Len Blonder is a structured settlement pioneer now beginning an unprecedented third term as President of the National Structured Settlement Trade Association (NSSTA). It may seem counterintuitive, therefore, or perhaps wishful thinking, but one could describe NSSTA's 2016 Annual Conference, which occurred April 6-8 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida April 6-8, as a "New Beginning."
Following the transformative leadership of Michael Goodman, NSSTA's immediate past President, however, the opportunity for such a new beginning now exists and the 2016 NSSTA Annual Conference Educational Program outlined some of the future possibilities.
TOPICS AND SPEAKERS
- Opening Remarks - Michael Goodman
- NSSTA Objectives - Len Blonder
- Settlement Experiences and Aftermath - Michael Goodman (Moderator); Tania Root; Todd Falzone, Esq.
- Wrongful Imprisonment: Claimant Story - Michael Goodman (Moderator); Kwame Ajamu
- Structuring Wrongful Imprisonment Claims - John McCulloch and Ryan Jandreau
- Trusts and Structured Settlements - Dan McCarthy (Moderator); Phillip Krause; Tim Denehy
- Mediators and Structured Settlements - Connie Klingler (Moderator); Hyram Montero; Len Blonder
- Projecting Future Economic Damages After the ACA - Roger Bernstein; Noah Katz; Nichole Segal
- Property & Casualty Insurance Program Growth - (Michael Goodman and Len Blonder - Moderators); David Crowe; Richard Woollams
- Legislative and Political Update - Eric Vaughn
- NSSTA Growth Initiative Update - Sean Coleman (Moderator); Jim Early; Melissa Evola Price; Ryan Jandreau
- SSPA Success Stories - Michael Goodman (Moderator); Andy Prindable; Sally Greenberg
- NSSTA Legal Update - Tim O'Driscoll; Peter Vodola; Steve Harris
S2KM COMMENTARY ON SELECTED TOPICS
NSSTA Growth Initiative
During Goodman's Presidency, NSSTA revised its historic and defensive "protect and preserve" strategy by embracing a new "Growth Initiative" which already appears to have generated new energy and improved "community" spirit. Progress reports for preliminary "Growth Initiative" priorities [re-starting P&C programs; convertible lump sums; and Federal Employee Compensation Act (FECA) amendment(s)] were all positive. Equally important, the overall theme was forward looking asking: "How can we move forward? How can we change the dialogue?"
Supporting its "Growth Initiative", NSSTA has also expanded its industry outreach and networking with other professional associations. Improved relationships among NSSTA, the Society of Settlement Planners (SSP) and the National Association of Settlement Purchasers (NASP) has helped unify the structured settlement market. Working together, NSSTA and NASP have added important consumer protection provisions to five state structured settlement protection statutes. As one result, Goodman declared in his Opening Remarks: "we can no longer use factoring as an excuse for not growing the industry."
Len Blonder Presidency
How will Blonder, a 38 year plus industry veteran who, as much as any single individual, has been personally responsible for "protecting and preserving" the tax foundation for structured settlements, respond to NSSTA's current leadership challenges and market opportunities?
"The times are changing and we must change", Blonder stated, as he addressed NSSTA's membership to begin his third term as President. "The business is more complicated. We must determine how the parts fit together. Despite plaintiff growth, defendants remain indispensable to structured settlements. Defendants must continue to play a key role."
Unless NSSTA faces an unexpected crisis, Blonder said his plans for NSSTA include continued industry and community growth. Based upon the preliminary success of the "Growth Initiative", Blonder announced it would become a permanent NSSTA committee and expand its current list of priorities. As a result of recent state legislative successes, Blonder stated he expects NSSTA to spend less time on factoring legislation and more time on judicial education during his term as president.
Among NSSTA's challenges and priorities, Blonder highlighted: growing NSSTA's membership and increasing membership diversity; continuing to improve relationships with outside associations; and improving public relations generally for both NSSTA and structured settlements.
Re-starting P&C Programs
Speaking as part of a panel discussing Property and Casualty Company Program Growth, Richard Woollams, President of Claims for AIG Commercial Insurance, provided a contrarian perspective concerning future structured settlement growth and industry change. Asked to predict what the structured settlement market will look like in five years, Woollams opined: "the same as today with more broker consolidation and better technology."
Woollams also identified reasons why some P&C companies have reduced their structured settlement program participation: "competing priorities; increasing compliance requirements; and inertia". Woollams further challenged NSSTA's membership by stating: "in workers compensation cases, the savings for defendants is obvious. Can you quantify the cost savings with liability cases? Even a couple of points pays for program compliance and administration."
Woollams' challenge concerning "cost savings for liability cases" echoes findings about "metrics and analytics" from a 2011 study (titled: "National Litigation Management Study") commissioned by the Claims and Litigation Management (CLM) Alliance (formerly "the Council on Litigation Management") as well as NSSTA's own 2014 survey of Senior Claim Advisors conducted by CLM Advisors.
Based upon interviews with leading litigation management executives, the 2011 CLM Alliance study identified structured settlement as the "most penetrated external initiative" among 30 litigation-related service areas analyzed. Another "key finding" that emerged from the answers to the more than 160 questions covered in that 2011 CLM Alliance study: "litigation executives are not happy with the metrics and analytics available to them."
Also relative to metrics and analytics, NSSTA's 2014 survey of senior claims executives found:
- Only 20 percent of the participants reported having any set of objectives around the use of structured settlements.
- A majority of the participants did not measure referral volume and only half measure the volume of successfully written structures.
Affordable Care Act
A separate NSSTA conference panel discussion about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) titled "Projecting Future Economic Damages After the ACA and Collateral Source Rule Changes" highlighted one way NSSTA members can utilize structured settlements to quantify potential cost savings for defendants. That being part of an expert team that provides defendants with two-tier (with and without ACA coverage) case specific calculations of future economic damages.
As NSSTA's ACA panel pointed out, the admissibility of ACA coverage for trial purposes (both for evidence and damage calculation) depends upon the common law collateral source rule which not only varies by state, but also is subject to current, state-specific post-ACA legal disputes as to applicability. This contested claims environment, plus the applicable expert damage team recommended by the NSSTA panel (featuring a structured settlement broker), represents both a strategic growth opportunity for NSSTA members as well as a priority for continued in-depth education.
Trusts and Structured Settlements
The NSSTA conference panel discussing "Trusts and Structured Settlements" provided another window for viewing potential structured settlement change and growth. Contrary of traditional structured settlement perspectives, which view trusts as competitive products in a zero sum settlement game, panelist Tim Denehy (who identified himself as a "settlement planner" offering trusts and structured settlement annuities) insisted: "A structured settlement does not solve every problem. However, by offering additional products, I can sell more structures."
Fellow trust panelist Phillip Krause, who also sells multiple settlement products, stated: "I analyze products as an investment fiduciary." He added, however: "There is more potential liability with a multi-product model." As an alternative to a multi-product model, Krause suggested structured settlement brokers might partner with, or delegate product sales to, a trust provider. Moderator Dan McCarthy supported a more traditional approach saying he continues to defer to plaintiff attorneys' relationships with banks and trust companies.
NSSTA has been slow to explore and/or embrace the evolving settlement planning profession in which structured settlement annuities, as well as trusts, represent strategic, interactive products. Other professional associations, especially SSP and the Academy of Special Needs Planners (ASNP), have been more proactive than NSSTA in analyzing settlement planning issues. As more plaintiff brokers offer trusts and other non-structured settlement products, and share commissions with defense brokers, NSSTA should consider helping its members better understand how settlement planning impacts the sale of structured settlements - creating new opportunities as well as risks.
Structuring Wrongful Imprisonment Claims
John McCulloch and Ryan Jandreau traced the history and explained the significance of IRC 139F which was enacted December 21, 2015 as part of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act). "In the case of any wrongfully incarcerated individual," IRC section 139F provides: "gross income shall not include any civil damages, restitution, or other monetary award (including compensatory or statutory damages and restitution imposed in a criminal matter) relating to the incarceration of such individual for the covered offense for which the individual was convicted." Damages paid for wrongful imprisonment, however, which are not derived from a personal, physical injury, are not eligible for an IRC section 130 qualified assignment. Although the exact number of exonerees is not known, McCulloch and Jandreau cited sources estimating approximately 4000 nationally over the past 15 years.
NSSTA DIRECTORS AND AWARD WINNERS - NSSTA announced the election of two Directors: Mal Deener and Ryan Jandreau. In addition, the following individuals were honored during the conference:
- President's Award - Debbie Sink
- Leadership Award - Susan Clark and Robert Caples
- Service to the Industry Award - Andrew McClain
Assuming NSSTA's 2016 Annual Conference represents a "New Beginning" for the structured settlement industry, the upcoming year will be one of the most important, if not the most important, in NSSTA's history. Based upon his leadership experience and prior accomplishments, Len Blonder appears uniquely qualified to help NSSTA determine how the parts of an increasingly complicated business fit together in order to continue to grow structured settlement annuity sales and improve the lives of personal injury victims.
CORRECTIONS AND OMISSIONS
S2KM began receiving valuable feedback to this blog post almost immediately following its publication. Examples:
The second paragraph under "Trusts and Structured Settlements" above has been changed from what originally appeared in this blog post, at the request of Phillip Krause, to clarify that he used the word "investment" and not the word "professional." Krause explained: "An 'investment fiduciary' is a specific role within the management of a Trust. The Trustee delegates or directs investment decisions to the 'investment fiduciary.' The role of 'investment fiduciary,' is separate from the role of a 'structured settlement consultant.' An investment fiduciary uses registered investments with the SEC/FINRA. A broker dealer may also be involved in the approval of the appropriateness of investments held within the Trust. The oversight by an OSJ or compliance officer is also common."
S2KM could (still might) write an entire blog post about the informative "Property & Casualty Insurance Program Growth" discussion moderated by Michael Goodman and Len Blonder and featuring Richard Woollams and David Crowe. Some of Woollams' comments appear in the original blog post. Crowe also offered valuable insights and recommendations for re-starting P&C structured settlement programs including the importance of: 1) identifyinging one or more internal structured settlement "champions"; 2) showing the impact on a P&C's bottom line; 3) defense and plaintiff brokers working together for a more efficient settlement process; 4) attracting bright young professionals to the structured settlement industry - a problem, he stated, is shared more generally by the insurance industry.