"Unification not polarization!" Society of Settlement Planners (SSP) President Neil Johnson espoused this principle in his keynote address as the theme for SSP's 2014 Annual Meeting and Educational Conference.
Current industry polarization as identified by Johnson, and discussed by other SSP conference speakers, arguably encompasses:
- Plaintiff vs. defense structured settlement brokers.
- Primary vs. secondary structured settlement markets.
- Structured settlements vs. settlement planning.
- Settlement annuities vs. settlement trusts.
- Settlement planning vs. special needs planning.
Johnson's SSP keynote speech also highlighted and proposed solutions for industry polarization: 1) recognizing and accepting product diversity; 2) focusing on client and customer service; 3) identifying and pursuing permanent shared interests without necessarily agreeing on all issues; 4) engaging all perspectives to discuss industry problems and issues; 5) improving relationships among stakeholder groups; 6) promoting and practicing settlement planning not settlement selling.
Johnson, and subsequent SSP speakers, addressed one of the most diverse gatherings ever of structured settlement and settlement planning industry leaders. Speakers and attendees included members of NSSTA, NASP, NAMSAP, ASNP, SNA, NAELA and SSP as well as lien resolution experts, mass tort administrators, life care planners, settlement trustees, annuity providers and bloggers.
Except for Johnson as SSP's President, speakers expressed personal opinions and did not appear as representatives of other professional associations.
SPEAKERS - By Category and Listed Alphabetically
- Settlement Planners / Structured Settlement Broker/Agents - Michael Goodman; Donald McNay; Joseph Tombs.
- Structured Settlement Attorneys - Jeremy Babener; Stephen Harris; Patrick Hindert; Earl Nesbitt; Edward Stone.
- Product Providers - Daniel Durbin; David Hickey.
- Special Needs Attorneys - Michele Fuller; Kevin Urbatsch.
- Medicare Set-Aside (MSA) Experts - Christine Melancon; Sally Stalcup.
- Lobbyist - Jack Kelly.
- Social Media - Megan Hargroder.
- Customer Service - Bruce Loeffler.
Settlement Planning - S2KM has written previously (see: AAJ 2014 Winter Meeting) about expanding products and services offered by plaintiff structured settlement brokers. Joe Tombs' SSP presentation expanded this list and proposed a "fiduciary standard" for settlement planners. For personal injury settlement planning to emerge as a recognized profession, however, SSP (and/or other settlement planning participants) needs to address these fundamental questions:
- Which professionals and professional skill sets are needed to construct a settlement plan?
- What professional work product results in a settlement plan?
- What are the standard components of, and documentation for, a settlement plan?
- How much does it cost (professional fees, commissions, etc) to produce a settlement plan?
- What would a settlement planning "fiduciary standard" mean in terms of: "best interest", "full disclosure" and "informed consent"?
- What settlement planning licensing and e&o coverage are necessary and applicable to protect customers?
- Which professional associations include "settlement planners" and what certification programs do they offer?
- What settlement planning business models currently exist?
Industry Unification - SSP's 2014 conference represents a strategic milestone and challenge for future educational programs sponsored by structured settlement and settlement planning professional associations.
- SSP spotlighted structured settlement and settlement planning polarization as the foremost industry problem.
- SSP President Neil Johnson proposed sensible solutions which other SSP speakers echoed and effectively endorsed.
- Without endorsing specific speakers or topics, SSP's conference agenda addressed critical and divisive industry issues - and featured speakers offering alternative perspectives.
- SSP conference speakers and attendees represented an unprecedented gathering of settlement planning industry leaders.
Industry Game Changers - Speaker Michele Fuller's list of settlement planning "game changers" did not mention Executive Life of New York (ELNY) or the structured settlement secondary market - two divisive issues of continuing importance addressed by other SSP speakers (Edward Stone and the secondary market panel, respectively). Her Top-10 list, however, provides a baseline for future discussions among industry associations and participants:
- Affordable Care Act.
- Lien resolution statutory and regulatory developments.
- Federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
- Wrongful death caps determined unconstitutional.
- State and federal tax reform.
- Potential reductions in social security benefits.
- MSAs in liability cases.
- Settlement planning goes cyber.
- Increasing need for Qualified Settlement Funds.
- Increasing number of persons with disabilities.
Congratulations to SSP, and especially conference chairperson Rhonda Bentzen, for maintaining SSP's noteworthy quality standards for its annual educational programs.
For S2KM reporting about prior educational conferences sponsored by SSP and other structured settlement and settlement planning associations, see the structured settlement wiki.