As structured settlement stakeholders await the anticipated liquidation of Executive Life Insurance Company of New York (ELNY), some may be asking what happened to ELNY's sister company Executive Life Insurance Company of California (ELIC) and ELIC's structured settlement recipients.
Gary Schulte describes the meteoric rise and fall of ELNY, ELIC and their parent holding company, First Executive Corporation (FEC), in his 1992 book "The Fall of First Executive" previously reviewed by S2KM. Schulte's story ends in 1991 when ELNY and ELIC entered rehabilitation and FEC declared bankruptcy. At that time, the combined companies owed junk bonds (among other investment assets) with a face value of $6.4 billion and had issued approximately 13,500 structured settlement annuities: 8000 by ELNY and 5500 by ELIC.
One of the preliminary issues in ELIC's receivership was whether the supervising Los Angeles Superior Court (Superior Court) could properly distinguish among groups of ELIC policyholders. Initially, structured settlement recipients seemed assured of receiving 100 percent of their scheduled payments compared with holders of guaranteed investment contracts (GICs) who were to receive only a fraction of their investments. Subsequently, however, an appellate court required equal treatment for GIC investors thereby reducing ELIC funds available to pay structured settlements.
On April 22, 1991, the Superior Court entered an order permitting California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, as Rehabilitator, (Garamendi) to continue payment of all of ELIC's death claims, certain medical claims and 70 percent of it structured settlement obligations. The Superior Court permitted “hardship” claimants to petition for a continuation of full scheduled structured settlement payments. Approximately 600 structured settlement recipients applied for and received hardship status and continued to receive all their scheduled funds during the rehabilitation proceeding.
Of those structured settlement recipients who experienced an initial 30 percent shortfall, approximately 800 had originally agreed to a qualified assignment with FEC as obligor. For those structured settlement recipients who had not agreed to a qualified assignment, the original obligor (defendant or liability insurer) remained contractually liable. Some of these original obligors made supplemental (30 percent) monthly payments while others waited until an overall shortfall was determined.
In August 1991, Commissioner Garamendi entered into a two-part sales agreement with New California Life Holdings, Inc. (New California) and Altus Finance (Altus), an affiliate of the French Bank Credit Lyonnais, in connection with the ELIC rehabilitation. This sales agreement and the ELIC rehabilitation plan were subsequently modified and then approved by the Superior Court on August 13, 1993. Under this agreement, Altus paid $3.25 billion and acquired ELIC's $6.4 billion junk bond portfolio. The Altus purchase price included $300 million of capital for a newly formed company, Aurora National Life Assurance Company, Inc. (Aurora) which assumed ELIC's remaining assets and liabilities including its structured settlement obligations.
The ELIC sales agreement was subsequently subject to considerable criticism. At least in retrospect, the agreement substantially undervalued ELIC junk bond portfolio. Although the junk bond market was depressed and thinly traded in 1991, it was among the best performing investment markets in 1992 and 1993. Even in 1991, a substantial percentage of the junk bonds owned by FEC and its two Executive Life subsidiaries were current on interest payments and ultimately fulfilled their investment obligations.
Effective February 15, 1994, ELIC's former policyholders and structured settlement recipients were given the opportunity to either opt out of the rehabilitation plan and receive the liquidation value of their existing ELIC contracts or opt in to a new restructured contract with Aurora. For structured settlement annuities, the agreement of both the policyholder and annuitant was required before the policy could be cashed in. Both persons electing to opt out and persons electing to opt in were entitled to participate in future distributions from the remaining assets of the ELIC estate.
Those persons choosing to opt out of the Aurora plan received an initial cash payment of 56 percent of the value of their ELIC annuity plus promised subsequent payments estimated to provide an additional 28 percent depending on future events. The alternative was a revised annuity from Aurora the terms of which varied based upon what the ELIC annuity had promised.
The National Organization of Life and Health Insurance Guaranty Associations (NOLHGA) became actively involved in the ELIC insolvency because Aurora's assets could not meet all of ELIC's obligations. For each structured settlement, a state life insurance guaranty association contributed up to $100,000 to supplement Aurora's payment offers. Based upon this approach, approximately 4000 of ELIC's 5500 structured settlement payees were restored to 100 percent of their ELIC claim values. Of the remaining 1500 ELIC structured settlement recipients, most of those who did not agree to a qualified assignment have received supplemental payments from the original obligor (defendant or liability insurer).
In July 1998, an anonymous whistle-blower alleged that Crédit Lyonnais was the real buyer of ELIC and controlled it through secret agreements. In 1991, banks were prohibited from owning U.S. insurance companies. The California Insurance Department sued Credit Lyonnais and other parties alleging violations of the federal Bank Holding Company Act, the California Insurance Code and other California statutes.
Some of the defendants settled in 2005 for $730.5 million of which $211 million was distributed to opt out policyholders and payees and $403 to Aurora to supplement payments for opt in policyholders and payees. The case against the remaining defendants resulted in a substantial verdict (including punitive damages) in 2005 which the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reviewed in 2008 and remanded for a new trial on the issue of damages. A new trial court date has not yet been set.
For S2KM reporting about Executive Life of New York, see S2KM's structured settlement wiki.