December 5, 2007

New York’s Governor Spitzer issued a press release on Monday (December 3) followed by a widely reported press conference announcing an agreement in principle “that will protect nearly 11,000 accident victims and other individuals receiving annual payments from structured settlements and pensions.” The release goes on to praise the Superintendent of Insurance and the head of the Liquidation Bureau for aggressively pursuing an agreement with the life and property/casualty companies and the guarantee funds that “resolved a significant deficit from a defunct insurance company.” (The press release can be found on the Insurance Department’s web site at http://ins.state.ny.us/press/2007/)

Before jumping on the bandwagon of kudos to the Governor, the Superintendent of Insurance and the Liquidation Bureau, however, there are a number of factual issues that one might want to consider.

The “defunct” company in question is Executive Life Insurance Company of New York (“ELNY”), which was placed into rehabilitation in 1991. According to the 1992 court approved Plan of Rehabilitation, ELNY was placed in rehabilitation because of the New York Insurance Department’s concerns that the adverse publicity regarding the seizure of its parent company, Executive Life Insurance Company of California, could result in an excessive number of cash surrenders. It was NOT placed in rehabilitation because it was insolvent! In fact, ELNY has never been determined to be insolvent. Consider also the following:

  • At year-end 1994 (the first year the Liquidation Bureau was required to publish financials for the estates under its control), ELNY had almost 24,000 annuity contracts in force and reported assets of $1.65 billion.
  • At year-end 2006, there were only 11,300 policies in force and reported assets of $1.37 billion – a 53% decline in outstanding policies and only a 17% decline in assets.
  • In that 13 year period 1994 through 2006, ELNY continuously met all outstanding policy obligations to the tune of almost $2 billion.
  • Throughout that same period, ELNY had the same major life insurer as administrator, the same nationally known actuarial firm as its actuarial consultant, and the same prominent financial firm as investment advisor.
  • Over 90% of the outstanding obligations are fixed obligations under structured settlement agreements. There are no potential “long tail” obligations to cause a sudden and precipitous inflation of ultimate liabilities.

Notwithstanding these facts, the current administration has apparently “sold” the industry and the life guarantee funds on the premise that “ELNY would have a $2 billion deficit,” that continued payments to policyholders is at risk, and that an industry bail out is necessary and appropriate (Announcing a $2 billion deficit at this time is also curious in view of the fact that the Liquidation Bureau has engaged an audit of ELNY that is not expected to be completed until the middle or end of January 2008).

If there is in fact a $2 billion shortfall the big question is: How did it happen? It cannot be blamed on the former management of ELNY because the company was solvent when it was placed in rehabilitation. It has been under the Liquidation Bureau’s watch with the same prestigious advisors for over 16 years – through both Democratic and Republican administrations — paying all obligations on a timely basis, and has received a number of investment suitors that have all been rejected by the Bureau.

Now we are being told that there is a $2 billion shortfall that can only be resolved on the backs of the industry. If true, someone needs to explain how that happened and hold those responsible accountable. Given the prosecutorial background of the Governor, his Superintendent of Insurance and the head of the Liquidation Bureau, can we assume that as bright a light will be aimed at the causes of this development as is being shined on the bailout agreement?

(In the interest of full disclosure, I have represented various investor groups over the past ten years interested in restoring ELNY to the marketplace. I do not represent any such group at this time, however, although I am aware of continued investor interest based primarily on the belief that any significant deficit defies fact and logic.)

What do you think?

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