In an August 2, 2012 blog post titled "Uniform Fiduciary Standards Only Half the Story", John Darer offers the following critique of this earlier S2KM blog post: "It's a pity that an otherwise well written blog post by Patrick Hindert about Uniform Fiduciary Standards, unexplainably omits standards for the secondary market."
S2KM's blog post addressed the following issue: "What impact will a new uniform fiduciary standard, being developed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as one result of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank), have upon existing structured settlement and settlement planning business models and practices?"
Without any discussion of the secondary market, S2KM's blog post also highlighted certain traditional primary market structured settlement business practices that fail to meet any fiduciary standard:
- Misrepresentations or omission of material facts; and
- Conflicts of interest - without written, informed client and/or customer consent.
John's blog post makes two valid points. First, that S2KM's blog post ignored secondary market standards. Second, despite enactment of IRC section 5891 and state structured settlement protection statutes, bad business practices continue to exist in the secondary market. John's blog post identifies several such practices.
By "setting aside the good players", however, John's blog post spotlights existing bad business practices but does not identify or address secondary structured settlement market business standards. What are those secondary market standards - and how do (or should) these standards impact the primary market?
Looking specifically at the "uniform fiduciary standard" (the subject of the S2KM blog post in question), the related secondary market standard is the "best interest" test. There are three sources that establish and/or address this secondary market standard: 1) IRC section 5891; 2) the state structured settlement protection statutes; and 3) judicial interpretations of the "best interest" standard.
IRC Section 5891
IRC section 5891 imposes a 40 percent excise tax on any person who acquires structured settlement payment rights in a factoring transaction. The excise tax, however, does not apply if the transfer is approved in advance in a "qualified order" issued under an applicable state statute by an applicable state court.
IRC section 5891(b)(2) defines a qualified order as “a final order, judgment or decree” that satisfies two requirements: a qualified order must find the transfer of the structured settlement payment rights:
- does not contravene:
- Any Federal or State statute or
- The order of any court or responsible administrative authority; and
- Is in the best interest of the payee, taking into account the welfare and support of the payee’s dependents.
State Structured Settlement Protection Acts
Forty-seven states have enacted some form of structured settlement protection act. While the various state SSPAs lack uniformity, most adopt the same terminology and share the same basic legislative scheme as the Model SSPA. Echoing IRC section 5891, the state SSPAs provide that structured settlement payment rights transfers are not effective unless they receive advance court approval. Under each of the state SSPAs, key terms are defined, procedures for obtaining court approval are spelled out, and required notices, disclosures and findings are established.
Although all of the state SSPAs incorporate the "best interest" test, the California statute is the only SSPA that defines best interest. Section 10139.5 (b) of the California Insurance Code lists 15 factors that judges should consider "[w]hen determining whether the proposed transfer should be approved, including whether the transfer is fair, reasonable, and in the payee’s best interest, taking into account the welfare and support of the payee’s dependents" including:
“(1) The reasonable preference and desire of the payee to complete the proposed transaction, taking into account the payee’s age, mental capacity, legal knowledge, and apparent maturity level"; and
“(15) Any other factors or facts that the payee, the transferee, or any other interested party calls to the attention of the reviewing court or that the court determines should be considered in reviewing the transfer.”
In the absence of a state SSPA "best interest" standard, state courts have applied differing determination standards and have been reluctant to provide their own definitions. For example, here is a statement from a 2003 New York trial court opinion (In re Petition of Settlement Capital Corp.):
"Although the [New York] statute does not define the best interests of the Payee, developing case law and the intent of the statute suggest the Court should consider: (1) the Payee’s age, mental capacity, physical capacity, maturity level, independent income, and ability to support dependents; (2) purpose of the intended use of the funds; (3) potential need for future medical treatment; (4) the financial acumen of the Payee; (5) whether the Payee is in a hardship situation to the extent that he or she is in “dire straits”; (6) the ability of the payee to appreciate financial consequences based on independent legal and financial advice; [and] (7) the timing of the application."
What relevance, if any, therefore, does the secondary structured settlement market "best interest" standard have as primary market stakeholders contemplate the potential impact of a uniform fiduciary standard under the Dodd-Frank legislation?
Neither IRC 5891 nor any of state SSPAs apply their "best interest" test to primary market structured settlement sales. Only four of the state SSPAs (New York, Florida, Massachusetts and Minnesota) establish any primary market sales standards, each requiring certain mandatory written disclosures.
The secondary market "best interest" test, however, does raise important issues for the primary structured settlement markets. Most importantly, If structured settlement transfers are required to be in "the best interest of the payee, taking into account the welfare and support of the payee's dependents", why shouldn't a "best interest" test or fiduciary standard apply to the original structured settlement sale?
Thank you, John Darer, for pointing out the importance of this issue.
For additional discussion and analysis of secondary market business practices and the "best interest" test, see:
- Sections 16.02 ("History of Structured Settlement Transfers") and 16.05 ("Judicial Review of Transfer Applications") in "Structured Settlements and Periodic Payment Judgments" (S2P2J); and
- The structured settlement wiki:
For S2KM's 2006 analysis of "How the Primary Market Views Factoring", see this concept map.