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 [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.

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Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.


R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.

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We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?

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Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.

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Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now an where it’s going?

Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.

How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.

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More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.

One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.

So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.

R&I:  Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?

Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]