Life Insurer Limited Service B-Ds Look Good In Study Of NASD Actions

By

Washington

While limited service broker-dealers affiliated with life insurers make up more than 50% of the membership of the National Association of Securities Dealers, they account for only 7.5% of NASD disciplinary actions, says a study by the American Council of Life Insurers.

The study by Carl Wilkerson, ACLIs chief counsel for securities and litigation, also shows that during the past year, disciplinary actions against limited service broker-dealers tended to involve relatively small amounts of money.

This contrasts, Wilkerson says, with disciplinary actions taken against full service broker-dealers, which can often involve hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars.

Wilkerson says he has conducted the study annually since 1996 in order to spot trends in NASD actions against limited service broker- dealers and alert ACLI member companies of things they need to be aware of as part of their compliance procedures.

He emphasizes that limited service broker-dealers are not 100% free from deficiencies and life insurers need to carefully evaluate trends.

However, Wilkerson says it is an interesting report card relative to the complaints some raise about the industry. “It is different from the hyperbole you hear from different interest groups.”

For example, he says, issues involving suitability are not very common.

While there have been a handful of publicized actions involving suitability, he says, they, in fact, represent less than 4% of the disciplinary actions against limited service broker-dealers.

Instead, Wilkerson says, the most common element in NASD disciplinary actions involves what could be labeled conversion of funds.

These, he says, are usually one-time instances in which a limited service broker-dealer misappropriates a premium check that was supposed to go to the company.

Given that these are single-premium payments, Wilkerson says, the violations usually do not involve large amounts of money.

It is always helpful in the regulatory context, he says, to have a factual foundation of what is happening and to learn lessons from the past.

The insurance industry, he says, has to keep a careful eye on its compliance procedures, try to identify trends and be prepared in advance.

In other news, life insurance agents are praising the anti-spam legislation, known as the CAN-SPAM Act, S. 877, which was approved by Congress last week and is expected to be signed shortly by President Bush.

“We are very happy,” says William R. Anderson, senior vice president of law and government affairs for the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors.

“The legislation,” he says, “set reasonable limits on spam and also preempts state laws that are contrary.”

Anderson says the uniformity included in S. 877 is important for life agents. It would be very difficult, he says, for agents to have to comply with differing state laws.

S. 877 bars false or misleading information in commercial e-mails, prohibits deceptive subject headings, mandates that all commercial e-mails contain a valid return address, prohibits the sending of commercial e-mail to someone who has filed an objection and mandates that commercial e-mails be labeled as either an advertisement or solicitation.

The bill also establishes criminal penalties for those who hack into protected computers and use them to send spam.

S. 877 also directs the Federal Trade Commission to develop a plan and a timetable for establishing a national “do not spam” list similar to the “do not call” list aimed at telemarketers.

However, the bill does not require the FTC actually to set up a “do not spam” registry.

Finally, the Center for Studying Health System Changes (HSC), Washington, reports that the growth in health care spending slowed during the first half of 2003 but still is growing much faster than overall economic growth.

HSC, a policy research organization funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, says health care spending for Americans with private health insurance increased 8.5% during the first 6 months of 2003, compared with 10% during the last 6 months of 2002. This represents, HSC says, the largest 6-month drop since the early 1990s.

However, HSC stresses, health care spending still is growing nearly 3 times faster than the overall economy.

HSC President Paul B. Ginsburg says the slower growth is likely due to increased patient cost sharing. But he adds that few experts expect this tool to lower costs substantially over the long term.

“Without more effective cost-control measures, the rising cost of health insurance will make coverage unaffordable to more and more Americans,” Ginsburg says.

HSC notes that employer-sponsored health insurance premium increases reached a 13-year high in 2003, rising an average of 13.9%.

The slower growth for the first six months of 2003 could prompt a slowdown in premium increases next year, HSC says, but the increases will still be significant.

“Health spending is trending down, but it is still rising at a high rate, and while the premium trend should decline, average premium increases are still likely to be in the double digits in 2004,” says Bradley C. Strunk, research analyst and co-author of the study.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, December 12, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.