Tag Archives: insurance regulation

What Is Right Balance for Regulators?

As Iowa’s insurance commissioner, I meet with many innovators whose work affects the insurance industry. A major topic we discuss is the continual debate of innovation vs. regulatory oversight. This debate will be front and center during the Global Insurance Symposium in Des Moines when federal regulators, state regulators, industry leaders and leading innovators come together for discussions on the “right” way to bring innovation into the insurance industry.

I see three schools of thought in the debate:

  • Those who want nothing changed because insurance regulation has worked for more than 150 years
  • Those who suggest oversight by insurance regulators isn’t needed because innovations and market forces don’t require the same type of scrutiny that regulators have performed in the past
  • Those who feel that regulations and oversight are needed but that regulators should move quickly to keep up with emerging technological developments

Innovation is happening, and regulators realize it. No one, including regulators, can stop technological advances. Luckily, I have found that my colleagues who regulate the insurance industry desire to see innovation succeed because it will, generally, enhance the consumer experience. The focus of regulators is to enforce the laws in our states and to protect our consumers. It is that constant focus that ensures a healthy and robust market. And it is that focus that allows the market to work during an insolvency of a carrier, as Iowa witnessed recently during the liquidation of CoOportunity Health.

But wanting to work with innovators doesn’t mean insurance regulators are going to turn a blind eye to how innovations and new technologies within the industry are affecting consumers. I do not believe the fundamentals of the insurance business need to be disrupted. Innovations within an industry that is highly regulated, complex and vital to our economy and nation need to occur within the confines of our regulatory structure. Innovators who are attempting to disrupt the insurance industry outside the bounds of our regulatory structure and who are not following state regulations will likely face significant problems.

So, just as Goldilocks finally found the perfect fit at the home of the three bears, insurance regulators are working diligently to find the perfect fit of the proper regulation to protect consumers for innovations and the technology affecting the insurance industry.   Regulators want the insurance business to continue to innovate and adapt to meet customer needs and expectations. Improving the customer experience through technology, quicker underwriting and increasing efficiency adds to the value of insurance for consumers. I know many smart people are working on creative projects to do these types of things and much more.

The insurance business is arguably becoming less complex because technology simplifies and evens out that complexity. Many existing insurance companies will face challenges as data continues to be harvested and as digital opportunities become more obvious. The continuous innovation in the industry is both positive and exciting.

However, insurance carriers face incredible issues, and, therefore, the regulators who supervise these firms must clearly understand the complexity of the industry and the external factors that weigh upon the industry.

A few issues industry participants must deal with:

  • Perpetual low interest rates that make it difficult for insurers’ investment yields to match up with liabilities;
  • Catastrophic storms that may wipe out an entire year’s underwriting profit in a matter of hours;
  • Increasing technological demands within numerous legacy systems;
  • International regulators working toward capital standards that may not align with the business of insurance in the U.S.

I believe regulators, insurance carriers and innovators can work together to harmonize and streamline regulations in an effort to keep up with market demands. However, the heart of insurance regulation beats to protect consumers. Compromising on financial oversight and strong consumer protections is not up for negotiation. Ensuring companies are properly licensed and producers are trained and licensed is critical, and ensuring companies maintain a strong financial position is equally critical.

Innovators who wish to bear risk for a fee or distribute products to consumers will need to comply with insurance law. Additionally, innovators looking to launch a vertical play into the industry through a creative service, model or underwriting tool need to make sure they do not run afoul of legal rules and provisions that deal with discriminatory pricing and use of data. It is a lot to absorb for an entrepreneur, but it is not impossible, and the upside may very well be worth it.

I absolutely encourage companies looking to innovate in the insurance industry to proceed, but I urge them to do so both with the understanding of insurance law and the role of the regulator and with strong internal compliance and controls. Innovators and entrepreneurs who proceed down the right path are the most likely to have regulators excited to see them succeed.

Insurance is still a complex industry. Can and should it be made simpler? Yes. I believe that, through innovation and continued digital evolution, it will. Should the industry focus on how to continue to enhance consumer experience and put the consumer in the center of everything? Yes, and I know that is occurring within many new ideas and businesses that are beginning and evolving.

Insurance, at its core, is a business of promises. It is an industry that has passed the test of time, and I believe, through innovation and continual improvement, it will remain strong and vibrant for the next 100 years.

If you are an innovator or entrepreneur and are looking for a program to learn about how to address insurance regulatory issues within your business as well as the role of a state insurance regulator, I would again encourage you to attend our 3rd Global Insurance Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa. This is the first conference where innovation and regulatory issues truly converge. This is your opportunity to learn from state insurance regulators, the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Department of Commerce, seasoned insurance executives, start-up entrepreneurs (the second class of the Global Insurance Accelerator will have a demo day for the 2016 class), venture capital investors and leading innovative thought leaders. No other meeting has assembled a group like this.

Everyone will benefit from the unique learning experiences, and, more importantly, relationships will emerge. Register here today!

The Painstaking Saga Behind NARAB

On Jan. 9, I had the pleasure of sharing spontaneous drinks and dinner with José Andrés, Washington’s first and only international celebrity chef.

He had just launched China Chilcano, the latest in his burgeoning empire of restaurants, only three days old at the time, and was only a month away from opening yet another concept. He asked how I was doing, and I told him I’d had a great week—that a bill I’d been working on for literally 23 years at the Council (NARAB, attached to the TRIA extension), was passed by the Senate just the day before.

About then, another well-wisher approached José and congratulated him on his latest achievement. “Meet my friend Joel,” he says to the guy. “He’s either the best lobbyist I’ve ever met—or he’s the [worst].”

Rightly or wrongly, I’ve been majorly associated with NARAB (“National Association of Registered Agents and Brokers”) in its multiple iterations since the early 1990s. It’s not the biggest thing I’ve worked on by any stretch—the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank are all far more important to the nation, our member firms and your clients. But NARAB has been the most painstaking.

We’ve snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory on so many occasions that it almost seemed preordained we’d lose again when TRIA failed in December. Facing implacable opposition to NARAB from retiring Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., then-Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pulled the plug on TRIA and adjourned the Senate for the year—astonishing all of us who’d worked so hard on the legislation.

Much of the blame at the time went to Coburn, as he was the only announced senator down the stretch with a “hold” on the TRIA/NARAB legislation, but the truth is more complicated, as there was considerable liberal discontent with the legislation. That’s all water under the bridge now.

Within a couple days of the disaster, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., both released strong statements saying they would put TRIA passage on the “early” priority list for January. Both kept their word.

Congress convened Jan. 6. The House bill passed in December was re-enacted Jan. 7, and the identical bill cleared the Senate Jan. 8. President Obama signed the bill into law Jan. 12. This followed critical leadership on the issue from Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, of the House Financial Services Committee, and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the new chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

Now the work can begin to actually create NARAB—an interstate licensure clearinghouse for nonresident producer licensure. Decades of compromises to get the legislation to the finish line will now become complications you’ll hear about in the coming months. The governance of the body will come principally from state insurance commissioners and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Funding problems will emerge because no federal dollars or borrowing will be allowed. And there will be disagreements about the standards for NARAB membership.

The basic deal is this: Any producer first has to be properly licensed in his or her own state. Then on a purely optional basis, he or she can apply for membership in NARAB and meet whatever requirements are established. The applicant can then check off the states in which he or she needs a nonresident licensure, paying the applicable state fees. That all sounds really simple, but we’re sure in practice it will be akin to giving birth to a live squirrel.

The protracted lobbying effort initiated in 1992 by the Council’s forerunner organizations (the National Association of Casualty and Surety Agents and the National Association of Insurance Brokers) seems disproportionate. At its core, NARAB is simply an administrative mechanism to facilitate nonresident producer licensure. But since its inception NARAB has been caught up in the push and pull of the broader debates over federal-vs.-state insurance regulation. Many colleagues of mine are putting their children through college in this continuing war of attrition.

My own children, meanwhile, are nonplussed by the history of NARAB, but here it is anyway. First it was a purely federal option, as a part of now-retired Rep. John Dingell’s, D-Mich., insurer solvency legislation, which would have created an Optional Federal Charter for insurers. That went nowhere. Then we spun it off as a stand-alone and waged a lonely battle for years, culminating in the “NARAB 1” title of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999. To sneak it through Congress over the opposition of then-Sen. Phil Gramm (for months, my colleagues referred to me as “Dead Man Walking” on the assumption that Gramm would prevail), we had to dumb down the provision. If a majority of states passed reciprocal licensing laws, there would be no NARAB. So a majority of states did so, which was welcome. But it wasn’t enough.

In the past decade, the coalition of NARAB supporters has grown substantially, with other producer organizations and the NAIC itself moving from a position of opposition to strong support over the years. In that decade, NARAB passed the House on at least six occasions (I lose count), both as a stand-alone measure and as part of other reforms.

As we now move to implementation issues, I will pause to give thanks for the many in Congress who made this happen. Most recently, our champions and authors were Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and now-retired Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb. We can’t thank them enough. And I think back to the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley debate, when Rep. Sue Kelly, R-N.Y., and the late Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., fought so hard for NARAB.

I guess it’s easier to be gracious in victory, but we wish all the best for Sen. Coburn, who did everything he could to beat NARAB. I regarded him as an obstinate SOB for many months, but he always acted out of his own federalism principles. He retired from the Senate when his cancer recurred, and we have high hopes he can beat it. Because he’s just that obstinate.

This article first appeared in Leader’s Edge magazine.

The FIO Report on Insurance Regulation

The December 2013 issuance of the Federal Insurance Office (FIO) report, How to Modernize and Improve the System of Insurance Regulation in the United States, may in hindsight be regarded as more momentous an occasion for the industry and its regulation than the muted initial reaction might suggest. History’s verdict most likely will depend on the effectiveness of the follow-up to the report by both the executive and legislative branches, but current trends in financial services regulation may serve to increase the importance and influence over time of the FIO even in the face of inaction in Washington.

Insurance regulation has traditionally been the near-exclusive province of the states, a right jealously guarded by the states and secured by Congress in 1945 after the Supreme Court ruled insurance could be regulated by the federal government under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

Any fear that the FIO report would call for an end to state regulation proved unfounded, but industry members might be well-advised to prepare for the eventualities that may result as the FIO uses both the soft power of the bully pulpit and the harder power of the federal government to achieve its aims. As the designated U.S. insurance representative in international forums that more and more mold financial services regulation, and as an arbiter of standards that could be imposed on the states, the FIO and this report should not be ignored.

Having met with the FIO’s leadership team, we believe there are concerns that uniformity at the state level cannot be achieved without federal involvement. We further believe the FIO plans to work to translate its potential into an actual impact in the near future, making a clear-eyed understanding of the report and what it may herald for insurers a prudent and necessary step in regulatory risk management.

The concerns

The biggest surprise about the FIO report may well have been that there were no surprises. There were no strident calls for a wholesale revamp of the regulatory system, and praise for the state regulatory system was liberally mingled among the criticisms.

The lack of any real blockbusters in the details of the FIO report may seem to lend implicit support to those who foresee a continuation of the status quo in insurance regulation. But, taken as a whole, this report and the regulatory atmosphere in which it has been released should be considered a subtle warning of changes that may yet come.

The report may quietly help to usher in an acceleration of the current evolution of insurance regulation. The result could be a regulatory climate that offers more consistency and clarity for insurers and reduces the cost of regulation. The result could also be a regulatory climate that offers more stringent regulatory requirements and increases both the cost of compliance and capital requirements. Most likely, the result could be a hybrid of both.

Either way, preparing to influence and cope with any possible changes portended in the report would be preferable to ignoring the portents.

Part of the disconnect between the short-term reception and the long-term impact of this report may be because of the implicit FIO recognition in the report of the lack of political will needed to enforce any real changes in current U.S. insurance regulation, most especially any that would require increased expenditures or personnel at the federal level. In our current economic and political environment, plugging gaps in state regulation by using measures that would require federal dollars may quite reasonably be construed to be off the table.

But the difference between identified problems and feasible solutions may offer an opportunity. States, industry and other stakeholders could act together to bring needed reform to the insurance regulatory system in a way that adds uniform national standards to regulation, reduces the possibility of regulatory arbitrage and maintains the national system of state-based regulation, all while recognizing the industry’s strengths and needs and not burdening the industry with unnecessary, onerous regulation.

There is much to praise in the current state regulatory system. A generally complimentary federal report on the insurance industry and the fiscal crisis of the past decade noted, “The effects of the financial crisis on insurers and policyholders were generally limited, with a few exceptions…The crisis had a generally minor effect on policyholders…Actions by state and federal regulators and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), among other factors, helped limit the effects of the crisis.”

While the financial crisis demonstrated the effectiveness of the current insurance regulation in the U.S., it is also evident that, as in any enterprise, there are areas for improvement. There are niches within the industry – financial guaranty, title and mortgage insurance come to mind – where regulatory standards and practices have proven less than optimal.

There are also national concerns that affect the industry. The lack of consistent disciplinary and enforcement standards across the states for agents, brokers, insurers and reinsurers is one obvious concern. Similarly, the inconsistent use of permitted practices and other solvency-related regulatory options could lead to regulatory arbitrage. At a time when insurance regulators in the U.S. call for a level playing field with rivals internationally, these regulatory differences represent an example of possible unlevel playing fields at home that deserve regulatory attention and correction.

A Bloomberg News story in January 2014, for example, quoted one insurer as planning to switch its legal domicile from one state to another because the change would allow, according to a spokeswoman for the company, a level playing field with rivals related to reserves, accounting and reinsurance rules.

For insurers operating within the national system of state-based regulation, one would hope that that level playing field would cross domiciles, and no insurer would be disadvantaged because of its domicile in any of the 56 jurisdictions.

But perhaps one of the greatest challenges to the state-based system of regulation is the added cost of that regulation, partly engendered by duplicative requests for information and regulatory structures that have not been harmonized among states. How to respond to that may represent the biggest gap in the FIO report. It may also be the biggest opportunity for both insurers and regulators to rationalize the current regulatory system and ensure the future of state-based regulation.

Cost

The FIO report notes that the cost per dollar of premium of the state-based insurance regulatory system “is approximately 6.8 times greater for an insurer operating in the United States than for an insurer operating in the United Kingdom.” It quotes research estimating that our state-based system increases costs for property-casualty insurers by $7.2 billion annually and for life insurers by $5.7 billion annually.

According to the report, “regulation at the federal level would improve uniformity, efficiency and consistency, and it would address concerns with uniform supervision of insurance firms with national and global activities.”

Yet the report does not recommend the replacement of state-based regulation with federal regulation, but with a hybrid system of regulation that may remain primarily state-based, but does include some federal involvement.

At least one rationale for this is clearly admitted in the report. As it says, “establishing a new federal agency to regulate all or part of the $7.3 trillion insurance sector would be a significant undertaking … (that) would, of necessity, require an unequivocal commitment from the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government.”

The result of that limitation is a significant difference between diagnosis and prescription in the FIO report. Having diagnosed the cost of the state-based regulatory system as an unnecessary $13 billion burden on policyholders, the FIO's policy recommendations may possibly be characterized as, for the most part, the policy equivalent of “take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”

Still, as the Dodd-Frank Act showed, even Congress can muster the will to impose regulatory solutions if a crisis becomes acute enough and broad enough. Unlikely as that may now seem, the threat of federal radical surgery should not be what is required for states to move toward addressing the recommendations of the FIO report.

Indeed, actions of the NAIC over the past few years have addressed much of what is in the FIO report. Now the NAIC, industry and other stakeholders can take the opportunity provided by the report to work to resolve some of the issues identified in it. The possible outcome of an even greater federal reluctance to become involved in insurance regulation would only be a side benefit. The real goal should be a regulatory system that is more streamlined, less duplicative, more responsive, more cost-efficient and more supportive of innovation.

Kevin Bingham has shared this article on behalf of the authors of the white paper on which it is based: Gary Shaw, George Hanley, Howard Mills, Richard Godfrey, Steve Foster, Tim Cercelle, Andrew N. Mais and David Sherwood. They can reached through him. The white paper can be downloaded here

US Insurers Must Contend With Federal Overseers

Since 1851, when the first state insurance regulator was established, the US insurance industry has had to comply only with the laws of a regulatory system that is state-based. However, that changed when the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the Dodd-Frank Act) passed into law on July 21, 2010. The Dodd-Frank Act, which is the US Federal Government’s response to the 2007-2008 financial crisis, created several entities including the Federal Insurance Office (FIO) and the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC). Both of these entities are authorized to be involved in the insurance regulatory system, albeit with different degrees of authority and oversight.

Ovum’s recently published report 2013 US Insurance Regulatory Landscape discusses the strengthening presence of the federal government in US insurance regulation, four interdependent initiatives that US insurers need to implement to comply with regulations, and the expanding role that technology can play in supporting US insurers as they prepare for regulatory compliance.

Federal Presence In The US Insurance Regulatory System Has Strengthened
State-based insurance regulators can be forgiven for believing that the regulatory system they have in place, and are continually reshaping to align with market realities, has continued to prove worthy to both consumers and insurance companies. Be that as it may, the Dodd-Frank Act is now law and the FSOC and the FIO are now active participants in the US insurance regulatory system. Both entities have authority and responsibilities that could transform the US insurance system. Only time will tell whether their existence is a net positive for insurance companies domiciled in the US and international insurers conducting business in the US.

Insurers should familiarize themselves with the roles and responsibilities of the FSOC and FIO. The FSOC will identify and respond to threats to the financial stability of the US and promote market discipline. The FIO has a number of responsibilities, including: recommending to the FSOC when an insurer (and its affiliates) should be designated a “systemically important financial institution” (SIFI), thus making it subject to additional capital requirements set by the Federal Reserve; representing the US in matters relating to international insurance regulation; monitoring the extent to which traditionally underserved communities, consumers, minorities, and those of low-to-moderate income can access affordable insurance products; and assisting the Secretary of the Treasury and other officials in administering the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program.

Insurers Must Implement Four Interdependent Initiatives To Enable Readiness To Comply With State And, Potentially, Federal Regulations
Insurers should create and continue to strengthen four interdependent initiatives to ensure their readiness to comply with regulation, which encompass monitoring, management, analysis, and reporting.

  • Monitoring initiatives include monitoring and capturing: any legislative bills available for public comment; discussions from the insurance legislators in each state, the NAIC, the FIO, the FSOC, the various influencer groups, and online trade press articles and commentary concerning legislative issues impacting the insurance industry; and existing regulations and proposed and actual changes to these regulations for each state in which the company conducts and wants to conduct business.
  • Management initiatives include storing, cleaning, tagging, and otherwise preparing the primarily unstructured content captured above, for analysis and preliminary preparation of regulatory compliance initiatives.
  • Analysis initiatives include analyzing the captured content’s potential impact on existing company regulatory compliance initiatives or the resources needed to create new initiatives. The analysis is likely to encompass financial analysis and modeling if the regulatory discussion impacts the amount of capital reserves the insurance company will need, or alters the investments it can make or the mix of risks it can insure. It also includes the creation of interactive dashboards that enable insurance executives and legal, compliance, and other insurance departments to track compliance with state and, where necessary, federal regulations.
  • Reporting initiatives include creating reports for internal insurance company use, for each state insurance commissioner’s office for the states in which the company conducts business, and, where necessary, for the FIO and the FSOC.

Technology Has A Growing Role To Play In Enabling Insurers To Comply With Regulations
To remain knowledgeable about what is happening, be prepared for any changes to requirements, and comply with existing regulations, insurers should use:

  • Text data mining/semantic technology to create a tagged and searchable repository of existing and pending regulations.
  • Master data management (MDM) applications to establish, maintain, and update a repository of existing and proposed industry regulations.
  • Analytics, including predictive analytics, to measure the company’s capital adequacy and ensure it complies with state and, where necessary, FIO and FSOC requirements, and to model and project the company’s current and projected density of risk (i.e. total exposure across all insurance lines of business that the insurer is selling for all or specific geographies).
  • Data visualization to create dashboards to track the company’s alignment with regulatory deadlines and capital requirements, and its progress toward adopting insurance regulatory initiatives (e.g. uniform producer licensing).
  • Database technologies to create, store, and manage producer demographic, insurance experience, training, and licensing information for every insurance company producer (i.e. agent/broker/financial advisor) for each insurance line of business, for every state (or jurisdiction) in which the agent is legally authorized to sell insurance.
  • Collaboration and communications technologies within the insurance company, including the agent/broker/financial advisor intermediaries, to discuss progress toward regulatory compliance including concerns or problems and potential solutions if the company believes it is non-compliant on certain issues.
  • Reporting capabilities to create compliance reports and send them to internal insurance departments, to each state insurance commissioner’s office for each state in which the company conducts business, and, where necessary, to the FIO and the FSOC.