Delaware’s unprofitable captive insurance bureau will continue to flounder, unlikely to see any new revenue dollars, unless there are substantive reforms, national experts say.
By Lee Williams and Danny Russell
Reputation is everything within the highly-competitive captive insurance industry.
Firms looking to create a captive insurance company, which is a cost-saving form of self-insurance, are courted by an ever-growing list of potential domiciles – states and countries eagerly seeking their business.
The domiciles want access to the taxes and fees the captives will contribute to their state budgets once they’re operational. Some states with active captive programs can see millions of dollars transferred into their general funds.
The up-front money for a potential captive, which can consist of salary for a captive manager, audits, financial and pre-qualification reports, can sometimes exceed $100,000.
If there’s even a hint of impropriety at a potential domicile, the captive will run away and locate elsewhere. There are nearly a hundred diverse domiciles worldwide who will gladly take their business. It’s a buyer’s market.
When considering a potential domicile, national captive insurance experts say their industry’s wants and needs are simple: efficiency, expertise, and most important – stability.
If Delaware’s captive insurance bureau wants to compete globally, and actually generate revenue for the state instead of losing $100,000 as it did last year, these three specific areas must be addressed and improved.
The bureaus tarnished image must also be cleansed.
“A domicile’s reputation is certainly a significant element of the decision on where to domicile,” said Dennis P. Harwick, president of the Captive Insurance Companies Association (CICA), which is the only domicile-neutral association of captive insurers.
Christina A. Mancini is a partner and CEO of Captive.com, a Web site that has become required daily reading for the world’s captive insurance industry.
The partnership launched the site in 1995. It is sponsored by some the largest service providers in the industry. Today Captive.com generates more than a half-million “hits” per month from some 40,000 unique visitors. She tracks media reports pertaining to her industry, and sends out regular notifications of newsworthy developments.
Few people are better positioned to track trends within the industry, and fewer still know what the captives are looking for when considering a new domicile.
“Each customer has their own criteria, but by far and large, what they’re looking for is stability, and the expertise that exists within the regulatory staff of a domicile,” Mancini said. “Other issues are the premium tax structure, flexibility in dealing with regulators and capitalization requirements.”
Mancini’s Web site published links to many of the stories written by the Caesar Rodney Institute, as part of CRI’s ongoing series “Delaware Dept. of Insurance: Not in the public interest.”
The series revealed Delaware Insurance Commissioner Karen Weldin Stewart’s proclivity for awarding lucrative no-bid contracts to friends, campaign donors and out-of-state consulting firms – possible violations of Delaware’s procurement and contracting regulations.
CRI revealed how Stewart awarded a $16,000-per-month contract to Steve Kinion, who is currently the director of the captive bureau, although he has had several titles within the insurance department, even though Kinion lives in Springfield, Illinois, where he maintains a thriving law firm.
These issues, Mancini believes, may or may not impact the bureau’s ability to obtain new captives.
“I don’t know how this will play out, but it could have an impact on captives coming into the domicile,” she said. “They’re in an awkward position.”
The insurance commissioner was given the opportunity to defend and clarify some of the issues raised about her stewardship of the insurance department when she testified before the House and Senate insurance committees two weeks ago.
Rep. Michael Ramone, R-Middle Run Valley, said the commissioner’s testimony raised more questions than it answered.
“Quite frankly, I wasn’t comfortable at the end of the process with the answers we got, particularly with the hiring processes and business decisions involving taxpayers’ money,” Ramone said. “She brought in her war-chest of speakers and said now we needed to trust them?”
Stewart refused to be interviewed for this and every other story CRI has published.
Her refusal to comment, Mancini said, is troubling.
“I guess one would have to wonder why,” she said. “I have been bullish about Delaware for several years, and I think I speak for the industry in wishing them success. Openness and transparency are needed to put this situation to rest.
Since Stewart was elected in 2008, the Delaware Department of Insurance has seen a revolving door of deputy commissioners and captive directors – a far cry from the stability Mancini and others say is so necessary if the state hopes to compete globally and build relationships within the industry.
Several people have been appointed second in command, according to Stewart’s e-mail correspondence obtained by CRI through a Freedom of information Act (FOIA) request:
- “Mr. Steve Kinion, who carries the title of Sr. Advisor to the Commissioner and is, for all practical purposes, the de facto Deputy Commissioner…” according to an e-mail sent April 29, 2009 by Stewart’s chief of staff Elliott Jacobson.
- “I am appointing Edmond M. Ianni as Deputy Insurance Commissioner…” Stewart wrote in an e-mail May 5, 2009 to Office of Management and Budget director Ann Visalli.
- “That salary is higher than any cabinet secretary in the state – we will have to discuss tomorrow,” Visalli wrote hours later in her reply.
- “Under the direction of my Deputy Commissioner Gene Reed, a task force within the department has been meeting to discuss these issues identified by physicians,” Stewart wrote in a press release sent last month, defending her department’s actions in response to an editorial that accused her of not responding to pre-authorization denials.
Changing senior staff and their duties is in direct opposition to the stable working relationship sought by potential captives, which has become standard practice at other domiciles such as Vermont, the largest captive domicile in the United States.
“Vermont has had very little change. People do like that,” Mancini said. “They [captives] know the former and current director. People know the regulatory staff, not only the regulator himself but those who work for him. Now, if insurance commissioner change frequently, and with each change the new commissioner brings in new regulatory staff rather than keeping existing staff, predictability and expertise and relationships will suffer.”
Delaware had one of the industry’s best-known and most-respected captive experts on staff when Stewart was elected, Bill White, whose 25 years of traditional and captive insurance experience dwarfs that of any of Stewart’s expensive appointments.
White was picked by Stewart’s predecessor Lt. Gov. Matt Denn to launch Delaware’s captive bureau, after he successfully created and launched Washington D.C.’s captive program.
“Bill has enormous expertise,” Mancini said. “He did a tremendous job building the regulatory framework in D.C., and then he moved to Delaware and did a remarkable job there too. He is exceptionally bright, a tremendous guy, and a real asset to any domicile where he gets involved.”
Rather than retaining White and his world-class contacts within the captive industry, three months after taking office, Stewart forced him out the door.
During her testimony before the House and Senate insurance committees, Stewart blamed White’s “sudden” departure from the captive bureau as the reason she awarded no-bid contracts to Kinion, Ianni and her personal friend Mary Jo Lopez.
White left her in the lurch, she told lawmakers.
“I was annoyed when I heard that,” White told the Caesar Rodney Institute. “That was not the case.”
Instead, White vividly recalls a conversation he had with the commissioner in February 2009, on the drive home from Dover, after he and Stewart met with the Joint Finance Committee.
White had already envisioned several goals for the captive bureau. He was looking forward to discussing his ideas with the commissioner and seeing them implemented.
“I asked for her strategic directives, what she wanted for the captive bureau over the next three years. I wanted to establish a presence in the market and establish credibility in the market,” White said. “Different types of captive and known service providers were coming here. I wanted to get to the point where the revenue generated by the premium taxes would break even – our take-off point. We needed clear strategic objectives to align properly. We had those things under Matt Denn.”
White never got any answers.
Instead, he was told to make room for Kinion, Ianni and Lopez.
“She said, ‘Bill you need to come up with a plan that includes these people,’” White recalled.
Stewart was somewhat vague about the roles the three contractors would play within the bureau.
None had any captive experience, although Kinion was a respected regulator on the traditional insurance side.
Stewart said Lopez would become the bureau’s Director of Business Development.
“I made the mistake of asking what we were selling,” White said. “She got ticked-off about that.”
“Ultimately, I decided not to worry about how these people fit in,” he said. “I outlined a plan based on what worked and generated 38 captives.”
Stewart, through her appointees, made it clear she wanted her people in the bureau, not anyone appointed by Denn. White resigned two months later.
White is not bitter, and his skills are very much in demand – even more so than when he worked within Delaware’s bureau. He politely declined to discuss recent industry buzz about where he is going to establish a captive program next.
Restore expertise, cooperation
White’s suggestions for fixing Delaware’s captive bureau would still work today. They’re simple, cost-effective and could be implemented overnight.
“Captives want to know your regulatory approach. The statutes are not really that different, one domicile to another,” White explained. “What they are looking for is flexibility – a regulator they can have a discussion with and support in terms of structuring a captive, or feedback on structuring a proposal.”
White describes this vision, which has worked extremely well wherever he’s worked, as a “consultative regulatory approach.”
“They’re looking for a regulatory environment that will assist them in successfully licensing their captive,” White said. “It doesn’t matter whether the domicile is large or small.”
Stewart and her team have been spending vast sums of money traveling the county on “road shows” to market what they call the “Delaware Advantage.”
“They need to articulate a strategic vision, goals and objectives and determine what resources they need to support that,” he explained. “That’s the message that will eventually get out to the marketplace.”
Licensing captives, he said, is a “sophisticated business transaction. You do not sell it like retail. You attract business.”
White has heard from colleagues within the captive industry they have trouble getting someone from within Delaware’s captive bureau to even return phone calls.
“Their concern is they can’t get someone to respond on a timely basis to basic questions – every day maintenance stuff,” he said. “I have no idea what’s happening on the application basis.”
Appoint the commissioner
The Delaware Department of Insurance ranks 47th in the country in terms of efficiency, according to data supplied by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners that was analyzed by CRI.
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Delaware is one of only 11 states that elect their insurance commissioners. The rest appoint industry experts to the role. Appointed insurance commissioners have consistently higher efficiency ratings than elected commissioners.
The higher the efficiency rating, the more “bang for the buck” the states receive in terms of revenue from their insurance departments.
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Of the states with elected insurance commissioners, Delaware ranks last in terms of efficiency, budgeting more dollars per employee than the other states.
Shaun Fink is executive vice-president of the Caesar Rodney Institute.
“It’s time for Delaware to reexamine the process it uses to select insurance commissioners,” Fink said. “The Delaware Department of Insurance should function like an ATM for the state, in terms of the revenue it generates that is transferred into the General Fund. Given the issues the Caesar Rodney Institute has raised about our current commissioner and her stewardship of the office, it may be time to consider whether the state would be better off with an appointed commissioner – an industry professional – rather than an elected official from the dominant political party.”
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CRI research fellow Sara Clark contributed to this report. Contact CRI research fellow Danny Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact investigative reporter Lee Williams at (302) 242-9272 or email@example.com
The Caesar Rodney Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-partisan research and educational organization and is committed to being a catalyst for improved performance, accountability, and efficiency in Delaware government.
© Copyright April 27, 2010 by the Caesar Rodney Institute
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