Try, And Try Again

Even if you don’t agree with them, you’ve got to admire the sheer doggedness of those companies and organizations that are proponents of an optional federal charter for insurance regulation.

We’re talking about groups like the American Council of Life Insurers and the Financial Services Roundtable, both of which number among their members the largest life insurance companies.

The optional federal charter has not made much headway in the House, where the House Financial Services Committee has been preoccupied with the State Modernization and Regulatory Transparency Act that is the brainchild of Committee Chairman Mike Oxley, R-Ohio, and Rep. Richard Baker, R-La., a key subcommittee chairman.

SMART for at least a year has been the only game in town when it comes to the federal government addressing the problems with state insurance regulation. Frankly, no one else has shown much interest.

(And speaking of SMART, doesn’t it strike you that the naming of legislation to get a cute or memorable acronym has become almost an art form in our nation’s capital? But that is the subject for another column.)

Nonetheless, what the OFC proponents know through experience gained from eons of lobbying is that anything major generally takes years, if not decades, to come to fruition in Washington. So they are not giving up.

But instead of continuing to pour energies into trying to change Oxley’s mind, the OFC crowd is taking a different tack and addressing its desires to the Senate. Whether this works or not remains to be seen.

Truth is, the Senate has shown much less interest in tackling insurance regulation than the House has. Undaunted, however, these OFC proponents have configured themselves into yet another organization, this one called the Optional Federal Charter Coalition (not a particularly successful acronym), and were working on sending a letter to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md.

After urging these senators “to study the problems with the current state-based regulatory system and to consider an Optional Federal Charter as an appropriate solution,” the draft of the letter says that establishing an OFC “would not supplant state regulation; it would simply provide an alternative to it.”

In another foray, the Financial Services Roundtable has put up seed money for a new agent group, Agents for Change, which–guess what?–supports the idea of an optional federal charter.

Barring the fact that I’d be shocked if Agents for Change decided to bite the hand that was feeding/funding it, I have to wonder just what is the expectation from this too-transparent bit of organizing. Speaking from somebody’s pocket is not exactly the position that ensures your views will have maximum credibility.

Nonetheless, it gives the Financial Services Roundtable a group of producers who can put their two cents in the OFC arena in opposition to the behemoth Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, which is staunchly anti-OFC.

These may look like quixotic undertakings. But let’s remember the advice of the sage who first said “It ain’t over till it’s over.” He may not have had the OFC on his mind, but he’s obviously been an inspiration to those who do.

Steve Piontek

Editor-in-Chief

Regarding Agents for Change, I have to wonder just what is the expectation from this too-transparent bit of organizing. Speaking from somebody’s pocket is not exactly the position that ensures your views will have maximum credibility.”