanisms there are numerous financial, actuarial and catastrophic loss models that can help you to make sound decisions; but at the end of the day there is a lot which cannot be completely controlled.  I call this the “Broomball Coefficient of Anticipation”.

The reason why insurance is a prime example of this coefficient in action is that its modeling is almost exclusively retrospective.  Insurers price off of historic loss histories, expectations of future catastrophic loss are based on where they have happened in the past, essentially navigating forward by looking in the rear view mirror.  Don’t get me wrong, since none of us have crystal balls to predict the future we have to have something to hang out hats on and, at least statistically, the past has been a pretty good indication of future events.

If we were operating in an environment where we had the sure footing of a manicured baseball diamond or the turf of a football stadium or the pitch of a soccer field we could execute our plays instantaneously and with precision.  But in insurance we are playing on ice in our sneakers.  One of the tenets of the “Broomball Coefficient of Anticipation” is that if you wait until all the scientific loss models show its time to execute, it’s already too late.  That’s why you see the insurance industry as a whole constantly being reactive instead of proactive with just a few exceptions.

Of all the segments of the insurance industry, alternative risk is the most likely candidate to take the Broomball Coefficient and use it to best effect.  Captive insurance companies are the most efficiently capitalized, agile and responsive insurance mechanisms in the industry.  Because they are responsible for serving the needs of a single client or a very small clientele they can quickly execute on initiatives to meet strategic goals and can often do so in anticipation of need as opposed to in response to a need.

The only thing lacking to most captive insurers is a partner that knows how to execute while running full speed on ice in sneakers.

Email me at dennis.silvia@cedarconsulting.net if you would like to discuss this more.

Education is Key to Execution

January 8, 2010

Education is the key to being able to effectively implement and execute a sophisticated risk management regime like a captive insurance program.  This doesn’t only apply to the accounting and insurance professionals that are involved in the day-to-day operations of these types of programs.   It also applies to the risk managers who represent companies that own them and to insurance producers that help to set them up.

There are several venues to learn about captives and how they are used.  The International Center for Captive Insurance Education (ICCIE) provides an online platform of coursework that leads to the Associate in Captive Insurance (ACI) designation.  I am on the faculty for this program and it is an excellent course of study for accounting, insurance and business professionals to get a solid foundation of captive insurance concepts.  You can find more information at http://www.iccie.org/

Several associations provide annual conference opportunities that are full of great educational content.  The Vermont Captive Insurance Association, the Bermuda Captive Conference and the Cayman Captive Conference are all venue-oriented educational experiences and are excellent for delivering timely information on emerging industry issues.

For more general insurance and underwriting educational topics there are several continuing education websites that can provide the ongoing training needed to maintain licenses and credentials.  I sponsor one of these websites at http://cedarconsulting.360training.com

Finally, industry service providers organize conferences that have client education as their primary purpose.  USA Risk Group (www.usarisk.com), the largest independent captive services company, sponsors an annual educational conference for captive industry participants.  This type of conference is typically more focused on the practical nuts and bolts issues of captive insurance and the smaller group results in better access to speakers and service providers.   The conference is highly rated by participants.  This year’s conference will be held in Charlotte, NC at the Ballantyne Resort, May 26th-27th, 2010.  You can contact me by email at dennis.silvia@cedarconsulting.net for specifics on registration for this event.

Education in and of itself is worthless.  It’s not in the knowing, but rather in the application of the knowledge that yields results.  These educational opportunities will give you what you need not only to understand the concepts of captive insurance but to apply them to your circumstances.

Execution is always the factor that divides the successful and the wannabe.  Gain the knowledge you need but don’t forget to deploy that knowledge in a meaningful way to solve risk related problems for your organization.

Blowing the Dust Off Your Captive’s Business Plan

September 30, 2009

In the new captive formation process the creation of the business plan uses the largest amount of time and intellectual resources.  That’s understandable because the document forms the foundation of the startup.  Front companies, reinsurance and claims administrators all use the statistical data and the narratives of the business plan to set their pricing and terms and conditions.  Domiciles use the information to judge the insurer’s acceptability and its potential to be successful within the location’s regulatory framework.   Once licensed, the business plan is used by auditors and regulators to make sure that the captive is operating according to its original approved plan.  Even years after a captive is licensed, regulatory bodies like the IRS take an interest in the business plan and how a captive is operating currently compared to its original business plan.

A business plan is required of virtually every captive.  The real question regarding a captive’s business plan is whether or not it is a static document or a dynamic document.  Once created and used as a part of the formation process can you just stuff it in a drawer and forget about?

The simple answer is no!  The captive business plan should be a dynamic document that is reviewed regularly.  Let me give you a couple of reasons why…

Stakeholders like the domicile’s insurance department, your audit firm, claimants, reinsurers, the  Internal Revenue Service and the shareholders of the captive’s parent in a publicly traded environment all rely on the accuracy of the business plan to portray the business of the captive.  Unless this document is regularly reviewed and updated it is doomed to be inaccurate and will likely contribute to a problem for the captive and its ownership.  At a recent captive insurance conference session dealing with IRS regulation of captives, the two attorneys conducting the session both emphatically agreed that an updated and accurate business plan was a powerful deterrent to IRS “fishing expeditions” into the taxation status of a captive.

Another reason for periodically dusting off the business plan is to make sure  that the captive is still supporting the parent’s strategic goals.  In my consulting practice I am regularly contacted by firms that own a captive and that have had personnel changes over the course of several years and they find themselves in the unusual position of not knowing why they even have a captive in the first place.  Either the new management is not schooled in the use of captive insurance as a part of a creative risk management regime or the company’s strategic goals have moved so far that the captive is no longer relevant.  A regular review of the captive’s business plan allows the captive to be re-aligned with the corporate goals and to make a powerful addition to accomplishing those goals.  Not only is this recalibration critical in keeping management informed of the captive’s capabilities, it can often contribute to new uses for the captive that keep it relevant and a contributor to overall success.

This review should be conducted every couple of years and should be the product of not only fact checking the captive’s operations against the existing business plan, but understanding the parent’s overall business goals and how  the captive might contribute to achieving them.  If you are interested in discussing how this process works send me an email at dennis.silvia@cedarconsulting.net and I would be happy to contact you to discuss it.

All Your Eggs in One Basket

September 4, 2009

Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

Its easy to see how it happens.  Your insurance broker comes to you with a great idea about how to more efficiently finance and manage your insurance risk.  They bring in the brokerage’s experts to conduct feasibility studies and work with you to license a captive insurance company.  The have their reinsurance brokers place the reinsurance and have their captive manager take care of the regulatory and management operations.   Because of their fully integrated capabilities your broker has delivered a captive insurance solution entirely from within the broker’s organization.  That’s good, right?

One of the biggest decisions that face the owners of captive insurance companies is whether or not to consolidate all the insurance and captive management services in one basket.  There are some obvious advantages to doing this.  It is simpler, and may be less expensive initially to let your broker put your entire program together.  They may even be willing to do the feasibility work within the existing fee structures, only charging for the ongoing management and collecting the commissions on the reinsurance placements.  But what are the disadvantages?

  • When a captive insurance program is created entirely from within a single organization with no outside input then you get that organization’s cookie-cutter program.  They only do things a certain way and that is what you will get, whether its the best structure for you or not.
  • With no outside involvement there is no “gate keeper” making sure that the broker’s organization is doing everything it can to advantage the captive owner even if it means that it might disadvantage the broker’s organization.
  • Most broker organizations are limited in the number of domiciles that they can effectively do business in which means that they cannot be completely domicile neutral.  You may end up being steered to a domicile that suits their operational characteristics but may not be the best choice for your company.
  • Even in the best of brokerage organizations things slip through the cracks.  The broker is less likely to spend the same amount of time reviewing work done by an internal department then they might work from outside.  The checks and balances of having a diverse makeup in the captive’s support mechanisms are eliminated.
  • Pricing for captive services can often be overstated when billed all together as opposed to being presented on a line by line basis.
  • Brokerage organizations are typically polarizing in the industry.  Some companies get along well with other companies and frankly some don’t get along at all.  An independent manager can often involve service partners that a brokerage could not because of conflicts in corporate cultures.

In my consulting practice I have reviewed programs that have had the captive services completely integrated within one brokerage organization.   My reviews always turn up issues.  In one case a mismatch between the terms and conditions of the policies being written by the captive and the reinsurance treaty could have caused an enormous financial problem for the captive.  In an another case the overall charges for the program were much higher than average because they were being billed in a lump rather than being detailed line by line.

If you are considering a new captive program be sure to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of an integrated approach.  Try to involve at least one outside advisory component to the program in order to mitigate the potential problems.  If you already have an integrated program, hire a consultant to do a review of your captive and make suggestions on structure and operations as well as benchmark your costs.  Its never a good idea to have all your eggs in one basket.

New Sheriff in Town

April 29, 2009

Depending on which side of the fence you live on you either see underwriters as the scourge of the industry because they get in the way of your producing business or they are the saviors of the industry because they are the gatekeepers protecting the company from risk.  This has been an age old battle and frankly I’ve always seen it as beneficial, helping to make sure that insurance companies write as much good business as they can get their hands on.  If producers want to write everything and underwriters don’t want to write anything then somewhere in between is a healthy balance that allows for something to be written profitably.

The compromise that a risk underwriter can strike with a producer when considering an application for insurance is predicated on the theory of large numbers and the recognition that over a large enough book of business and time that a measured approach to risk consideration will yield profit.  Sometimes they will get it right and sometimes they will get it completely wrong, but on average it will work out.  Risk underwriters are allowed to make a certain number of  mistakes and still be seen as successful.

There is a new underwriting Sheriff in town now and this one isn’t allowed to get it wrong, ever, and its causing a lot of consternation in the alternative risk and captive insurance arenas.  Credit underwriting has long been like a camel poking its nose under the traditional insurance tent.  Granted, there is a correlation between credit worthiness and risk quality and it should be considered as one of the underwriting criteria, but because of the current financial crisis it has taken on a life of its own particularly in risk sensitive programs.

In large deductible and captive insurance programs the insurance company providing coverages  must consider the credit worthiness of the risk taker as a part of the overall risk they are assuming.   These risk transfer programs have elements of both underwriting and credit risk.  Balancing the underwriting of risk has been dealt with effectively over the years by recognizing that if you prudently insure a large enough pool of risk that you will end up winning over time and making a profit.

Credit risk is still a relatively new stand alone discipline and as a result it is still trying to get its footing on what has been a slippery economic slope.  Unlike their risk underwriting associates, credit underwriters don’t have the flexibility to get it wrong.  Credit underwriting to this standard would be like a risk underwriter looking for loss picks in the 90% actuarial range.  It stops being a pooling mechanism at that level and the client might as well completely self insure.  Combine this with the enhanced regulatory and compliance environment that we find ourselves in and we have a big problem when it comes to deductible and captive insurance programs.  Rather than assume a measured degree of credit risk this new breed of underwriter is seeking full collateralization of every deal. Its a bit like the joke that a banker won’t loan you money until you can prove that you really don’t need it.

The solution to this problem is for insurance credit underwriters to embrace the theory of large numbers and to recognize that they can assume a measured degree of risk and on an overall book of business end up being whole.  They, and their managers, must be willing to accept some degree of loss as a part of their cost of doing business.  Until that happens alternative risk program development will languish for all except those that don’t really need it!

Who can you trust?

January 19, 2009

At a time when the nation is being wracked by economic problems its difficult to decide who you can place your trust in.  The very companies that were the pillars of our economic strength have been exposed to reveal that  their foundations have been eaten away by the termites of greed and self dealing.

We can’t just limit our concerns to specific companies either.  Entire industries-of-trust have been impacted.   One of the trust industries that impact our day-to-day lives the most is insurance.  Insurance in particular is an interesting example of a trust relationship.  In exchange for a relatively small premium the insurance company promises to pay subject losses.  It can make this promise because it can figure out how many losses will occur in a particular population of insureds and can charge an appropriate premium to be able to pay for those losses.  Premiums are invested until they are needed to pay losses and at the end of the day a profit is realized.  A symbiotic balance is struck.  Society is served by transferring the risk of loss and stockholders of the insurance company are served because they see a return on their investment.

The breach of trust in the insurance industry is not that the fundamentals have failed us, but rather that they have been ignored.  Management, in many cases, has put aside their responsibilities to stakeholders and have focused on what was best for themselves.

You would think that what is happening to our economy would be a damper to any kind of growth, but that has not been the case in the captive insurance industry.  My consulting practice is an affiliate of USA Risk Group and they reported 13 new captive formations during the month of December alone.  In my practice I am continually fielding questions about how a captive insurance initiative might be helpful for a company’s risk management strategy in the current economic environment.  This may seem inconsistent with what we hear on the news every day, but let me offer some thoughts on why this may be perfectly in sync with our economic woes.

When we are answering the question, “Who can you trust?” the most obvious answer is  you can trust yourself.  Captive insurance is a means of self insurance that allows a company to employ the basics of insurance pricing, claims management and investment control so that they all benefit the company.

Whenever there is a disastrous loss in the insurance market there is always a flurry of new insurance company formations immediately following.  We saw it with Hurricane Andrew, 9/11 and KRW (Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma).  After each of these events billions of dollars of insurance capacity was created because of the opportunity to compete with insurance companies that had legacy claims issues that they needed to price for.

I think the most recent disaster, albeit man made, is seeing a similar flurry of activity, but this time it will be at the grass roots level.  Companies will be asking the question, “Who can I trust to deliver consistent insurance and risk management services?”  The answer will be, “ourselves”, and the method will be captive insurance.