Although the Society of Settlement Planners (SSP) was founded in 2000, the term "settlement planner" is still viewed by many structured settlement stakeholders as an inflated synonym for "plaintiff broker". Current SSP President Joseph Tombs agrees.
"Until recently," Tombs stated in an S2KM interview, "that view was entirely accurate. A plaintiff broker would simply order new business cards with the new title ('Settlement Planner') proudly displayed. Today, however, that transition creates changes in expectations, applicable standards of care, and required levels of disclosure."
Just as significant, under Tombs' leadership, SSP has made a dramatic policy shift: "to pull back completely from structured settlement politics". Tombs quickly adds, however: "Our refusal to take a position should not be misunderstood to imply anything about our individual members." For example: "[t]he SSP has been a zealous advocate of the single-claimant QSF in the past and I doubt any of our members have changed their opinions on the subject. We are not asking our members to suppress or to modify their own beliefs."
The changes in SSP, as well as the growing maturation of settlement planning, were evident during SSP's recent 2017 Annual Conference which occurred March 1-3 in Las Vegas. Perhaps the most provocative statement of change, at least from a structured settlement perspective, was a panel discussion titled "Comprehensive Settlement Planning in a Post Structure-Centric World" featuring Tombs; Jack Meligan; Charly Schell; and Joseph DiGangi.
Each of these panelists has been a settlement planning leader and proponent for many years. Meligan and Schell are former SSP Presidents. DiGangi is the newly-elected SSP Vice-President. As panelists, each offered settlement planning "tips" including:
- Meligan - Dive into Medicare; study and understand the power of QSFs; expand your vision beyond structured settlement annuities.
- Schell - Prioritize planning over products; pay attention to compliance in the planning process.
- DiGangi - Obtain relevant credentials (RSP; CSSC; MCSSC; CFP; RIA; CFA; CPA; JD); charge fees for your expertise.
- Tombs - structure into trusts; consider equity-indexed annuities; embrace comprehensive services (financial planning; asset management; trust services; legal services; insurance products; lien resolution; MSP compliance; MSA allocations or management; factoring assistance; economic witness).
SSP did not ignore structured settlements during its 2017 Annual Conference. On the contrary,. the conference included a 90 minute panel discussion titled "Structured Settlement Industry Developments" featuring "Structured Settlements and Periodic Payment Judgments" (S2P2J) co-authors Daniel Hindert, Joseph Dehner and Patrick Hindert (S2KM's Managing Director) as panelists. Topics discussed included S2P2J Release 61 highlights; renewed structured settlement sales growth ; the current AIG class action ; and the current ELNY class action . The SSP conference audience included National Structured Settlement Trade Association (NSSTA) Board members, NSSTA brokers and NSSTA annuity provider representatives. Multiple NSSTA members were featured as speakers.
The SSP conference also included an informative panel discussion about the structured settlement secondary market titled "Bad Practices in the Secondary Market" featuring John Darer, Eddie Stone and moderated by Rhonda Bentzen. The presentation provided a detailed, professional critique, with examples, of false advertising by some primary market participants who sell products consisting of "re-cycled" or "derivative" structured settlement payment rights as "annuities" or "structured settlements" as well as the risks and dangers of such products.
Just as SSP as an association is transitioning, the relative role and importance of structured settlements (from SSP's perspective) is also changing - and this poses a challenge for NSSTA and the structured settlement industry generally. For examples:
- Although most of the SSP members who produce structured settlements are also NSSTA members, according to Tombs, he also maintains that most SSP members, sponsors and seminar attendees do not sell structured settlement annuities.
- SSP has developed a new set of "Practice Standards" which it introduced during its 2017 Annual Conference because, according to Tombs, "professionalism requires a set of common standards recognized by those calling themselves settlement planners as well as the consuming public."
- Tombs also announced that a committee of the SSP Board will be "modernizing" SSP's existing "Standards of Professional Conduct" because this current ethical code is "too structured settlement centric".
- Tombs, as well as other SSP members, believes that settlement planning represents a uniquely superior business model compared with traditional structured settlements. Most structured settlement annuity providers, according to Tombs, "[don't] understand the significance of settlement planning - or how it differs and/or relates to structured settlements."
- From a plaintiff or plaintiff attorney perspective, Tombs characterizes settlement planners vs. structured settlement brokers as "unfair competition". "My experience has shown," Tombs states, "that whenever a plaintiff attorney sees and understands the settlement planning model, they will never again be satisfied with a structured settlement broker who only offers one product as a solution for a client's comprehensive needs."
From an historic and strategic perspective, Tombs' message, indeed the message of the SSP 2017 conference more generally, appeared to S2KM to echo and amplify Joseph DiGangi's presentation during the NSSTA 2009 Winter Meeting which DiGangi termed "a wake up call for the [structured settlement] industry". At that time (2009), DiGangi proposed a "consultant" model for NSSTA members, with multiple products and services, as an alternative to the "annuity broker" structured settlement business model.
Characteristics of consulting model DiGangi proposed in 2009, not unlike SSP's current settlement planning model, included: planning orientation; solutions before products; blended products and services; product neutrality; compensation disclosure; professional training and designations; comprehensive skill sets and knowledge base.
Significantly, in 2009, DiGangi characterized structured settlement annuities as the "foundation product" for what DiGangi at that time termed "settlement consulting" - and settlement consulting as the new business model for structured settlement growth. For structured settlement consultants who lack the expertise, licensing or infrastructure to offer comprehensive solutions, DiGangi recommended teaming up with other professionals. DiGangi highlighted several transitional issues: licensing; conflicts of interest; collaboration models; and work process infrastructure.
Although NSSTA has not yet formerly embraced "settlement planning", NSSTA has formed a "Special Needs Attorney Task Force" and its 2017 Annual Educational Conference will feature an unprecedented (for NSSTA) number of special needs attorneys as speakers. Special needs attorneys play an increasingly important number of roles in personal injury settlement planning. Ringler, a founding NSSTA member and historically the largest structured settlement broker, recently re-branded itself as "Objective Settlement Advisors" and now claims to be "the largest settlement planning company in the nation."
Among several other interesting and educational SSP presentations (listed below), the following two related discussions were especially important for the future of SSP and settlement planning - again, from S2KM's perspective:
- "Turning Settlement Planning Into a Profession" - Kent Hansen presenter.
- "Registered Settlement Planner (RSP) Designation Update" - Joseph Tombs presenter.
Hansen's presentation was notable for several reasons. First, he acknowledged that "settlement planning" remains an emerging profession that has not yet achieved professional status. Second, he identified four SSP-related steps to elevate settlement planning to professional status: 1) the current re-focus of SSP; 2) updating SSP's (structured-centric) Standards of Professional Conduct; 3) renewing and upgrading the RSP Designation program; 4) adopting and embracing the proposed SSP Practice Standards.
Hansen also reviewed the proposed new SSP Practice Standards, which address the following issues, and which the SSP Board of Directors' Practice Standards Committee has approved and sent to the SSP membership for their input and consideration before the SSP Board meets to discuss, modify and most likely approve the Practice Standards at its upcoming April meeting :
- Practice Standard #1 - Identifying/acknowledging "client" as individual (potentially) receiving settlement proceeds.
- Practice Standard #2 - Defining the scope of the engagement including making required disclosures of material conflicts of interest and details of the planner's compensation.
- Practice Standard #3 - Defining the client's goals, needs and priorities relevant to scope of engagement.
- Practice Standard #4 - Obtaining information and documents.
- Practice Standard #5 - Analyzing information to match client's goals, needs and priorities with resources.
- Practice Standard #6 - Considering options and developing recommendations.
- Practice Standard #7 - Communicating recommendations to enable client to make informed decisions.
- Practice Standard #8 - Mutually agreeing on implementation responsibilities consistent with scope of assignment.
- Practice Standard #9 - Recommending appropriate products and services.
- Practice Standard #10 - Mutually defining monitoring responsibilities.
Finally, Hansen reviewed the settlement planning process which S2KM summarizes as follows: 1) identify the client; 2) establish the engagement; 3) define goals; 4) gather data; 5) analyze data; 6) develop options; 7) present options; 8) agree on implementation; 9) implement plan; 10) monitor plan. Hansen acknowledged the CFP Board's current Practice Standards as the source for these processes.
Tombs provided an RSP update which is newly organized and updated within a "Settlement Planning Education Center" (SPEC) website. SPEC, "an online education provider" for the settlement planning profession, is owned and operated by a public charity ("Friends of Settlement Recipients, Inc."), according to Tombs. An RSP Board, Tombs stated, owns and awards the RSP designation and approves, administers and promotes the program. Although the RSP is "independent" of the SSP, according to the SPEC website, SSP helped start RSP and supplied initial funding. The Missions of the RSP and the SSP are "congruent".
The SPEC website provides additional information about the RSP courses and the SPEC faculty and includes a detailed list of Frequently Asked Questions (with Answers) plus multiple "How-To" Videos. The RSP program is entirely online and self-paced. The total cost of the program will be "about $4750" per person. Additional contact information is available on the SPEC website.
The remaining SSP educational programs were topically diversified, well-organized and professionally delivered - easily matching the high standards of past SSP Annual Conferences. Additional topics and speakers:
- Settlement Taxation Update and Commonly Missed Savings - Jeremy Babener
- Are MSAs Required on Liability Cases? - Josh Pettingill; Joe Anderson; Patrick Hindert (moderator)
- The ACA's Impact on Special Needs Trusts - Pi-Yi Mayo
- ERISA, Medicare Advantage and Medicare Refunds - David Place
- Life Insurance in Settlement Planning - Michael Sharpe
- Trust-Based Comprehensive Settlement Planning - Beth Wheeler
- The ABLE Act - Tom Stanley
- Settlement Strategies for Cases Involving Public Benefits - Will Lindahl
- Using MoneyGuidePro in Settlement Planning - Larry Peterson; Cam Bowen; Joseph Tombs
Congratulations to SSP, especially Conference Chairs Steve Halterbeck and Rhonda Bentzen, for an outstanding 2017 SSP program and educational experience. For S2KM's reports on past SSP conferences, see the structured settlement wiki.