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August 18, 2014

The structured settlement industry’s coming changes

Filed under: Structured settlements — Peter Arnold

Thanks to everyone who offered comments about my recent blog warning that lobbying Congress to tighten Section 5891 rules governing transfers of future structured settlement payment rights could backfire on the structured settlement industry.

The most interesting feedback (aside from a couple of seriously intriguing PDFs sent anonymously) involved my contention of a coming integration of the structured settlement’s primary and secondary/factoring markets.  That trend, which actually has already begun, has huge implications for any future lobbying effort because it directly affects Congress’ perception that the primary and secondary markets are separate and distinct.

Most who reached out either denied this trend (no, really) or minimized it.  Sorry but they’re both wrong.

To understand what’s driving this change, start with a remarkable speech that Chartis’ (now AIG) President of Claims Rick Woollams delivered at NSSTA’s 2012 fall convention.  A self-described supporter of structures, Woollams nevertheless predicted that by 2017, “The entity count represented by [NSSTA’s members] will probably be two-thirds of what it is now.”

By 2022, Woollams predicted that the number would be half of 2017’s figure.

Today, with industry production down almost 20% from 2008, the consolidation that Woollams predicted is underway. During the past year, Brant Hickey merged with Pension, Integrated Financial snapped up JMW Settlements and the James Street Group disappeared (Rest in peace, James).

Meanwhile, only eight life insurance companies (exactly half the 2004 figure) are issuing structured annuities.

Given this consolidation, no one should be surprised that the primary market (yes, individuals AND companies) is angling for new revenue and efficiencies from the factoring industry. Structure consultants who work with accident victims are building professional arrangements with secondary companies, referring accident victims wishing to sell payment rights in exchange for finder’s fees.

At last month’s Capital Hill session on structured settlements, Mark Perriello, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities, spoke passionately about his support of the primary market and objections to the secondary market. Shelly Buxenbaum from the office of Rep. Matt Cartwright, sponsor of legislation to change Section 5891, also spoke of the two as separate industries.

But Congress and AAPD (among others) must accept that this distinction is increasingly outdated and doesn’t reflect the growing business links between the consultants who work with accident survivors and the secondary market.

Coming after Labor Day: How primary and secondary market companies can integrate operations under a single streamlined management.  And the truth is that, if done correctly, this will benefit structured settlement beneficiaries as they will gain all its advantages while also having ready access to liquidate some or all of their payments when necessary.

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