This blog post continues S2KM's discussion of the 2011 annual conferences of the Society of Settlement Planners (SSP) and the National Structured Settlement Trade Association (NSSTA) with a strategic perspective. A prior S2KM blog post identified speakers and topics featured by SSP and NSSTA. Subsequent S2KM blog posts will summarize and provide commentary about selected speaker presentations.
SSP's conference, open to members and non-members, addressed two general topics: "Special Needs Settlement Planning" and "Practice Improvement: Marketing and New Products". NSSTA's conference, for members only, celebrated NSSTA's 25th anniversary. It also included a NSSTA business meeting with reports from immediate Past-President Michael Kelly, new President Dan Finn, Executive Director Eric Vaughn, Assistant Executive Director Peter Arnold and the Chairpersons of NSSTA's several committees.
One of the highlights of NSSTA's 2011 conference was the honoring of NSSTA's past presidents. David Ringler, NSSTA's first president, spoke briefly at the conference and re-stated his original vision for NSSTA:
"Although we do need to constantly be on the watch for legislative change, I still believe having a place where everyone and anyone can sit down with each other and discuss the issues and viewpoints regardless of beliefs is the most important reason for NSSTA. I have called it a common “talk table”, although I agree that is not exactly a very elegant term. If we can continue this tradition, there is no problem we cannot overcome."
Many industry participants, including some NSSTA members, question whether NSSTA has lost sight of this original purpose and tradition. Does NSSTA continue to represent "a place where everyone and anyone can sit down with each other and discuss [structured settlement] issues and viewpoints regardless of beliefs"? The answer, unfortunately, is "no".
For the past several years, NSSTA's leadership has superimposed a strict political litmus test for membership as well as for topics and speakers at its educational conferences. As one result, structured settlement industry participants with alternative issues, viewpoints, beliefs and educational interests have founded two other national structured settlement associations: the National Association of Settlement Purchasers (NASP) in 1996 and SSP in 2000.
Fortunately for NSSTA members and the structured settlement industry, based upon its 2011 conference, NSSTA appears to be expanding the scope of its educational programs to address important but controversial industry topics such as IRC 468B Qualified Settlement Funds, IRC 5891 and state structured settlement protection statutes. The educational programs offered by both NSSTA and SSP also increasingly discuss three fundamental transitions reshaping the structured settlement industry:
- From structured settlements to settlement planning;
- From a singular, illiquid, and non-assignable product to multiple products with greater flexibility to address changing needs and circumstances of injury victims;
- From traditional (pre-Internet) to web-based business models, processes and skill sets.
With the structured settlement industry facing these and other challenges, including aging leadership, declining structured settlement annuity sales, anticipated legislative changes plus an increasingly complex legal and regulatory business environment, where is the strategic vision and what are the strategic priorities for NSSTA and SSP?
NSSTA President Dan Finn and Executive Director Eric Vaughn identified the following:
- NSSTA challenges:
- Promote the expanded use of structured settlements
- Expand the structured settlement market
- Protect structured settlement annuitants
- Defend IRC sections 104(a) and 130
- Enhance the Certified Structured Settlement Consultant (CSSC) program
- Unify the structured settlement industry
- NSSTA objectives
- Expand IRC section 104 (a)(2) to include wrongful imprisonment and sexual abuse cases
- Expand government use of structured settlements
- Promote structuring of MSAs in liability cases
- Promote the structuring of Social Security disability payments
- Promote the professionalism of structured settlements
SSP President Jack Meligan prioritized three objectives:
- Improve SSP's marketing to plaintiff attorneys
- Create an SSP lobbying presence
- Enhance the Registered Settlement Planner (RSP) certification program
Two of NSSTA's featured speakers, Jim Morris, President, Chairman and CEO of Pacific Life Insurance Company, and William T. Robinson lll, President-Elect of the American Bar Association (ABA), added important and positive assessments for structured settlements.
Morris accentuated the current financial strength of U.S. life insurance companies and explained why structured settlement annuities represent an excellent strategic product for life companies. As corollaries to Morris' presentation:
- NSSTA announced that two highly rated annuity providers, Mutual of Omaha and Berkshire Hathaway, have re-entered the structured settlement market; and
- Thomas Ronce and Craig Ulman clarified the life and health guaranty association system and how that system applies to structured settlements.
Robinson praised structured settlements as "professional and dignified solutions" for injury victims based upon his first-hand experience as a litigation attorney. Structured settlements represent "state of the art" tools for all attorneys to consider when negotiating and resolving personal injury cases according to Robinson. In his capacity as President-Elect of the ABA: Robinson also:
- Spotlighted the current funding crisis facing state courts; and
- Suggested the ABA and NSSTA should identify shared interests and lobbying opportunities.
For S2KM's reporting and commentary about past SSP and NSSTA conferences, see S2KM's structured settlement wiki.