The Society of Settlement Planners (SSP) hosted its 2015 Annual Conference last week in Las Vegas with an unprecedented number of structured settlement association leaders as speakers and attendees including representatives from the National Structured Settlement Trade Association (NSSTA) and the National Association of Settlement Purchasers (NASP). For a list of SSP speakers and topics, see this prior S2KM blog post.
In his keynote address, SSP President Neil Johnson re-affirmed SSP's traditional commitment to "open dialogue" of industry issues with a mandate for "healthy, respectful discussion of all industry issues, controversial or not - rejecting the the temptation to sweep the uncomfortable under the carpet."
While seeking to engage all perspectives to identify shared permanent interests and discuss industry problems and issues, Johnson acknowledged and accepted that conference attendees would not agree on all issues - and they did not.
Some of the issues discussed:
- The need for structured settlement industry unity - encompassing education and, in some situations, political lobbying.
- How NSSTA and NASP are collaborating to improve state structured settlement protection statutes.
- Improving public relations by first acknowledging and addressing structured settlement primary and secondary market problems.
- The uniqueness of the structured settlement product and the need for better primary market self-regulation.
- The impact of "fiduciary standards" on settlement planning and the future of structured settlements.
- Collaborative primary/secondary market strategies for addressing "the darker side of factoring".
- Settlement planning as an important and distinctive growth strategy for structured settlements.
- Differentiating settlement planners from single-product plaintiff structured settlement brokers.
- Financial planners - a competitive threat or the next generation of structured settlement consultants and settlement planners?
- The inevitability and risks of "off-shore" settlement planning products in a globalized world.
- Lessons learned from the Executive Life debacle for claimants and their attorneys and advisors.
- How settlement planners and structured settlement consultants misuse life care planners and life care plans.
- The Social Security Administration's recent hostility toward special needs trusts (SNTs) and what it means for structured settlements.
- How and why settlement planners must learn to take control of the Medicare set-aside (MSA) process.
- The explosion of multi-claimant QSFs - a missed market for structured settlements?
None of these issues were resolved in Las Vegas. What did occur was a healthy exchange of ideas among leaders of historic structured settlement adversaries (NSSTA, SSP and NASP) with active participation from leaders of other settlement planning associations. The result: a unique industry gathering as much like a diplomatic conference as an educational event.
With NSSTA's President, Executive Director, and several members of its Board of Directors in attendance, whether and how NSSTA (as well as NASP) and its members will respond remains uncertain. NSSTA helped to initiate a more open industry dialogue during its own Fall 2014 Educational Conference by inviting SSP President Johnson and NASP President Patricia LaBorde to appear as featured speakers.
Structured Settlement Industry Unification
During the NSSTA Fall 2014 conference, Johnson outlined a "Blueprint for Industry Unification" which he and NSSTA President Kevin Silo continued to discuss in Las Vegas in a repeat performance of their "Presidents' Panel". Johnson's appeal for unity characterized "industry disarray" as a "threat to our future." Labeling diversity "good" and disparity "bad", he called for a united front before the public.
In Johnson's words: Lack of structured settlement industry unity is "a drain - a drain on financial resources ... a drain on productivity ... a drain on our public image ... a drain on physical and emotional health. Lack of unity diverts attention from productive projects. It always focuses attention on the negative, never on the positive. Lack of industry unity shows no partiality or favoritism for either NSSTA or SSP."
Both Johnson and Silo expressed optimism, however, about the future of structured settlements - especially in the context of generational transition. Johnson, in particular, highlighted potential opportunities amidst his self-described industry disparity, including a strengthened resolve and commitment for improvement and growth. According to Johnson and other settlement planners, the structured settlement industry needs a wakeup call - a fresh look and reevaluation that includes, but extends beyond, NSSTA's "protect and preserve" orientation.
Here are the core components of Johnson's proposed "solution" for structured settlement industry unity:
- Recognizing and accepting product and professional diversity.
- Identifying and pursuing permanent shared interests without necessarily agreeing on all issues.
- Engaging all perspectives to discuss industry problems and issues.
- Promoting and practicing settlement planning with the structured settlement annuity as a core strategic product.
The Future of SSP
Throughout its 15 year history, SSP has punched beyond its weight class. Born out of a troublesome recognition that the structured settlement playing field was seriously tilted to the disadvantage of plaintiffs and their advisors, SSP has helped bring respect and professionalism to the plaintiff side of the table by emphasizing "settlement planning", not "settlement selling".
Recognizing the strategic role of structured settlements, settlement planning nonetheless seeks the "best interest" of its injury victim clients and includes multiple products and multiple experts.
Despite these accomplishments, and perhaps because of them, SSP's future as an association is uncertain. NSSTA has more plaintiff structured settlement brokers than SSP and has been more successful in adding a new generation of members.
Other, well-organized, non-structured settlement professionals, such as special needs attorneys and life care planners, increasingly focus their marketing, educational programs and work product on settlement planning using SNTs and MSAs as their gateway.
As was evident in Las Vegas, however, SSP continues to raise the educational bar for an entire industry of settlement professionals. Settlement planning remains an evolving profession - largely unregulated with few industry standards. The ultimate role and growth potential for structured settlements within the settlement planning market have not yet been determined.
SSP's ability to organize an educational conference where an unprecedented cross-section of industry leaders engaged in civil discussions about strategic industry issues suggests SSP has an important continuing role within both the structured settlement and settlement planning markets.
For S2KM reporting about prior structured settlement and settlement planning conferences, see the structured settlement wiki.