Posts Tagged ‘insurance agency’

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.

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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!

The Battle of Frog Pond

March 25, 2008

 

 

When I was in grade school my father was transferred to eastern Connecticut from Texas.  Besides all the normal “new kid” on the block stuff, I also had to deal with my Texas y’all standing out against the background of “pawkin the caw”.  I had heard some pretty tall tales while living in Texas, but I was quickly indoctrinated to Yankee humor when I was told the story of the Battle of Frog Pond.  Bear with me, this actually has an insurance lesson in the story…….

The summer leading up to the fateful night in June of 1754 had been filled with terrifying stories of the French and Indian War.  Stories of atrocities committed by both sides in the battle and then reprisals by the other spread like a disease carried by the travelers on the Boston Post Road that passed through Windham Center.  The settlements in eastern Connecticut were pretty spread out and essentially stood alone from a defense perspective.   A local attorney, Col. Eliphalet Dyer, had just raised a militia to join General Putnam in fighting the French and Indians at Crown Point, leaving Windham Center defended mostly by old farmers and shopkeepers.

In the early hours on that fateful day in June the townsfolk were awakened by a unholy noise coming from just over the eastern ridge of the town.  Some literally ran into the streets naked and fell to the faces in the town square praying for forgiveness because they thought it was surely the end of the world.  Others gathered muskets and powder and made their way in the moonless night to the ridge east of the square, ready to defend the town against the onslaught of whatever the dawn would reveal.  Lining the ridge the makeshift militia prepared for battle in the pitch blackness of the early morning.  In town lanterns burned while women tore strips of cloth for bandages and boiled water for wound dressing, all along praying that if the end came for them and their children at the hands of savages that it would come quickly.

As the morning sun began to rise over the Connecticut foothills to the east all attention was focused to the sloping ground that led to Col Dyers farm, but instead of seeing hordes of savages ready to attack, the defenders of Windham Center witnessed instead the carnage of thousands of bullfrogs.  Their carcasses lied belly up in the mud that surrounded the place where the pond and stream had been at the bottom of the hill.  As it turns out, a draught had been effecting the area for some weeks, but with the flurry of activity surrounding the militia muster and the absence of Dye from his farm, no one noticed that the pond was slowly drying up.  On that night something snapped in the frog community as they battled for the last bit of water and that was the sound that the townsfolk heard.  Not ones to be cheated from a good victory, the locals decided to call it the Battle of Frog Pond and to this day a monument stands at the side of Rt 14 as it passes by Frog Pond commemorating the battle.  In fact the Windham County symbol is the frog and the sheriff’s patrol cars are adorned with a giant bullfrog symbol.  The picture above shows one of the frog statues that guard the entrance to the bridge over the river that passes through the county’s seat of Willimantic.

Now, where is the insurance lesson in all this?  You can take pride in your preparation to fight the battle even though you may not be called on to fire your musket.  Understanding about captive insurance initiatives and their proper application to particular insurance needs may be more than half the battle won when trying to protect your book of business from being poached by the big global agencies.   The water is drying up in the insurance pond and agencies, like the frogs in our story, are fighting over the remaining client base.  Agency education is key to anticipating the need for a sophisticated captive insurance program and offering that option to your clients long before someone rides in and offers that service to your client first.

Cedar can help you evaluate your clients potential for alternative risk financing.  When we work with agents we never try to replace the agent in his relationship with the client.  We consider ourselves to be adjuncts and work to serve the client on your behalf.  Let me suggest that you check out our website for more information or send us an email if you would like to discuss a particular client’s situation.

You can reach me at dennis.silvia@cedarconsulting.net