The National Association of Settlement Purchasers (NASP) hosted its 8th annual educational conference October 16-19, 2012 in New Orleans with a record number of attendees consisting of transfer company executives and staff, in-house and outside legal counsel, investors, service providers and, for the first time, primary market participants.
NASP President Matthew Bracy set the conference theme by challenging speakers and attendees to continue to improve the structured settlement secondary market: "We have some of the brightest minds in the country assembled here to discuss the status of this industry and how to improve what we do. And, as is our habit, we have invited people who might have critical things to say about how we are doing and what we can do better. Improvement can only come from the honest and sometimes harsh assessment of outside critics."
One of those critics was keynote speaker Jan Schlictmann who called out "cash now" advertizing as a "primitive denomination". Schlichtmann's broader message echoed Bracy's theme of bettering oneself through self-criticism and the need for higher industry goals. "It is not just who we serve that matters, but how we serve", Schlictmann stated. Schlictmann reviewed his client experience with structured settlements and acknowledged a personal paradigm shift resulting from recent industry developments including low interest rates and the ELNY liquidation.
The Judges Panel has become a regular and popular feature of NASP educational conferences. Moderator Earl Nesbitt encouraged this year's panel members, Judge Patricia Wise, Chancery Court Judge, Hinds County, Mississippi and Judge Dean Lum, Superior Court for King County, Washington, to share their concerns about structured settlement transfers and their advice for transfer company representatives and attorneys. Selected highlights:
- Judge Wise: "We (Mississippi judges) have a good relationship with transfer attorneys. I don't look at transfers as inherently good or bad. I don't have any preconceived notion whether to approve or disapprove."
- Judge Lum: "It is not my job to talk someone into or out of a transfer. Judges, however, think about the worst case scenario - a recipient who has just turned 18. The closer to this worst case scenario, the more scrutiny a person receives."
- Judge Wise: "What judges are looking for is credibility and what structured settlement payees say they will do with the funds. We do focus on whether prior transfers have occurred. Also, the older the payee, the more likely they have the ability to make a good decision."
- Judge Lum: "Attorneys should prepare the structured settlement payee for his or her court appearance - how to dress and behave; how the best interest test applies; what the impact will be on dependents."
- Judge Lum: "We have a saying in King County: 'there is no party like ex parte'. In unopposed cases, people try to run things by you. Its kind of like the wild west. In unopposed cases, it is important for attorneys to go the extra mile. Your reputation matters. There are two degrees of separation in the legal profession."
Another regular and popular feature of NASP educational conferences are the small group break out sessions. The individual breakout sessions S2KM attended addressed participants' state-specific experience with:
- Court Approval Issues - judicial negotiation of discount rates; the meaning of full disclosure; statutory history of the "best interest" test; independent professional advisor qualifications and fees; transfer application exhibits; and the importance of judicial education.
- Underwriting Issues - annuity provider transfer requirements; "applicable state laws" requirements; judgment creditor issues including bankruptcy and child support; annuity provider administrative fees; and problems related to incompetent payees, identity theft and relatives or friends coercing payees.
The NASP conference doubled down on underwriting issues with an informative presentation about "Life Contingent Transactions" by NASP President-elect Patricia LaBorde. LaBorde, who also served as Chairperson for the 2012 NASP conference and was credited with upgrading the NASP website, discussed the two paths for funding life contingent transactions:
- Purchasing a life insurance policy to hedge against the risk of an early annuitant death; or
- Evaluating the risk and pricing the risk into the transaction.
Jack Kelly, a federal lobbyist who assisted NASP in securing enactment of IRC 5891 in 2002, provided a Legislative Update. Kelly summarized NASP's 2012 involvement with legislative proposals in Vermont, Minnesota and New Hampshire. Vermont, in 2012, became the 48th state to enact a structured settlement protection statute. The new Vermont statute is generally based upon the NCOIL Model Act with some variations related to independent professional advisors, notice requirements for certain state agencies and the required court appearance by the structured settlement payee.
Earl Nesbitt, NASP's Executive Director and General Counsel, presented the 2012 Litigation Update. Among several important court decisions, Nesbitt highlighted the Stone Street v. McClendon case which he characterized as an "important victory" for NASP and the structured settlement industry in general. In McClendon, a Louisiana state court found that Travelers Insurance and MetLife had no grounds for withholding payments following a valid transfer of payment rights pursuant to the Louisiana structured settlement protection statute. The court ordered MetLife to pay interest from the date the payments were originally due. Note: S2KM will publish a more detailed review of the McClendon case in a subsequent blog post.
Attorney Joseph Feltes' 2012 NASP presentation titled "Privacy Issues in Structured Settlement Transactions (Part 2)" supplemented his 2011 NASP presentation on the use and disclosure of confidential information by transfer companies. This year, Feltes discussed privacy issues related to electronic and digital communications, especially Internet-based communications. Among other issues, Feltes highlighted: cyber-bullying; the increase in defamation cases; the blurred boundaries between public and private communications; FTC blog rules requiring disclosures of paid endorsements; social media policy and practices; limits on constitutional rights; cloud technology issues; and the importance of company Internet policies.
In his "Primary Market Update", Mark Wahlstrom emphasized why the primary and secondary structured settlement markets are part of the same business. He called the primary market "the secondary market's best friend" despite the primary market's criticism of, and "needless obstacles" for, the secondary market. As one example of "needless obstacles", Wahlstrom mentioned Chartis for aggressively promoting an anti-factoring pledge among its structured settlement brokers.
Wahlstrom described 2012 as "another bad year for the primary market". He characterized declines in primary market annuity premium as a "negative trend that will eventually impact the secondary market" and identified the following causes:
- The structured settlement is an insular, closed community with aging leadership and a shrinking sales force.
- Structured settlement annuity providers, and most brokers, lack marketing and innovation skills.
- Primary market participants are intimidated by the Internet.
- Instead of offering customer solutions, the primary market continues to sell a single product.
- With historically low interest rates, that product produces a zero return when you consider inflation.
- The primary market has not responded strategically to tort reform and increasing competition from other professionals.
- By continuing their "factoring wars", the primary market has missed opportunities to cooperate with the secondary market.
- The ELNY liquidation means the primary market can no longer claim all structured settlement recipients have received 100% of their payments.
Kira Brereton, an attorney who specializes in asset-backed securitizations, provided a comprehensive introduction to "Financing Structured Settlements". Her presentation: reviewed a typical transaction structure; provided a market overview including legal and regulatory developments; summarized rating agency considerations; discussed split payment issues; addressed the creditworthiness of insurers backing the collateral pools; considered bankruptcy and receivership issues; and highlighted relevant securities laws and regulations including the Investment Company Act of 1940, private placements, Dodd-Frank and Regulation AB 2.0.
Elizabeth Yingling, a securities law expert, discussed "Implications of Federal and States Securities Laws on Structured Settlements". She addressed fundamental issues such as: What statutes govern securities? What is a "security"? What is an "investment contract"? and How do promotional materials impact the analysis? In addition, Yingling offered a detailed analysis of the "Howey test" and provided practical tips.
Alexander Hamilton Award
NASP also named S2KM blog author, Patrick Hindert, as the 2012 recipient of its Alexander Hamilton Award. NASP has bestowed this award five times "to distinguished individuals who have supported and defended the right to free alienability of property rights. This right is the corner stone of NASP and the foundation of the structured settlement factoring business." Previous Alexander Hamilton Award recipients:
- State Senator Alan Sanborn of Michigan.
- U.S. Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia.
- State Representative Van Tran of California.
- Earl S. Nesbitt, Esq., of Texas.
In announcing the 2012 award, NASP President Matt Bracy stated: "Hindert was chosen to receive this award based upon his longstanding support of the factoring business and option. In particular, his position as a founder and leader in the primary structured settlement business, who early on recognized the legitimacy and value of the secondary market, led to this honor."For complete S2KM reporting on NASP conferences plus other structured settlement and settlement planning conferences, see the structured settlement wiki.