Captives under Scrutiny

A mere decade ago, captive insurers were viewed by most regulators as a small, even exotic part of the insurance industry. Most were assumed to be offshore and aroused little attention. Now, captives have gone mainstream. A sizable, but undetermined, portion of the property casualty coverage is placed through, or issued by, captives. A good guess is 30% to 40%, but no one has been able to establish an accurate number. Thirty-nine states have some form of captive or self-insurance law. Captives are now part of everyday life for regulators and the result is more scrutiny.

The issues now on the agenda for captives are significant:

• XXX and AXXX Reinsurance Captives

According to Superintendent Joseph Torti (Rhode Island), 80% to 85% of life and annuity insurance is ceded to reinsurers. Much of the so-called “excess reserves” required by Rules XXX and AXXX are ceded to captive reinsurers or special purpose vehicles owned by the same licensed life and annuity companies which cede the risk. Because the amount of this risk is so large, any trouble collecting this reinsurance could have a major effect on the industry. Some regulators, even a few who approved these cessions, have criticized these arrangements. In some cases, the collateral for the reserves has been subject to parental guarantees, which tends to undermine the confidence which can be placed in the transaction. The NAIC is continuing its examination and has met some stiff resistance from the industry.

• Multistate Insurers 

The proposal to amend the preamble to the NAIC Accreditation Standards to treat captive reinsurers as “multistate insurers” (with some limited exceptions) was withdrawn at the last NAIC meeting in Louisville. A new proposal should be forthcoming (and may have already been issued by the date of publication of this Newsletter). The premise of this proposed change is that non-domiciliary regulators need to know how insurance issued in another state may affect the citizens of their state. The opposite point of view is that the regulators of the domicile have done their job and should be trusted by their regulator colleagues and that the transaction should not affect third parties, anyway. Some say the risk to the domestic captive industry is existential. If enacted and enforced, the proposed change could, ironically, drive much of the industry offshore and therefore beyond the authority of the regulators promoting it.

• Nonadmitted Risk and Reinsurance Act

Captives have been inadvertently drawn into the regulatory structure imposed by this federal legislation intended to streamline the reporting and payment of surplus lines taxes. It has shined a spotlight on the payment (or non-payment) of state self-procurement taxes, but, ironically, does not in any way alter either the application of them or their payment. While risk retention groups (RRGs) were able to get an exemption from the law during its formative phase, captives, because they are (generally) single state entities and therefore not doing business as a “non-admitted” insurer, did not even attempt to get an exemption. Now there is a group, the Coalition for Captive Insurance Clarity, which is seeking a legislative exemption on Capitol Hill.

• Insurance Company Income Taxation

The Internal Revenue Service is investigating several insurance pooling mechanisms and, in some cases, the captives that have utilized them to establish third party risk—which is essential for an insurer to get the benefit of insurance tax treatment. This investigation is presumably a response to the rapid growth of “micro-captives” as mechanisms to assist with avoidance of taxation in estate planning and wealth transfer. This process is in its early stages, but is likely to produce some dramatic results.

• Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB)

Who would have thought that the FHLB would have anything to do with captives?  It appears that some captives, and at least one risk retention group, are members of the FHLB, which allows them to obtain federal funds at advantageous rates. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which regulates the twelve FHLBs, has proposed a rule that would exclude all captives from membership by defining “insurance company” to mean an entity which “has as its primary business the underwriting of risk for nonaffiliated persons.”

Why is this happening now? While there are numerous reasons for these kinds of actions, there are two primary motivators. First, regulation is always subject to the problem of “what’s worth doing is worth overdoing.” Reasonable minds can differ on the interpretation of statutes and regulations. Each of the above includes an element of “pushing the envelope,” which can be significant or insignificant issues depending on your point of view. Second, captives have been caught in the vortex of regulatory competition. As we have discussed before in this column, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), the Federal Insurance Office (FIO), and the International Association of Insurance Supervisors (IAIS) are jockeying for position and power. Add to the mix the position of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that captives may be used as a device to avoid taxation (“base erosion” in OECD parlance), and you have a tumult of regulatory action which at the same time can be challenging and conflicting in its goals and implementation.

What does this bode for the future of captives? Once you have been seen on the radar, it is hard to drop off. Captives can expect more of the same for the foreseeable future.

This blog was previously published on the Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP website.

NFIP, TRIA and FIO: Points of Focus for House Financial Services Committee

The House Financial Services Committee has released its oversight plan for the 113th Congress. This is a nonbinding plan that each standing committee must submit at the start of each new legislative session spelling out the committee’s agenda for the session. While much of the House Financial Services’ plan includes review of Dodd-Frank implementation and other banking related issues, it also includes three issues of importance to risk management: extension of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and the Federal Insurance Office (FIO).


“The Committee will examine the private sector’s capacity to assess and price for terrorism risk. The Committee may also consider proposals that would phase out the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program by encouraging private industry to develop dedicated capital for underwriting terrorism risks, and significantly reducing the potential Federal exposure and participation in terrorism insurance over time.”

TRIA is set to expire on December 31, 2014 with many in the industry, including RIMS, pushing for an extension of the program to 2019. The committee’s plan signals that the fight for an extension will not be an easy one.

On the NFIP:

“The Committee will monitor the implementation of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, paying particular attention to the reforms that encourage more private sector participation in the flood insurance market. The Committee will also review and consider further reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program with the goal of ending taxpayer bailouts of the program and transitioning to a private, innovative, competitive and sustainable flood insurance market. Since 2006, the GAO has designated the NFIP as a high-risk program because of its potential to incur billions on dollars in losses and because the program faces serious financial, structural, and managerial challenges. Due to extraordinary losses incurred following the hurricanes in 2005 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the program carries a debt of well over $20 billion as of January 1, 2013.”

The debate over the NFIP, which many assumed was settled in 2012, was renewed following the destruction caused by Superstorm Sandy. Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) has expressed his opposition to the NFIP in the past so it comes as no surprise that the committee plans to continually review the program’s viability and sustainability.

On the FIO:

The committee’s plan also scrutinized the FIO for missing deadlines on several reports to Congress related to the insurance industry. The FIO is being urged to release “these long overdue reports without further delay.” Two of the more anticipated reports include recommendations to modernize and improve the insurance regulatory system and a report on the global reinsurance market. Treasury Department Under Secretary for Domestic Finance Mary Miller recently testified before the Senate Banking Committee that the modernization report would be released soon and that the FIO will be releasing other reports in the coming months.

It’s going to be a busy legislative session.