2017 Vermont Report

A Perfect Fit

Life Time Fitness finds a captive home in Vermont.
By: | April 7, 2017 • 7 min read

Vermont, known for its natural landscape and ski resorts, is also the domicile for a new captive insurance company for Life Time Fitness, Inc., a privately held, multi-billion-dollar healthy living, healthy aging and healthy entertainment lifestyle company based in Chanhassen, Minn.

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“Life Time is a 25-year-old Healthy Way of Life company committed to helping communities organizations and individuals achieve their total health objectives, fitness goals and athletic aspirations  by providing the best places, best performers and best programs that positively change lives every day.

“Beginning with our first club in 1992, we have grown to more than 120 destinations in 35 major markets  across 26 states and Canada, serving more than 1.8 million members,” said Josh Reding, Life Time director of risk management.

“In keeping with our growth, our financial protection and insurance needs have also evolved. With this in mind, we licensed our captive in January of 2017 and funded it in February.”

Life Time’s comprehensive, multi-purpose, resort-like destinations provide entertaining, educational, friendly, functional and innovative experiences that meet the health and fitness needs of the entire family, according to the company.

Over the last 25 years, the company has transformed the health and fitness space, while creating an entirely new industry — Healthy Way of Life. Today, Life Time is poised to further extend its brand and growth with the creation of dozens of new, iconic Life Time destinations, complete with comprehensive Healthy Living, Healthy Aging and Healthy Entertainment programs, services and products, it said.

“Like so many captive programs, the insurance coverage that Life Time Captive Insurance Co. provides to its parent organization is plain vanilla, but the parent is unique,” said David Provost, deputy commissioner of captive insurance, Vermont’s top regulator.

“It was a great fit for Life Time Fitness to form their captive in Vermont — not just because the captive program was right up our alley, but because we have a fitness culture here too,” — David Provost, deputy commissioner of captive insurance, State of Vermont

“It was a great fit for Life Time Fitness to form their captive in Vermont — not just because the captive program was right up our alley, but because we have a fitness culture here too,” he said.

“Vermont ranks as the second-fittest state in the nation, and the Department of Financial Regulation staff exemplifies that ethos. We have bikers, skiers, kayakers, hikers, climbers, marathoners and more on staff, and may be the only insurance department in the country that has put up teams for challenge runs, obstacle races and Penguin Plunges.”

Create a Short List

Given its characteristics, third-party liability, property and casualty are major portions of Life Time’s insurance program.

So is getting educated about risk.

James Swanke, director of risk consulting at Willis Towers Watson, said risk managers should attend RIMS or CICA conferences as well as “talk to the regulators from various domiciles as a first step to learn as much as they can and determine which they like better in terms of captive legislation, regulation and infrastructure.”

“The goal should be to create a short list of attractive captive domiciles. We can certainly provide our point of view as consultants, but it has to be a comfortable fit for the client.”

After research, it’s time for a formal captive feasibility study including actuarial projections, financial analyses and cost-benefit comparisons. In Life Time’s case, company officials admitted to feeling as if they were being overly cautious in the years it took to collect information about various domiciles and put their internal processes in place. But Swanke said the firm took the right amount of time to prepare.

Dan Towle, former director of financial services, State of Vermont

“There are more choices than ever when it comes to domicile selection and competition can be fierce,” said Dan Towle, outgoing director of financial services for the State of Vermont.

“The bottom line is that companies want to form their captives in a predictable, stable, efficient and business-friendly environment. Other jurisdictions can copy our laws, but having our experience, knowledge, infrastructure and a 36-year track record is not easily duplicated.”

That is attractive to first-time captives.

“I joined Life Time six years ago and report to our executive vice president and chief administration officer, who is knowledgeable in risk financing and has always had an appreciation for risk management,” said Reding.

“We have been evaluating the idea of a captive since 2011 and knew it needed to be a long-term program with a solid plan to transfer risk outside of the traditional markets, especially workers’ compensation and third-party liability.

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“The hiring of our Risk & Safety Manager Ashley Fitzner in 2013, was a final piece to our plan for captive preparation. She has brought the needed consistency to our risk reduction programs across all of our destinations in preparation of the captive launch.”

Life Time primarily considered Vermont, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands for domiciles, but also considered Washington D.C., Arizona (one of the many areas that Life Time has a high concentration of destinations), and even Hawaii.

The decision was narrowed down to Vermont and Cayman, and Life Time selected the leading onshore captive insurance domicile, “because of its reputation in the captive insurance industry for expertise, consistency and a solid infrastructure,”Reding said.

Growth Strategy

While many firms establish captives mainly to gain leverage in the commercial market, Life Time has more ambitious plans.

“What’s important to us is providing our members with unparalleled experiences and value so that they choose to remain at Life Time for the long term,” Reding said.

“Unlike most typical fitness facilities that merely offer roomfuls of equipment without programs and essentially, are non-use models, we always have embraced the concept of Member Point of View (MPV), by building and operating destinations our members want to be in versus places they feel they have to be. We have considered many enhancements beyond our current offerings, and continue looking at the captive as a potential tool to provide additional benefits to members someday.”

“We are being selective about which risks we’re transferring into the captive. We have embraced a crawl-walk-run approach; but the captive will allow us to accelerate our objectives by utilizing our resources to invest in ourselves.” —  Josh Reding, Life Time director of risk management.

This is not to say that Life Time is not seeking financial benefits from the captive formation in the near term. “Our first premium was not significantly different from that which we paid in the commercial market,” said Reding. “One of the objectives is to turn reduced premiums and losses into a surplus.

“We are being selective about which risks we’re transferring into the captive. We have embraced a crawl-walk-run approach; but the captive will allow us to accelerate our objectives by utilizing our resources to invest in ourselves.”

The captive will approach the reinsurance market for the first time this fall. As Life Time continues to enhance its safety program, Reding and Fitzner plan for a portion of future funds to support loss prevention needs.

Josh Reding, director of risk management and Ashley Fitzner, risk & safety manager

Reding said his company selected Vermont “knowing the flexibility of the regulatory framework as an onshore domicile — and by that I don’t mean lax. The onshore domicile allows us to achieve our long-term objectives without as many regulatory roadblocks as an offshore domicile.

“The staff at the Vermont Captive Insurance Division was patient and persistent while we completed our study, and they moved quickly when we were ready to complete the formation of the captive.”

Swanke said that for the most part, “captive domicile laws are comparable state to state but there can be some important differences.” Meeting with potential finalists is important, he said.

“Captive regulators hear about the client’s business plan and vision, and the client hears the regulator’s views on the domicile’s captive law, infrastructure and so forth. There has to be a meeting of the minds, so it is important to sit down together.

“In most cases one domicile stands out as a clear winner after all the visits.”

Swanke said he was not surprised that Life Time chose Vermont. “Vermont is among the oldest and largest captive domiciles. They have significant infrastructure dating back to July 1981. New states will enter the scene as captive domiciles with their bells and whistles, and those often attract local companies that want to do business in state or close to home. There is a lot of competition among domiciles.”

One trend in captives, he added, is captive owners moving non-traditional risks into their captives beyond the standard risks of general liability, auto, workers’ compensation and property.

“We are seeing a lot of interest in cyber, also wage-and-hour, which is related to employment practices liability,” Swanke said. “Certain domiciles will be more comfortable with these newly emerging risks, which will foster further competition across the domiciles.”

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While Life Time does not yet operate one of its healthy-way-of life destinations in Vermont, it appreciates the healthy lifestyle living the Green Mountain State provides, and is excited to partner with their captive offerings in the years ahead. &

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2017 Vermont Report

 

Vermont Eyes Agency Captive

An agricultural consortium is one group taking a serious look at forming an agency captive in Vermont.

Eight Questions for Dan Towle  

Risk & Insurance® speaks with Dan Towle as he departs from his long tenure as director of financial services for the State of Vermont.

Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist based in New York with 25 years’ experience in industry, energy, finance and transportation. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Alternative Energy

A Shift in the Wind

As warranties run out on wind turbines, underwriters gain insight into their long-term costs.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 6 min read

Wind energy is all grown up. It is no longer an alternative, but in some wholesale markets has set the incremental cost of generation.

As the industry has grown, turbine towers have as well. And as the older ones roll out of their warranty periods, there are more claims.

This is a bit of a pinch in a soft market, but it gives underwriters new insight into performance over time — insight not available while manufacturers were repairing or replacing components.

Charles Long, area SVP, renewable energy, Arthur J. Gallagher

“There is a lot of capacity in the wind market,” said Charles Long, area senior vice president for renewable energy at broker Arthur J. Gallagher.

“The segment is still very soft. What we are not seeing is any major change in forms from the major underwriters. They still have 280-page forms. The specialty underwriters have a 48-page form. The larger carriers need to get away from a standard form with multiple endorsements and move to a form designed for wind, or solar, or storage. It is starting to become apparent to the clients that the firms have not kept up with construction or operations,” at renewable energy facilities, he said.

Third-party liability also remains competitive, Long noted.

“The traditional markets are doing liability very well. There are opportunities for us to market to multiple carriers. There is a lot of generation out there, but the bulk of the writing is by a handful of insurers.”

Broadly the market is “still softish,” said Jatin Sharma, head of business development for specialty underwriter G-Cube.

“There has been an increase in some distressed areas, but there has also been some regional firming. Our focus is very much on the technical underwriting. We are also emphasizing standardization, clean contracts. That extends to business interruption, marine transit, and other covers.”

The Blade Problem

“Gear-box maintenance has been a significant issue for a long time, and now with bigger and bigger blades, leading-edge erosion has become a big topic,” said Sharma. “Others include cracking and lightning and even catastrophic blade loss.”

Long, at Gallagher, noted that operationally, gear boxes have been getting significantly better. “Now it is blades that have become a concern,” he said. “Problems include cracking, fraying, splitting.

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“In response, operators are using more sophisticated inspection techniques, including flying drones. Those reduce the amount of climbing necessary, reducing risk to personnel as well.”

Underwriters certainly like that, and it is a huge cost saver to the owners, however, “we are not yet seeing that credited in the underwriting,” said Long.

He added that insurance is playing an important role in the development of renewable energy beyond the traditional property, casualty, and liability coverages.

“Most projects operate at lower capacity than anticipated. But they can purchase coverage for when the wind won’t blow or the sun won’t shine. Weather risk coverage can be done in multiple ways, or there can be an actual put, up to a fixed portion of capacity, plus or minus 20 percent, like a collar; a straight over/under.”

As useful as those financial instruments are, the first priority is to get power into the grid. And for that, Long anticipates “aggressive forward moves around storage. Spikes into the system are not good. Grid storage is not just a way of providing power when the wind is not blowing; it also acts as a shock absorber for times when the wind blows too hard. There are ebbs and flows in wind and solar so we really need that surge capacity.”

Long noted that there are some companies that are storage only.

“That is really what the utilities are seeking. The storage company becomes, in effect, just another generator. It has its own [power purchase agreement] and its own interconnect.”

“Most projects operate at lower capacity than anticipated. But they can purchase coverage for when the wind won’t blow or the sun won’t shine.”  —Charles Long, area senior vice president for renewable energy, Arthur J. Gallagher

Another trend is co-location, with wind and solar, as well as grid-storage or auxiliary generation, on the same site.

“Investors like it because it boosts internal rates of return on the equity side,” said Sharma. “But while it increases revenue, it also increases exposure. … You may have a $400 million wind farm, plus a $150 million solar array on the same substation.”

In the beginning, wind turbines did not generate much power, explained Rob Battenfield, senior vice president and head of downstream at JLT Specialty USA.

“As turbines developed, they got higher and higher, with bigger blades. They became more economically viable. There are still subsidies, and at present those subsidies drive the investment decisions.”

For example, some non-tax paying utilities are not eligible for the tax credits, so they don’t invest in new wind power. But once smaller companies or private investors have made use of the credits, the big utilities are likely to provide a ready secondary market for the builders to recoup their capital.

That structure also affects insurance. More PPAs mandate grid storage for intermittent generators such as wind and solar. State of the art for such storage is lithium-ion batteries, which have been prone to fires if damaged or if they malfunction.

“Grid storage is getting larger,” said Battenfield. “If you have variable generation you need to balance that. Most underwriters insure generation and storage together. Project leaders may need to have that because of non-recourse debt financing. On the other side, insurers may be syndicating the battery risk, but to the insured it is all together.”

“Grid storage is getting larger. If you have variable generation you need to balance that.” — Rob Battenfield, senior vice president, head of downstream, JLT Specialty USA

There has also been a mechanical and maintenance evolution along the way. “The early-generation short turbines were throwing gears all the time,” said Battenfield.

But now, he said, with fewer manufacturers in play, “the blades, gears, nacelles, and generators are much more mechanically sound and much more standardized. Carriers are more willing to write that risk.”

There is also more operational and maintenance data now as warranties roll off. Battenfield suggested that the door started to open on that data three or four years ago, but it won’t stay open forever.

“When the equipment was under warranty, it would just be repaired or replaced by the manufacturer,” he said.

“Now there’s more equipment out of warranty, there are more claims. However, if the big utilities start to aggregate wind farms, claims are likely to drop again. That is because the utilities have large retentions, often about $5 million. Claims and premiums are likely to go down for wind equipment.”

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Repair costs are also dropping, said Battenfield.

“An out-of-warranty blade set replacement can cost $300,000. But if it is repairable by a third party, it could cost as little as $30,000 to have a specialist in fiberglass do it in a few days.”

As that approach becomes more prevalent, business interruption (BI) coverage comes to the fore. Battenfield stressed that it is important for owners to understand their PPA obligations, as well as BI triggers and waiting periods.

“The BI challenge can be bigger than the property loss,” said Battenfield. “It is important that coverage dovetails into the operator’s contractual obligations.” &

Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist based in New York with 25 years’ experience in industry, energy, finance and transportation. He can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.