Among his many memorable quotes, Winston Churchill is credited with being the first to say “never let a good crisis go to waste.”
Judging solely by reported structured settlement premium production, most structured settlement professionals and companies appear to have ignored Mr. Churchill’s advice for the second consecutive year.
As the COVID pandemic continues to restrict in person activities, and historically low interest rates continue to impact traditional annuity pricing, reported structured settlement premium through the first three quarters of 2021 totaled $3,079,490,565 – representing a decrease of ($757,511,929) or -19.7% year-to-date compared with 2020.
Also note: 2020’s 12-month total industry structured settlement premium represented the second lowest annual industry total since 1999.
That is not to say that all structured settlement companies shared the same downward premium trajectory – or that nothing positive or noteworthy occurred within the structured settlement or settlement planning markets during 2021.
As one company counterexample, consider Independent Life. We have experienced the most successful year in our history and, as a notable aberration among structured settlement annuity providers, we will be reporting record company premiums for 2021.
What is the secret of Independent Life’s success? Assuming you ask, here is what our agents might tell you:
Independent Life doesn’t just talk about excellent service. They have set new industry service standards. They don’t blame COVID or complain about low interest rates. Instead, they have actively supported our agency’s marketing – by exhibiting at multiple 2021 in person plaintiff attorney conferences and by producing Settlement Nation, the #1 rated plaintiff attorney podcast. They continuously innovate.
Following prior innovations, such as their Payee Protection Policy and the Duration Compensation Model, Independent Life has announced the introduction of iStructure, an indexed annuity product, which could not only raise the profile of the structured settlement market but also lead to further innovation and increased structured settlement sales for Independent Life agents during 2022.
To support their product innovation and anticipated premium growth, Independent Life also announced during 2021:
- Reinsurance – A reinsurance agreement with Hannover Life Reassurance Company of America rated A+ by A.M. Best effective October 1, 2020 by which Hannover Re US will reinsure a percentage of Independent Life’s in-force business and new business.
- Acquisition – An agreement to acquire Sterling National Life Insurance Company, a subsidiary of SILAC Insurance Company. Sterling National is licensed in 33 states and the District of Columbia.
- Investment – Kilter Finance, an insurance-focused specialty finance company backed by KKR, would invest up to $89 million into the Independent Group. Combined with a simultaneous investment by management and LKCM Headwater Investments, Independent Group’s founding equity partner, the transaction resulted in a total capital raise of $114 million.
In addition to innovations and company developments, Independent Life has announced during 2021, some of us are already aware they are planning to introduce an important technology innovation and at least one additional new product during the first quarter of 2022.
Industry Growth Projections
During its recent Fall Conference, NSSTA President Goodman assembled a panel of five leaders of structured settlement brokerage firms to discuss the status and future of the structured settlement industry.
Among other insightful questions, Goodman asked the panel members to predict future structured settlement premiums for: 1) 2022; and 2) five years hence (2026). With some qualifications, these brokerage firm leaders predicted an annual structured settlement premium of $6-7 billion for 2022 and a range of $7.5 to 12 billion annually in five years.
What was their justification? A couple of the panelists mentioned “market based and/or complimentary products,” “post-COVID opening of the courts” and “greater cooperation within the industry.” Otherwise, not one panelist identified any specific life company or industry 2021 accomplishments or developments to support their future growth projections at any time during their one hour session.
Compare NSSTA’s life company panel which occurred during NSSTA’s Annual Conference in May of 2021. None of the life company representatives introduced or promised “new” products – and, to this writer’s knowledge, no new life company products have occurred, with the exception of Independent Life’s iStructure announcement. Life company portfolio managers also predicted long term interest rates will remain low for the foreseeable future.
Unanswered Question: With low interest rates and COVID variations almost certain to continue through 2022, how will the structured settlement market grow from approximately $4 billion of annual premium to $6-7 billion of annual premium during 2022?
At the professional association level, many industry developments did occur during 2021.
The American Association of Settlement Consultants (AASC), a new structured settlement industry advocacy group, announced its formation. Its Mission Statement promises: a commitment to “a vibrant, strong and modern settlement planning industry”; “collaboration within the structured settlement industry”; “balanced settlement planning on behalf of their clients”; “integrated, common sense solutions that protect the needs of injured people and their families”; and “public policies that strengthen [their] essential industry and provide benefits to the consumer”.
AASC quickly organized itself naming Jennifer Wieroniey as Executive Director and Capitol Counsel, LLC as its lobbyist. AASC also elected Rebekah Reedy-Miller as its first President and also identified its first Board of Directors, named multiple committees and formed an Alliance for Women chaired by Rosa Florentino. AASC has already featured multiple webinars and will host its first Annual Conference in Las Vegas February 8-10, 2022.
The National Structured Settlement Trade Association (NSSTA) celebrated its 35th Anniversary as part of its 2021 virtual Annual Conference May 4-7.
During its Annual Conference, NSSTA announced that John Stanton and Craig Ulman, who have served as co-General Counsel for the association since 1990, will retire at the end of the calendar year.
Stanton and Ulman’s legacy to NSSTA and structured settlements is monumental and includes the preservation of IRC 104(a)(2) and 130, the enactment of IRC 5891 and the state structured settlement protection acts among many other accomplishments.
NSSTA’s Board of Directors has named Michael J. Miller as NSSTA’s new General Counsel.
In his President’s address during NSSTA’s Annual Conference, Michael Goodman stated: “I have never felt more confident about NSSTA” and he identified a long list of recent NSSTA accomplishments and current business development projects. What follows are a few of those accomplishments and projects.
- SSPAs – With NSSTA’s continuing lobbying leadership, New Hampshire became the 50th state (along with the District of Columbia) to enact factoring legislation based upon NCOIL’s Model Structured Settlement Protection Act.
- New CSSC Partnership – NSSTA announced a new educational partnership with the University of Texas for its Certified Structured Settlement Consultant (CSSC) and Master’s Certificate in Structured Settlement Consulting (MSSC) following a 25 year relationship with the University of Notre Dame.
- Women’s Caucus – NSSTA announced the formation of a Women’s Caucus, with its own website and four member “Management Team” of Paula Rubenstein, Christine Logan, Erin Eddy and Stefanie Petit, focused on mentorship, professional support, and building greater female leadership within NSSTA.
- ABLE Task Force – NSSTA formed an ABLE Task Force, led by Chairman Joe Loseman, with consulting assistance from Ken Brown, to formulate a legislative and/or regulatory solution to allow “direct funding” of ABLE accounts with structured settlements. In this effort, NSSTA is “collaborating” with a similar Task Force organized by the National Association of State Treasurers.
- MSA Working Group – Currently no formal dialogue exists among CMS, MSPN and NSSTA to discuss how structured settlements might be implemented to help ensure CMS’ objectives for liability MSAs are accomplished and/or to discuss possible future changes to CMS rules to WCMSAs that might impact structured settlements. NSSTA and MSPN believe their shared interests in structured settlement annuities merits the formation of a “Structured Settlement MSA Working Group” as discussed by Eric Vaughn, Michael Goodman and Dan Anders to consist of members of both associations.
Unlike AASC and NSSTA, the Society of Settlement Planners (SSP) does not employ a lobbyist and does not engage in political activity. SSP does, however, offer a certification program, the Registry of Settlement Planners (RSP), has published a set of Settlement Planning Practice Standards, and, for the past 20 plus years, has provided the industry’s leading settlement planning educational programs.
Among the topics addressed during SSP’s 2021 virtual Annual Conference:
- Suitability and Settlement Planning
- Approved Lists, Rated Ages, Beneficiary Protection and Co-Brokering
- Mass Torts and Structured Settlements
- QSF Education and Issues
- Settlement Planning
- Judges, Mediators and Settlement Planning
- Structuring Attorney Fees
At least four noteworthy publications impacting structured settlements, directly or indirectly, appeared during 2021:
- Factoring Series -The Minneapolis Star Tribune published a series of articles entitled ‘UNSETTLED,’ bringing to light the unscrupulous tactics of certain factoring companies, preying on vulnerable people with structured settlements.
- “Future Financial Planning For People with Disabilities” – The National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities at the University of Delaware published a National Study titled “Future Financial Planning for People with Disabilities” to develop a framework of best practices and recommendations.
- “Investing is Your Superpower”– Shinobu Hindert published a book written primarily for the types of female professionals who have organized the NSSTA’s Women’s Caucus and AASC’s Alliance for Women offering readers a personal financial “Empowerment Plan” consisting of three Phases: 1) Building a Foundation; 2) Learning Investing Essentials and Strategies; and 3) Developing SMART Goals – Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Relevant; and Timely.
- “Structured Settlements and Periodic Payment Judgments” – During 2021, publisher Law Journal Press released two new updates for this legal textbook, utilized by NSSTA and SSP in their certification program. This writer is about to start work on Release 71.
Looking back on 2021, none of the speakers at the various conferences this writer attended attempted to sugar coat current structured settlement industry status. Arguably, perhaps hopefully, structured settlement annuity production hit a “low tide” during these past 12 months.
Predictions from conference speakers earlier this year suggested 2021 structured settlement annuity premium would not show immediate improvement – and their prediction proved prophetic for most companies. Looking ahead, consultant panelists at NSSTA conferences were more optimistic than life company panelists – possibly because they included non-traditional products such as Independent Life’s new iStructure index annuity.
As this article suggests, many other important structured settlement industry developments occurred during 2021. Which companies have benefited from, and which companies have wasted, the “crisis” of COVID and low interest rates, however, should become even more evident in 2022.