Negotiating Fronting Fees On Behalf of Owners Of Captive Insurance Companies

Whether you are negotiating a fronting fee with an insurance company for the first time, as you have a “start up” captive insurance company, or you are looking to renegotiate a “renewal” captive company fronting fee, you are going to be in for the insurance education of a lifetime.

The cost of “fronting” goes up on the very basis that there is a shortage of insurance companies willing to “front.” The insurance market losses companies like Quanta Capital, Alea, etc. and thus reduces the options available. Where are the new fronting insurance companies going to come from? Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma have brought havoc to the property captives, where we see fronting fees rising to 15%. The new Bermuda companies will acquire U.S. insurance company platforms and will be the “fronting” insurers of the future.

Owners of captive insurance companies must realize that “fronting” insurance companies need to be approached on various levels of management, with preferably senior management getting into the decision making process early on in the negotiations.

Underwriting Departments are playing a greater role in captive fronting, with the financial departments looking closely at the credit risk of the parent transaction. For instance, several years ago, construction companies would capitalize captive insurance companies just to insure the self-insurance deductible under their Owner Contractor Insurance programs. Now “fronting” insurance companies are examining the financial statements of these same construction companies to make sure they can sustain the ownership of the captive insurance companies. Interestingly enough, captive owners need to continue to monitor the financial statement of their fronting insurer, and to be on top of any potential rating downgrades by the rating organizations. Insurance company management historically has had a tendency of “failure to disclose” negative results.

Fronting insurance companies are playing a greater role in the selection of the domicile for the captive insurance company. Domestic versus offshore domicile continues to be debated. Even on shore domiciles like New York State, with its 35 captive insurance companies, are trying to expand the captive concept by reducing the threshold, $100 million parent net worth to $25 million parent net worth captives. More advertising needs to be injected into the New York captive initiative.

Most of the experienced, fronting insurance companies, have shown the ability and expertise to “front” captives from Vermont domiciles to Hawaiian domiciles, and from Barbados to Bermuda. The focus has been to continually drive down overhead expenses and those domiciles doing this are attracting all the new captive formations.

Interestingly enough, domestic captive domiciles did not lead in 2005 formations, with Bermuda and the Cayman Islands accounting for 134 captive formations. Vermont with 37 captive formations led the United States.

Fronting insurance company pricing for the risks going into captives are getting a closer look by the actuarial profession. Captive owners have come to recognize they need their own actuarial support when disagreeing with the fronting insurance company’s assessments of what is the correct price for the risk. Whether you are a residential contractor in California or a nursery home in Florida, your captive requires adequate pricing executed by the fronting insurer. We are going to see more litigation in the future between captive owners and their front insurance companies, as the disagreements over pricing continue to persist on each renewal.

Captive owners want their front insurance companies to come up with independent prices for each risk, and that concept continues to be a problem with the front company. When it is admitted, and has to use their filed rates. Insurance company market conduct reports are going to expose front carriers that they are violating their rate filings when writing primary insurance products which are reinsured back to the captive insurance company.

The more mature captive insurance company, with over five years of financial history, needs to have a committee of its Board of Directors look closely into the entire costing structure of the fronting fee. This would be a great excuse for members of the captive board to understand this important transactional cost.

What are the detailed components of the fronting fee? How are they monitored by the captive owner? When was the last time a new fronting company was asked to quote on the captive? Once the captive board gets this training, the Boards will not be “rubber stamps” and exercise more judgment at insurance decision making.

More and more mature captives are looking to write their Directors and Officers Liability Insurance into their captive. The front insurance company writes the traditional D and O form, and that risk in then ceded back to the captive, acting as reinsurer. The exclusions in the traditional D and O policy are then covered by a direct procurement policy from the captive, eliminating the need for the front. The pricing for the direct procurement policy should be controlled by the owner of the captive. In some aspects, a captive writing direct insurance policies in the United States should apply for an A.M. Best’s rating. If we remember captives are a long time investment and by getting an “A” rating from Best’s, the captive becomes a substantial asset.

Reciprocity among captive owners can be another way of eliminating the “fronting” fee. Each owner uses the “A” rated captive for each other’s risks, and purchases a sophisticated reinsurance program behind both captive insurance companies. When fronting fees approach double digits, it is necessary for captive owners to seek alternatives to “fronts.” Creative solutions need to be implemented, and captive company budgets need to have the financial resources to explore alternatives.

Finding “fronts” for Contractors Pollution Liability Insurance is another area that is getting significant attention. General contractors, residential or commercial, trade contractors, carpentry and plumbing, specialty contractors, foundation and pipeline, and remediation contractors, are all candidates for captives, and in the early years require “fronts.” Captives can substantially reduce the insurance costs of traditional pollution coverage for contractors, especially when layering of policy limits is introduced above the captive retention. Customary pricing above the captive retention follows the simplistic approach that the lower liability layers are priced higher than the upper layers, again giving the captive owner a “pricing” discount.

The identification of the “fronting” carriers has not changed dramatically in the last few years:

1. AIG

2. ACE

3. Old Republic

4. Zurich

5. Liberty Mutual

6. Discover Re

7. Chubb

8. Hartford

9. Arch

The negotiating process with each of these carriers has always been a challenge for captive owners. Insurance company “fronts” are a dynamic group, and with people constantly changing positions, requires that you pay significant attention to your fronting carrier to continually provide favorable relationships and eliminate misunderstandings. When was the last time you asked your fronting carrier, how is my program going rather than react to their letter saying they are going to cancel your “fronting” relationship because they are returning from that particular insurance product line.

There have been a number of studies on what the “fronting fee” includes, or should include. The amount of these fees keep changing but the overall concept remains the same. Focus and concentrated efforts are required to keep this “fee” economically effective.

Among the recent “fronting fees” the following is included:

1. State Premium Taxes (not negotiable);

2. Federal Excise Taxes (not negotiable);

3. Government schemes (not negotiable, but try and get how they are arrived at);

4. TRIA charges (usually not negotiable);

5. Aggregate protection (negotiable, look at the concept of purchasing this yourself from outside the structure); and

6. Profit margin for carrier/fronter (negotiable).

If loss ratios are attractively low for your captive insurance company, make every effort to obtain a lower “fronting fee.” Insurance carriers are always seeking low loss ratio business even as a “front.” If you can, try to influence the decision maker. Many “fronting fees” get renewed as is when they are comparatively high in mature, and it is in the carrier’s interest to renew as is because there is little additional costs in doing renewals. It is the “lifeblood” of the insurance company.

On the basis of regulatory and rating agency fear, “fronting” carriers have made a conscious effort to require and substantially increase the collateral requirements they are asking for from captive owners. This is an area of negotiation and as many Agent Owned Captive Insurance Company Owners have found out, too late, over collateralized programs lead to the inability of the agent to fund the letter of credit and therefore the “front” cancels the program.

Captive Owners need to know that over-funded collateral is another way a “front” company can access additional capital for growth. You need to understand the true components of the collateral required:

1. Loss Reserves (Schedule F – loss reserves plus unearned premium reserves and Incurred But Not Reported losses) … IBNR deserves the most attention since these are estimates, and does the Captive Owner want to pay for an independent actuarial study for the loss payout pattern, and full development.

2. Many “front” companies want funding that would include funding the letter of credit equal to high loss ratios, this is despite the fact they had set the pricing on the “fronted” policy. Owners need to have the expertise to challenge the methodology of the pricing.

In conclusion, “fronting” insurance companies provide “licensed paper,” which is asset value; they provide regulatory compliance and finally support services. Remember if fronting fees are greater than 5%, and mostly in the 6-10% range. When going over 10%, it is imperative that you look for another option.

Start Your Own Business Without Quitting Your Day Job

One of the businesses that I started was a home-based business. I started this business while I was still working in the corporate world and I’m glad that I did. Let me explain.

When starting any business, it’s hard to beat having a predictable income while in the start-up phase. It takes some of the pressure off. So, I always recommend keeping your day job while planning, launching and even during the early stages of growth of your small business. Of course, this assumes that you presently have a job.

Assuming that you do have a job, depending on your finances, this time at the beginning stages of planning your business might enable you to save some money to be used for certain expenses of your new venture, maybe even to finance equipment purchases.

Don’t think that staying employed is going to make starting a business easy, because I can assure that it is not. It is a two-edged sword. It will take off some of the financial pressure, but it will also require you to be organized and extremely focused. In essence, you will be working two full-time jobs. You will work your “day job” by day and your business at night and weekends. Working 9 or 10 hours during the day and then coming home and working 5-6 or more hours on your business is typical. At least for awhile.

Obviously, in order to work these kinds of hours will require you to give something up. One of the first things will probably be television. But, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Besides, there is nothing quite like the energy and enthusiasm that you will have while working on getting your own business up and running. Of course, television won’t be the only thing that will go on the backburner. Activities with friends and relatives, or even a Sunday drive in the country may have to be put off at least until your new business is under control.

This is a good place for a word of advice and caution. While it is totally appropriate and necessary to put in the hours in the early stages of launching your new business, it is easy to fall into the trap of leaving everything else in your life behind; particularly your family. This article is supposed to dispense my advice and experience as a help to you in this area of starting and owning a small business.  Please, please, please don’t allow the balance in your life to slip away to the point that you have a business, but you don’t have a life.

I mentioned earlier that you will have to be organized and focused. The time you put in at working your day job should be quality time devoted to your employer. After all, you are being paid so keep thoughts pertaining to your new business captive while at work. When I say “at work”, I mean while actually on the clock. Your break time and lunch time is new business time. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish in terms of advancing your new business by utilizing those extra moments during the day.

After hours is an entirely different matter. You need to be very organized and very focused so as to keep your new business venture on track.One of the ways to do this is to be definite in the time you are willing to allocate.

Whatever you decide, it is important to stick to the schedule and set goals or benchmarks of achievement of certain tasks or stages.

Another way of staying organized is to have a plan. Right now, you may have a plan in your head, but it needs to be in writing. Just make notes and turn the notes into some form of written outline. If you do this on the computer, you can just throw thoughts on paper (on the screen) for now, and later cut & paste to prioritize what you have written. As you think of more things to be done, throw those into your plan outline. Eventually, you can take this outline and develop it into a full-on Business Plan. But for now, just put your thoughts on paper in outline form as if it were a roadmap getting you from A to B and beyond.

Using Captive Insurance Companies for Savings

Small companies have been copying a method to control insurance costs and reduce taxes that used to be the domain of large businesses: setting up their own insurance companies to provide coverage when they think that outside insurers are charging too much.

Often, they are starting what is called a “captive insurance company” – an insurer founded to write coverage for the company, companies or founders.

Here’s how captive insurers work.

The parent business (your company) creates a captive so that it has a self-funded option for buying insurance, whereby the parent provides the reserves to back the policies. The captive then either retains that risk or pays re-insures to take it. The price for coverage is set by the parent business; reinsurance costs, if any, are a factor.

In the event of a loss, the business pays claims from its captive, or the re-insurer pays the captive.

Captives are overseen by corporate boards and, to keep costs low, are often based in places where there is favorable tax treatment and less onerous regulation – such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, or U.S states like Vermont and South Carolina.

Captives have become very popular risk financing tools that provide maximum flexibility to any risk financing program. And the additional possibility of adding several types of employee benefits is of further strategic value to the owners of captives.

While the employee benefit aspects have not emerged as quickly as had been predicted, there is little doubt that widespread use of captives for employee benefits is just a matter of time. While coverage’s like long term disability and term life insurance typically require Department of Labor approval, other benefit-related coverage’s such as medical stop loss can utilize a captive without the department’s approval.

Additionally, some mid-sized corporate owners also view a captive as an integral part of their asset protection and wealth accumulation plans. The opportunities offered by a captive play a critical role in the strategic planning of many corporations.

A captive insurance company would be an insurance subsidiary that is owned by its parent business (es). There are now nearly 5,000 captive insurers worldwide. Over 80 percent of Fortune 500 Companies take advantage of some sort of captive insurance company arrangement. Now small companies can also.

By sharing a large captive, participants are insured under group policies, which provide for insurance coverage that recognizes superior claims experience in the form of experience-rated refunds of premiums, and other profit-sharing options made available to the insured.

A true captive insurance arrangement is where a parent company or some companies in the same economic family (related parties), pay a subsidiary or another member of the family, established as a licensed type of insurance company, premiums that cover the parent company.

In theory, underwriting profits from the subsidiary are retained by the parent. Single-parent captives allow an organization to cover any risk they wish to fund, and generally eliminate the commission-price component from the premiums. Jurisdictions in the U.S. and in certain parts of the world have adopted a series of laws and regulations that allow small non-life companies, taxed under IRC Section 831(b), or as 831(b) companies.

Try Sharing

There are a number of significant advantages that may be obtained through sharing a large captive with other companies. The most important is that you can significantly decrease the cost of insurance through this arrangement.

The second advantage is that sharing a captive does not require any capital commitment and has very low policy fees. The policy application process is similar to that of any commercial insurance company, is relatively straightforward, and aside from an independent actuarial and underwriting review, bears no additional charges.

By sharing a captive, you only pay a pro rate fee to cover all general and administrative expenses. The cost for administration is very low per insured (historically under 60 basis points annually). By sharing a large captive, loans to its insureds (your company) can be legally made. So you can make a tax deductible contribution, and then take back money tax free. Sharing a large captive requires little or no maintenance by the insured and can be implemented in a fraction of the time required for stand alone captives.

If done correctly, sharing a large captive can yield a small company significant tax and cost savings.

If done incorrectly, the results can be disastrous.

Buyer Beware

Stand alone captives are also likely to draw IRS attention. Another advantage of sharing a captive is that IRS problems are less likely if that path is followed, and they can be entirely eliminated as even a possibility by following the technique of renting a captive, which would involve no ownership interest in the captive on the part of the insured.