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Staying the course: As insurers navigate the changing regulatory environment, they have set their sights on speed-to-market rules, which are in the early stages of use and are facing growing pains in 2002. (Regulation Industry Strategies).

Insurers face an urgent need to get approvals more quickly for new products and rate changes. That's what they say must happen if they are to keep up with an ever-increasing number of less constrained competitors.

Those competitors--primarily banks--have an edge, because they have a less cumbersome regulatory system. Banks have a vastly shorter timetable for getting approvals for new products, including asset-protection and retirement-savings vehicles. Because banks may operate on either a state or federal charter, they have the option of using the faster federal regulatory system when asking for rate or product approval, usually a time frame of 30 to 90 days. By contrast, life insurers, which are state regulated, frequently must wait up to 18 months for their products to be approved nationally, said Bruce Ferguson, deputy director for the American Council of Life Insurers. "You can quickly see the competitive problems that exist and are in need of improvement," he said.

Chief executive officers of life insurance companies who responded to a recent ACLI survey identified speed to market--the ability of companies to sell products uniformly in an efficient way nationwide--as the most-needed reform.

Amid renewed calls for federal regulation of insurers in the past few months, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners is fast-tracking measures it believes will streamline the state regulatory process.

"The NAIC and the member states have made tremendous progress in the last 20 months and have brought about a sea change to about 130 years of insurance regulatory tradition," said Frank Fitzgerald, Michigan's financial and insurance services commissioner.

But the hurdles are considerable. "It's one thing to get 50 different commissioners to agree to one thing in one point in time and another to get 50 different state legislatures to agree with 50 different commissioners. It's a big challenge," said Glenn Pomeroy, a former North Dakota Insurance Commissioner and former NAIC president.

Pressure Points

The emergence of speed-to-market regulations in the late 1990s was propelled by pressure points such as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, the efficiencies offered by technology an the influx of Internet-savvy consumers who demand real-time transactions.

After Congress passed Gramm-Leach-Bliley, which allowed banks to affiliate more easily with insurers and securities firms, the insurance industry faced two new realities: The inefficiency of the insurance regulatory system became apparent, and the federal government began paying closer attention to insurers.

As banks began selling insurance products, such as annuities, and began navigating through 50 regulators and 50 states, the flaws in the insurance regulatory system began to emerge. Life insurers say they can't develop one life insurance product and sell it nationwide without tailoring so much that they end up with a completely different product in every state in which they do business. "The costs of having a separate system for each state are a problem. Right now, companies are trying to squeeze every penny of efficiency out of their companies to be profitable and efficient," Ferguson said.

Insurers also appeared on the federal government's radar. Fearing that states would keep dragging their feet on modernization, Congress issued a deadline for the states to meet certain Gramm-Leach-Bliley requirements, such as adopting the NAIC Producer Licensing Model Act. "Congress every now and then takes a hard look at whether the regulation of insurance ought to reside at the state level," Pomeroy said. "The deadline kept the states' feet to the fire. If it [modernization of regulations] isn't done, the ability for states to maintain ongoing regulatory jurisdiction in this area will be challenged by Congress some day."

Pomeroy, who is now vice president and associate general counsel for governmental/regulatory affairs with Employers Reinsurance Corp., says dealing with the many entities that comprise the insurance industry made it difficult to get modernization on the fast track in the past. "We have a huge industry that has its own systems and agendas and business needs. You have 50 different state regulators, thousands of separate insurance companies in which to bring fairly complicated and costly reform initiatives to fruition. It also takes a lot of time, money and dedication to stay until the job gets done," Pomeroy said.

If Pomeroy had never been North Dakota's securities commissioner, speed-to-market insurance regulations might be on a slower track. As commissioner of securities between 1988 and 1992, Pomeroy conducted business using the department's sophisticated online regulatory system. Pomeroy recalls that during those years, prospective securities brokers submitted exams along with an application, checked 50 boxes and sent them off to one central source that stored the data. "It was so efficient. The National Association of Securities Dealers distributes that application to the individual regulators. I could go into the system and receive a wealth of information on the applicant and, frankly, assumed the insurance regulatory system was there, too. I was surprised when I became insurance commissioner and found we were in the Dark Ages compared to what I was used to," Pomeroy said.

After telling other insurance commissioners about the more efficient systems existing in other agencies, Pomeroy was selected to chair one of the initial speed-to-market committees that focused on improving the agent-licensing process nationwide.

With uniform agent licensing as its first step in speed-to-market regulations, the NAIC is tackling one-stop filing for products, state-based uniform standards for policy form and rate filings. It also is establishing the National Insurance Producer Registry, an electronic database of information relating to insurance agents and brokers. Industry insiders agree the current crop of speed-to-market regulations are foundations to build on, and they will be tweaked and improved as they become ingrained in the business of insurance during 2002. While the NAIC took the first steps to lay the foundations for modernization programs by creating model laws and working groups, the remaining challenge is getting 50 state legislatures and 50 insurance departments to pass and implement laws that make the regulations work.

CARFRA

The Coordinated Advertising Rate and Form Review Authority, one of the more complex speed-to-market initiatives, is only in a "limited launch" phase. It was created in August 2000 by the NAIC's Speed to Market Task Force. CARFRA, which has been rolled out in 10 states, provides a multistatefiling approval process.

CARERA created a committee that reviews a new product and approves it on a nationwide basis within 45 days, eliminating the slow, state-by-state approval process. A filing with CARFRA is considered a filing with each of the participating states. Regulators in the limited launch states have access to the product's files online. Because life and health products lend themselves more easily to national standards, CARFRA is focusing initially on that sector and has adopted national standards on three products--term life, Medicare supplement and a variable annuity.

But the CARFRA evaluation process requires states to list the regulations and laws that deviate from the national standards approved by the committee. The number of deviations vary widely. On one product, New York listed more than 100 deviations from the national standards, said Donald Cleasby, assistant general counsel for the National Association of Independent Insurers.

ACLI's Ferguson thinks the number of deviations is the chief reason that only one company--Prudential Financial--has had a product approved by CARFRA. Ferguson describes the current state of CARFRA as an important first step toward improvement to the product-approval process, because now when a company files a product with CARFRA it still must match the standards to state regulations. Although the GARFRA launch states have matching standards, the remaining states have to amend their laws and regulations to be consistent with CARFRA standards, and that hasn't happened yet, Ferguson said.

Speed vs. Independence

Cleasby wonders if it's a realistic goal to achieve a national one-stop rate-and-review process if individual states are still insisting on a high level of independence and deviation. "Right now, they deal with life/health products that lend themselves to national standards. What are they going to do with private passenger auto products, where every state has different laws on cancellation, nonrenewals and underwriting restrictions? That's a big question with CARFRA," Cleasby said.

Ferguson suggests that state legislation authorizing the insurance commissioner to accept CARFRA standards may be one way to address the state deviations. But Michigan's Fitzgerald isn't ruffled by CARFRA's growing pains, and he still sees the efficacy of property/casualty products using the system. "I think it can work for them. It's the situation where you kind of go hunting where the ducks are, and that's the life and annuities side. That's why we're concentrating there for the moment. We're going in a natural progression. I don't think you begin any project at the complex part of the spectrum," Fitzgerald said. Fitzgerald said the task force he co-chairs is in the process of adding three more products to CARFRA's menu and the participation of more states. By the end of 2002, CARFRA will look the same as it does now "but have more products and states, and we'll be well down the road to demonstrating that CARFRA as a concept can work," Fitzgerald said.

Regulators and industry experts agree that the speed-to-market regulations currently being used should be viewed as first steps in the right direction. "It's a work in progress and not going to happen overnight when you're talking about structural, not cosmetic, reform. You want to do it right, so the benefits are long lasting and not temporary," Ferguson said.

The initial crop of speed-to-market regulations focuses on essentially simple goals. Each of the initiatives is at different points of application. For example, the System for Electronic Rate and Form Filing has been enacted in 50 states, while the Producer Licensing Model Act is working in just over half of the states.

Electronic Filing

The System for Electronic Rate and Form Filing isn't a speed-to-market product, but it gets the forms to the regulators faster via a Web-based intranet.

Pomeroy recalls that as insurance commissioner he once asked his staff to walk him through a paper-based filing. He watched as the staff member stamped and recorded the company's filing, made copies and placed them in a filing cabinet. When the staff member wanted to work on the filing again he would get up and search through the filing cabinet and deal with correspondence via mail. "It was time consuming and expensive. In today's day and age, we can do better than that," Pomeroy said. After SERFF was introduced in the mid-'90s, however, Pomeroy said the insurance industry tried to kill the initiative, because it was afraid regulators could micromanage the electronic information too easily.

But SERFF re-emerged in the late 1990s. Currently, state reviewers use SERFF to facilitate the electronic management, analysis, disposition and storage of filings, according to the NAIC. Insurers use SERFF to submit rate and form filings electronically to state reviewers. All 50 states are licensed to use it, and SERFF usage is growing with the NAIC reporting 2,396 filings in November 2000 and 3,663 filings in November 2001. Lee Covington, the Ohio director of insurance and chairman of the NAIC's Electronic Commerce and Regulation Working Group, said the filings average a 16-day turnaround. "Ninety-four percent go through without additional correspondence between regulator and companies. In the old days, it could take a year to 18 months to do national filings," Covington said.

Producer Licensing

The Producer Licensing Model Act, which began in 1995, exists in 38 states. The goal of this model act is to reduce unnecessary compliance costs for insurers and allow them to deal with state regulators more efficiently. It still needs legislative approval from the remaining 12 states. The act is an effort to get all states to redesign their agent-licensing laws and regulations so everyone is signing off the same page and doing business in a uniform fashion, Pomeroy said.

While he was president of the NAIC, Pomeroy toured insurers' agent-licensing departments and remembers seeing 50 bins on a wall with 50 different sets of papers from 50 different states. "We still have the bins; we're not there yet. Change comes slowly. Thirty-eight states agreed to change or move toward a uniform framework for regulating licensing," Pomeroy said. "That's pretty significant."

State-Based Systems

Improvements to State-Based Systems (IS3) are NAIC recommendations pertaining to property/casualty products. Because regulations for nonlife products vary so much from state to state, national standards would be difficult to enact. So, an NAIC subgroup decided to focus on gaining uniformity in this sector's rate and form filing. Beginning with the commercial sector, the NAIC's Improvements to State-Based Systems Working Group adopted a commercial lines modernization law for rates and forms. When enacted, it would allow commercial insurers to use a rate before filing it with state insurance commissioners, who would still have the authority to reject a rate, particularly in markets the commissioner deems noncompetitive. State legislatures still must decide to adopt the provisions this year.

Another ongoing IS3 recommendation is for all states to provide filing review standards checklists on the Internet in the interest of increased speed and efficiency. To date, 34 states have done so. The checklists contain each state's requirements for insurance products. This is designed to make it easier for insurers to tailor a submission for a new product or rate increase to each state's regulations and statutes.

Challenges

Typically, the larger, more densely populated states have the most politically charged and difficult regulatory environments in which to introduce products or receive rate changes, said Roger Schmelzer, vice president-regulatory affairs for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies. Sometimes its also a case of not rocking the boat. If regulators have laws in place that they feel are in the best interests of state residents and most people are insured, it's hard to get things to change. Regulators also are concerned that eliminating prior approval could bring about such fierce price competition that insurers' financial competency will be questioned.

But Schmelzer points to the success evidenced in Illinois, where insurers don't have to wait for prior approval in rates and product filings. "Illinois has had open competition on pricing since the '70s and is one of the most competitive insurance markets in the country," Schmelzer said. According to the Insurance Information Institute, in 1998 Illinois' average auto insurance bill was $667.66, compared with the national average of $704.32. Its average homeowners premium was $348, compared with the $455 national average.

"Generally speaking, I'm fairly optimistic about the future of speed-to-market regulations. But in the end, the NAIC could have the greatest speed-to-market law in the world--and it's not binding," Schmelzer said. "The NAIC has done a superb job in focusing on the issue; now it's time to move forward to making progress in the state legislatures."
Top 10 Speed-to-Market Regulations

As the National Association of Insurance Commissioners strives to
modernize the state regulatory system, it has developed and implemented
several initiatives that use technology to make more information
available to insurers and producers and to make communication between
the industry and regulators more efficient. The following is a synopsis
of the leading initiatives.

Initiative What It Is

System for Electronic Rate and The first electronic system product
Form Filing (SERFF) filings by insurers.

Coordinated Advertising Rate and A review team that approves new
Form Review Authority (CARFRA) products on a nationwide basis.



Uniform Certificate of Authority A company licensing system that
Application (UCAA) expedites the review process of
 a new state license.

Producer Licensing Model Act An initiative to get uniform
 licensing laws nationwide.

Financial Data Re-Engineering The NAIC's diskette-based data-
 collection process has been moved
 to a Web-based application that
 makes it easier and more efficeint
 for insurers to tender the
 required financial information
 to the NAIC.

Improvements to State-Based Systems Provides insurers with a Web-based
(Operational Efficiencies) checklist of state filing review
 standards for 34 states.

Improvements to State-Based Systems Uniform filing transmittal
(Operational Efficiencies) documents and uniform product
 coding matrices to allow easier
 tracking and cross-state
 comparisons.

Improvements to State-Based Systems Streamlines the regulatory
(Regulatory Framework framework for commercial lines
Efficiencies) rate and form filings.


The National Insurance Producer Developer and implementer of the
Registry (NIPR) is a nonprofit Producer Database and Electronic
affiliate of the National Appointments/Terminations. The
Association of insurance Producer Database links
Commissioners. participating state regulatory
 licensing systems into one common
 respository of producer
 information.

The Codification of Statutory A comprehensive guide to Statutory
Accounting Principles Accounting Principles so state
 insurance regulators are able to
 apply common financial analysis
 tools and techniques in more
 meaningful and effective ways.

Initiative Status

System for Electronic Rate and All 50 states licensed to use it.
Form Filing (SERFF)

Coordinated Advertising Rate and Launched in 10 states. A term life
Form Review Authority (CARFRA) filing by Prudential Insurance
 Company of America was approved in
 July 2001.

Uniform Certificate of Authority Forty-nine states and Washington,
Application (UCAA) D.C., have agreed to accept
 licensing applications from UCAA.

Producer Licensing Model Act Enacted in 38 states.


Financial Data Re-Engineering Available on the Internet.







Improvements to State-Based Systems Available on the Internet.
(Operational Efficiencies)


Improvements to State-Based Systems To be implemented this year.
(Operational Efficiencies)




Improvements to State-Based Systems Adopted at 2001 NAIC Winter
(Regulatory Framework National Meeting by the
Efficiencies) Improvements to State-Based
 Systems Working Group.

The National Insurance Producer Data standards will be developed
Registry (NIPR) is a nonprofit for the exchange of license
affiliate of the National application, license renewal,
Association of insurance appointment and termination
Commissioners. information.




The Codification of Statutory Has resulted in more complete
Accounting Principles disclosures and more comparable
 financial statements.




Source: National Association of Insurance Commissioners


RELATED ARTICLE: Iowa Commissioner Stresses Modernization

Iowa Insurance Commissioner Therese Vaughan has taken the reins of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners during a difficult time in the industry. But despite the challenges presented by a post-Sept. 11 world, Vaughan sees regulation modernization as her top priority. In a recent interview, Vaughan expressed optimism about continuing the ongoing speed-to-market efforts, and she staunchly defended state-based insurance regulation.

Q: Now that you're president of the NAIC, what are the three most important issues you would like to see worked on during your tenure?

The modernization efforts; to continue to develop the strong working relationship with the regulators in other areas of financial services, federal and state securities and banking regulators; and to continue our active involvement in the international area of insurance, providing technical support to countries that are developing their regulatory systems and providing technical assistance in the trade area.

Q: What would you like to see accomplished in the area of speed-to-market regulations?

We have two initiatives we have been working on. The Coordinated Advertising Rate and Form Review Authority began as a pilot project in May for the centralized filing of life insurance products. This year, we need to work to eliminate the deviation of state standards, to add more states and add more products. And in the area of Improvements to the State-Based Systems that deals with efficiencies at the state level and the framework for regulation at the state level, we need to look at differences across states in product requirements and focus on some of the property/casualty lines there. In the regulatory framework side, the NAIC has recently adopted a model for approval of rates and forms in the commercial lines market that is based on a market-based approach to regulation. We will be pursuing the adoption of that model in the states.

Q: Which regulation that has already been passed concerning making business less cumbersome for insurers is the most effective for the industry, and why?

We have initiatives under way in speed to market, producer licensing, market conduct and consumer protection. All of these have the potential to make the system more efficient. We are looking at enhanced coordination among the states and a greater uniformity than we currently have. The one initiative that is the farthest along is the producer-licensing effort. A little over a year ago, the NAIC adopted the Producer Licensing Model Act that is now adopted in 38 states. We have a vast majority of states on a centralized database and a network that will permit a centralized process for providing nonresident licensing to agents. We currently have six states, including New York, that are doing nonresident licensing through the centralized process. We have a number of additional states in testing, and we will see a large number of states being added this year. What that means is we are very close to having a system where an agent can complete one application and submit it electronically, and if there are no regulatory issues, such as being disciplined previously, the agent can get licensed quickly, like in 24 to 48 hours in multiple states.

The producer-licensing appointment process is also important. Until recently, every state had a different appointment process, and companies had to build different systems for different appointment processes. At the October meeting, the NAIC adopted a uniform appointment process that we are all migrating toward, so all appointments can be done by the company at one time in all states. The data can be entered into the Producer Database and Electronic Appointments/Terminations that already exists. We expect all states will be on by the end of the year.

The System for Electronic Rate and Form Filing allows companies to file products electronically. Instead of doing 50 different paper filings, you can compile the filings electronically and send them to the states. We've heard from both industry and regulators that this has provided tremendous efficiencies for them. One company at the last NAIC meeting reported they did a study on how SERFF had cut filing costs from $45 to $8--that's a significant tangible cost saving. We are also conducting pilot projects and testing ideas for better coordination for market-conduct exams.

Q: What is your stand on federal regulation vs. state regulation of the insurance industry?

There is no question that state regulation needs to be more efficient and coordinated. We are working hard at doing that, and I believe we will be successful. The idea of an optional federal charter for insurance companies is something that some people look at and say, "It worked in the banking system, why can't it work for insurance?" I think it reflects the misunderstanding of the fundamental differences between banking and insurance. One of my roles in the NAIC has been to deal with the cross-sectoral issues. I've spent a lot of time working with banking and securities regulators both domestically and internationally. If we keep in mind the purpose of regulation is consumer protection, then we need to ask, "What do consumers need to be protected from?" And in that respect, insurance is fundamentally different than banking. The problems that consumers face in the property/casualty area and in health insurance are different than the problems consumers face in banking. In insurance, the problems arise at tim es of crisis and stress. Nationally we get about a half-million consumer complaints a year, and these are from people whose child needs an operation, their house had burned down and the insurer isn't paying to rebuild. These are people who need help right now. That is quite different from the world of banking, where many of the complaints that banking regulators get deal with fees that they charge. I'm convinced that the state system is the better one for consumers.

Q: What do you think will happen when the NAIC moves its modernization initiatives to the state capitals in 2002 to get them implemented?

Dr. Therese Vaughan became Iowa Insurance Commissioner on Aug. 1,1994, and is currently the president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

I am very excited about working with the legislators. There are several things coming together right now. The National Conference of Insurance Legislators is very engaged in the modernization efforts and very important to the success we've had in the producer-licensing area, where they encouraged passage of the Producer Licensing Model Act in the states. We look forward to working with them this year. The National Conference of State Legislators has created a task force to look at state regulation, so I believe they will be engaged in working on modernization efforts. I think we have the stars aligned for a good partnership with the legislators and the governors in addressing the modernization we're trying to do.

Vaughan is active in financial convergence issues, international affairs and regulatory modernization efforts. As chair of the NAIC's Coordinating with Federal Regulators Working Group, Vaughan is the chief NAIC liaison with federal banking and securities regulators, and serves a key role in developing the NAIC's response to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.

Prior to becoming insurance commissioner, Vaughan was the director of the Insurance Center and chairwoman of the Insurance Department at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Prior to that, she was a consultant in the risk management and casualty division of Tillinghast, a Towers Perrin Co.

State vs. Federal Oversight

Charles Schumer

Federal regulation of the insurance industry is being discussed again, this time against the backdrop of the proposed federal backstop for terrorism losses and financial-services modernization. Proponents of an optional federal charter cite the inefficiencies of dealing with 50 state regulators and 50 legislatures. Those who favor the state regulatory system acknowledge that it isn't wart-free, but they say that it does the job. The following are views on the issue from some insurance trade groups, the American Bankers Association and a regulator.

National Association of Independent Insurers: We stand solidly behind the state regulatory system, because it's the most responsive to the local consumer. We think it's a system that has bumps and bruises but has worked well for the last 150 years. The board also recognizes that there are inefficiencies in the state regulatory system, and if modernization doesn't continue, there may be a point where the state regulatory system is in jeopardy. In the last two to three years, there has been a growing interest in a greater federal role in the insurance business, because banks are getting involved in insurance, foreign companies that are conducting business in this country aren't used to 50 different regulators, and commercial customers can't understand why they can't get a product now instead of six months from now. Gramm-Leach-Bliley was a precedent and another entree of the federal government into the regulation of insurance, just as ERISA was in the '70s. Each time, Congress gets a little more used to the ide a of regulating insurance.

American Council of Life Insurers: The need for insurers to market their products uniformly across the United States is a key issue. Right now, the process is an unwieldy and expensive way to do business. In the past, we were all in the same boat, because life insurers competed against life insurers, but now, because the competition is coming from outside the state system, it's an acute problem. The ACLI currently supports having the choice of being state or federally regulated. Because some of the ACLI members want to continue being state regulated, the council is working on two tracks. Many companies are rejecting state regulation, because many of their products are already federally regulated, such as variable annuities regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and pension products that are overseen by the Department of

Labor.

Frank Fitzgerald, Michigan's financial and insurance services commissioner: In the role that I hold right now, I regulate banks, credit unions and securities for Michigan. So, I work closely with the federal regulators in those areas. I think that those who want a federal option don't really have a full appreciation what a federal regulator means and can do. I'm not sure they understand how intermixed the federal and the state become--the concepts are fine, but it won't come to fruition in the way they think. They are trying to pull the plug out of the bottle, thinking a genie will emerge, but the genie that will take on a life of its own and will not necessarily grant the wishes that they want.

American Bankers Association: We back the optional federal charter, as found in the dual banking system, where an organization has the option of being either state or federally chartered. The main motivators are for the companies operating nationally and internationally in the Internet age; it's difficult to define things by state lines and to deal with 50 jurisdictions. Particularly for the larger companies, to have one set of rules and one supervisor as opposed to 50 different sets of rules and 50 supervisors and having to go to 50 different places to get approval certainly allows companies to respond to consumers in a much more rapid fashion. What makes the state system so cumbersome is it does not allow the insurance industry to respond to the consumer rapidly, because of the system of command and control that exists in the states, such as prior approval of forms and products and rate regulation. Under the federal option, there would be no preapproval of products and no ability of the federal regulators t o impose rates on the business. We think it's important to keep the optional federal regulation idea alive, because it keeps the states on their toes knowing there is an alternative out there.

Seeking a Federal Charter: U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced the National Insurance Chartering and Supervision Act in December. The bill calls for establishing an Office of the National Insurance Commissioner within the Treasury Department. Under the bill, all lines of insurance would fall under the national commissioner's jurisdiction, including life, health and property/casualty insurance, as well as agents and underwriters.
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Comment:Staying the course: As insurers navigate the changing regulatory environment, they have set their sights on speed-to-market rules, which are in the early stages of use and are facing growing pains in 2002. (Regulation Industry Strategies).
Author:Gach, Lynna
Publication:Best's Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2002
Words:4945
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