A Settlement Planning “Commencement”

A Settlement Planning “Commencement”

During the past month, despite the cancellation of almost all in-person graduation ceremonies, the internet has been filled with virtual commencement speeches for the Class of 2020.

Although most of these online orations have some general applicability, none seem particularly relevant to structured settlement graduates. And perhaps for good reason: there are no 2020 structured settlement graduates.

Demonstrating remarkable foresight, the National Structured Settlement Trade Association (NSSTA), which typically hosts its annual CSSC and MSSC programs on the University of Notre Dame campus, decided in 2019 to postpone its next in-person certification programs until at least 2021.

Fortuitously also for NSSTA’s 2021 planning, Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins announced May 26, 2020 in the New York Times that students will be returning to the Notre Dame campus for the fall 2020 semester.

To assist NSSTA in analyzing recent industry educational programming from a personal injury settlement planning perspective, as it evaluates its current and future certification curriculum, Independent Life previously published a series of articles focusing on each of the following topics: 1) the settlement planning market; 2) the settlement planning process; 3) stakeholder perspectives; 4) taxation; 5) public benefits; 6) federal laws and regulations; 7) financial products and concepts; 8) ethics; 9) technology.

Society of Settlement Planners 2020 Conference

The Society of Settlement Planners (SSP) hosted its 20th annual conference in New Orleans February 26-28, 2020 immediately following Mardi Gras, the event experts believed caused a major COVID-19 outbreak in the Big Easy.  Fortunately, SSP members appear to have dodged this metaphorical medical bullet.

SSP sponsors its own RSP certification program, which is administered online by the Settlement Planning Education Center (“SPEC”). During the SSP 2020 conference, the most recent RSP graduates were briefly recognized.

Because the 2020 conference marked SSP’s 20th anniversary, the educational program featured presentations that looked back at settlement planning history and analyzed its present status as a profession. During an open mic session, four speakers including myself opined as to what settlement planning, and settlement planners, would look like 20 years hence.

There are multiple ways for structured settlement and settlement planning professionals to react to the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps the most positive: to gain courage from the doctors and nurses who have risked their lives to help others and inspiration from those who seek new frontiers as exemplified by the SpaceX launch.

Both the overlapping structured settlement and settlement planning markets have a unique historical opportunity to utilize the current crisis to innovate, transition, and grow.  Perhaps it is time for our combined industry to take what is best and accelerate our development to a new frontier, as that term was defined by the late author Hal Borland:

A frontier is never a place; it is a time and a way of life. Frontiers pass, but they endure in their people.”

Settlement Planning in 20 Years

In lieu of any commencement address, but instead projecting the commencement of a new frontier for structured settlements and settlement planning, I’d like to take this opportunity to reiterate my own comments from the open mic session on February 28, 2020 at the SSP 2020 Annual Conference:

In 20 years, the settlement planning business model I envision will be multi-professional and Internet-based. The business model will consist of individual knowledge experts, each representing specific areas of expertise relative to what we now understand as settlement planning knowledge fields (within the law, finance/insurance, medicine) plus new and/or related expert fields which we have not yet identified.

These knowledge experts will capture and continually update their knowledge using Internet-based tools.  This process will allow their knowledge to be shared, transferred and communicated into settlement planning work products that incorporate products from financial, insurance and other providers who will be part of their Internet-based networks, as well as appropriate public benefits. Additional key members of these Internet-based knowledge networks will be various technology experts plus online educators whose sole responsibility will be to communicate digitally with various target audiences – attorneys, judges, mediators and, of course, injured parties and their families.

These knowledge networks will become increasingly specialized working nationally and communicating digitally rather than in person. Actual physical location of the participating experts will become almost irrelevant. Technical industry standards will become critical for definitions, documentation and all other aspects of work product including transmission. Qualified Settlement Funds will also become standard and structured settlement annuities and trusts will continue to represent key elements of integrated settlement plans.

Compensation will become fee-based (with no-load annuities) and perhaps performance-based and part of standard Requests for Proposals (RFPs) issued by plaintiff attorneys.  Standard RFPs from major plaintiff attorneys will specify services to begin from date of accident thru date of death of the injured party. Settlement Planners will be subject to state or federal licensing and Judges will approve Settlement Plans based upon standard “Best Interest” checklists prioritizing disclosure and product suitability.

Although the industry associations will still host in-person conferences, their primary functions will be: 1) to serve as sponsor and organizer of an online community of practice for professional settlement planners; 2) to sponsor online education and certification programs; 3) to recommend and establish industry standards and licensing requirements.