Although lacking a unifying theme and failing to provide noteworthy handout materials, the conference did offer a general industry overview and did address several important industry developments without encouraging or generating meaningful discussion or detailed inquiry.
The general overview featured structured settlement perspectives from selected industry stakeholders:
- Plaintiff attorneys - Neil Galatz and Jeffrey Mitchell;
- Defense attorney - Steve Jaffe;
- Special needs attorney - James O'Reilly (with NSSTA member Thomas Spratt);
- Life company executive - Joseph Barnet;
- Annuity agents (discussing mediation) - Tony Robinson; Alice Frisbee; Kathleen Osler; and Traci Kaas;
- Attorney and annuity agent (discussing history, myths and opportunities) - Karen Meyers;
- Congresswoman Shelley Berkley.
Industry developments featured:
- NSSTA General Counsel Craig Ulman;
- NSSTA lobbyist Eric Vaughn;
- NSSTA Legal Committee representatives - Peter Vodola; Ilana Hanau; Michael Miller; and Mark Alpert.
The most important industry developments discussed in Las Vegas:
- Warnings from Vaughn and Congresswoman Berkley about anticipated federal tax reform in 2010;
- Vaughn's report that some federal health care reform proposals include tort reform and periodic payment of judgments;
- Ulman's update about the increasingly precarious financial condition of Executive Life of New York;
- Alpert's summary of PLR 121876-08 permitting a tax-free "restructuring" of periodic payments;
- Hanau's summary of the Henderson v. Sioteco case where a California appellate court reversed earlier Fresno County trial court decisions and declared that public policy now supports state court approved factoring transactions.
- Vodola's summary of California's new structured settlement protection statute (SB 510) which includes a detailed definition for "best interest".
From a critical perspective, NSSTA's 2009 Fall Educational Conference represented a series of "missed opportunities".
Missed opportunity #1 - Karen Meyers, who co-developed and annually presents NSSTA's "Certified Structured Settlement Consultant" (CSSC program.) program, addressed a NSSTA educational program for the first time in several years - and didn't talk about the
Missed opportunity #2 - Meyers spoke instead about structured settlement myths - yet failed to address the most fundamental and controversial NSSTA myths including "squandering injury victims" (see: "Dissipation Studies") and "how structured settlements enable injury victims to live free of reliance on government assistance" (see: "Structured Settlement Credo")
Missed opportunity #3 - NSSTA's educational program failed to acknowledge, respond to, or apparently understand, two recent strategic challenges which question the focus and scope of NSSTA education:
- Internal challenge - Joseph DiGangi's "Settlement Consulting" presentation at the NSSTA 2009 Winter Meeting;
- External challenge - The Society of Settlement Planners (SSP) Registered Settlement Planner Certification Program.
Missed opportunity #4 - related to missed opportunity #3: NSSTA's educational programs continue to ignore the strategic relationship among structured settlements, financial planning and life care planning.
Missed opportunity #5 - although NSSTA's legal committee has successfully expanded the scope of NSSTA's structured settlement legal education (from "Tax Posse" to "All Things Considered"), their programs tend to be repetitive (e.g. "Contracts 101") and fail to translate current legal developments into broader topical presentations.
Suggested future legal committee educational topics:
- What NSSTA members need to know (and tell their clients) about IRC 5891, state protection statutes and structured settlement factoring transactions;
- What NSSTA members need to know (and tell their clients) about IRC 468B qualified settlement funds;
- Comparative business standards and practices for various structured settlement stakeholders and "competitors" - insurance agents; financial securities salespersons; attorneys; trustees.
- Transactional analysis - what does a structured settlement look like in the context of 468B qualified settlement funds; special needs trusts; Medicare set-aside arrangements; and secondary market transfers?
- Integrating annuities with settlement trusts - how do integrated products impact traditional structured settlement planning, documentation and education?
Many structured settlement leaders no longer attend NSSTA educational conferences - especially those leaders who are defining the future of the structured settlement industry. When those industry leaders do attend NSSTA conferences, they attend primarily for networking opportunities or committee meetings - not for the educational programs.
With some exceptions, NSSTA's educational programs are no longer educational. They are mundane, repetitive and suitable primarily for persons new to the industry. Controversial subjects do not appear on the program - or they are circumscribed to avoid controversy. Debate is discouraged. Speakers rarely face tough questions - or provide handout materials.
Perhaps it is time for NSSTA to re-think structured settlements and structured settlement education. What will it take to attract a new generation of structured settlement leaders to join and participate in NSSTA? What will it take to re-engage the industry's best and brightest professionals in NSSTA's educational programs? The NSSTA Fall 2009 educational conference in Las Vegas highlighted those issues without providing any answers.
For prior S2KM reports about NSSTA educational programs, see S2KM's structured settlement wiki.