Highlighting a year during which the secondary structured settlement market is exceeding previous annual transfer totals, the National Association of Settlement Purchasers (NASP) cautiously celebrated its seventh Annual Meeting November 9-11, 2011 in Las Vegas with record conference attendance including member company representatives, affiliate attorneys and invited guests.
Recognizing its legislative successes, NASP honored its Executive Director Earl Nesbitt for his past lobbying efforts by awarding him with NASP's 2011 Alexander Hamilton Award. Nesbitt represented NASP in helping to enact Internal Revenue Code section 5891 and the Model State Structured Settlement Protection Act upon which are based most of the related state structured settlement protection statutes.
NASP President Matthew Bracy additionally praised NASP's founders stating: "Through their vision, guts and determination, we have not only persevered but flourished. Today NASP celebrates the fact that structured settlement recipients, in compliance with federal and state laws, have the right to sell their asset when needed."
NASP Educational Program
Maintaining its tradition of inviting judges representing different states to speak, NASP's 2011 educational program featured a panel discussion of judges from New York (Honorable Judith McMahon), Texas (Honorable Alexandra Smoots-Hogan) and Mississippi (Honorable Denise Owens) moderated by Patricia LaBorde. Among other issues, the judges discussed how they interpret the "best interest" standard as well as their expectations for transfer company counsel, transfer documentation, disclosure of prior transfers and levels of proof in transfer cases.
Another highlight of NASP's 2011 educational program was NASP's decision to organize smaller breakout group discussions consisting primarily of NASP member general counsel and affiliate NASP member attorneys to discuss:
- Issues in Obtaining Court Approval of the Transaction; and
- Issues in Underwriting Structured Settlement Transactions.
Other Speaker and Topics
Robin Shapiro - Shapiro, Chairman of NASP's Legal Committee, summarized historical and 2011 secondary structured settlement legislative and case law developments. Among the specific cases and issues:
- Symetra v. Rapid - This ongoing litigation appears likely to be completed in 2011 with injunctions prohibiting Rapid Settlement's prior business practices of using arbitration to by-pass state structured settlement protection statutes and taking security interests to gain rights of first refusal for future transfers.
- Conflicts between "incumbents" and "insurgents" in the secondary structured settlement market with a substantial portion of new transfers including individual investors not just institutional investors.
- Confusion between transfers of structured settlement payment rights and "settlement liquidity" businesses involving other asset classes such as the increasing sale of veterans' benefits.
- At least one (unnamed) annuity provider that refuses to release guaranteed payments to investors when a payee dies resulting in delays and legal costs for transfer companies.
Leonard Bernstein - Bernstein, a financial services regulatory attorney, presented separate discussions about how 1) Dodd-Frank and 2) advertising laws impact structured settlements. Although both discussions were directed toward a secondary market audience, each also contained valuable information for primary market participants.
- Dodd-Frank - Bernstein's Dodd-Frank update focused on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a new federal agency . CFPB's central mission is "to make markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans ....." Among its core functions are to take consumer complaints and to restrict unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices under the Federal consumer financial laws. Dodd-Frank provides CFPB with authorities that go beyond the existing consumer protection statutes. CFPB has broad authority to ask questions and demand information including consumer complaints. Dodd-Frank also establishes the Federal Insurance Office (FIO) with the authority to monitor all aspects of the insurance industry.
- Advertising - Bernstein's advertising discussion referenced sections of the Better Business Bureau's Code of Advertising that could impact structured settlement purchasing transactions (or primary market transactions) by prohibiting advertisements which are untrue, misleading, deceptive, fraudulent, falsely disparaging of competitiors, or insincere offers including deception through omission. As one strategy to protect against false advertising, Bernstein recommended using disclaimers whose effectiveness depends upon their prominence and location.
Elizabeth Yingling - Yingling, a securities attorney, discussed how federal and state securities laws can impact structured settlements. In defining what constitutes a "security", Yingling focused on the meaning of an "investment contract" as that term was defined in SEC v. Howey, a 1946 U.S. Supreme Court decision. Yingling offered several practical tips for transfer companies to avoid the mine fields of the securities laws when marketing to individual investors and also emphasized the serious risks involved when dealing with unsophisticated investors.
Earl Nesbitt - Nesbitt discussed the concepts of "discount rate" and "discounted present value" both of which play an important role in court hearings to evaluate structured settlement transfer proposals. The Model State Structured Settlement Protection Act defines "discounted present value" to mean: "the present value of future payments determined by discounting such payments to the present using the most recently published Applicable Federal Rate for determining the present value of an annuity, as issued by the United States Internal Revenue Service." In addition to identifying many factors that can determine the discount rate for a specific case, Nesbitt summarized the results of a recent survey he conducted of the discount rates approved by judges in Harris County Texas. Results:
- The average discount rate: 15.8 percent;
- The weighted average (i.e. taking into consideration the relative case size): 12.96 percent;
- The lowest discount rate: 7.4 percent; and
- The highest discount rate ($3494 paid for $7282 due in less than one year): 61.3 percent.
Patrick Hindert - Hindert (author of S2KM's blog "Beyond Structured Settlements") provided a "Primary Market Report" addressing current industry challenges and issues. In addition to explaining why primary market annuity premium could fall below $5 billion for 2011, Hindert summarized the historical background and current status of Executive Life of New York (ELNY). The impact of the secondary structured settlement market on the ELNY liquidation has been underestimated in most ELNY reporting by primary market sources. According to reliable secondary market sources, however, payment rights from as many as 1000 of ELNY's remaining structured settlements are currently owned by secondary market companies and/or investors.
Joe Feltes - Feltes, an attorney whose clients include health care providers and whose legal expertise includes social media, e-mail and Internet use, spoke about privacy issues in structured settlement transactions. Based upon his research, Feltes expressed surprised at the paucity of information available about structured settlements and privacy issues. As one example, Feltes pointed out the Model State Structured Settlement Protection Act does not address privacy. Before seeking and transmitting private medical information about structured settlement candidates and/or recipients, Feltes recommended obtaining purpose-specific written authorization including a waiver and release. In addition to HIPAA, Feltes discussed the privacy provisions contain in Graham Leach Bliley.
Congratulations to NASP for continuing its high educational standards with an outstanding 2011 Annual Meeting. Conference Chairperson Patricia LaBorde prepared helpful and related handout summaries for several of the presentations.