Sandy Bigglestone, deputy commissioner of the captive insurance division, and Christine Brown, director of captive insurance, both for the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation, and Brittany Nevins, captive insurance economic development director at the Department of Economic Development, discuss the state’s ascent to being the largest captive domicile in the world
Vermont’s position as the number one global domicile for captive insurance has been a long time in the making.
Since becoming a captive domicile more than four decades ago, it clinched the top spot from Bermuda in Captive Review’s global rankings in 2022 and maintained its position at the top this year.
But what makes the state of Vermont so attractive to captive insurers? “One of the many factors that make Vermont so attractive to captive insurers is our longevity in the market,” says Sandy Bigglestone, deputy commissioner of the Captive Insurance Division of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation.
“Vermont became a captive domicile in 1981 and we have spent considerable time developing the infrastructure for servicing companies.”
Another factor in Vermont’s success as an international captive domicile is its stable political culture, says Bigglestone, with a supportive legislature and broad appreciation of the industry across both sides of the State House.
“If anybody has ever had the opportunity to walk through the State House during a session when lawmakers are in committees or hearing testimony on proposed laws, they will find that there is a very supportive environment for captive insurance because of its positive economic impact,” she adds.
A robust regulatory regime
A stable approach to regulation has helped fuel Vermont’s rise to the top of the rankings. Indeed, while Bigglestone is a relatively new appointee to her role, she has been with the state since 1997 and is only the fourth person to hold the role since 1981.
“Vermont is a centre of excellence for captive insurance,” she says. “At the Department of Financial Regulation, we have focused on employing folk who understand the industry and are skilled at conducting business. We have around 30 people who are all financial services experts with financial accreditations of all sorts. We are committed to quality regulation and companies here know what to expect.”
Christine Brown, director of captive insurance at the division, adds: “One of the things we often hear from companies coming to Vermont is that they consider the regulatory team as part of a strong and stable environment. People know what to expect when they come here, and most of our staff has been with us for 10 years or more, so we have a deep bench of extremely knowledgeable people.”
The ease of doing business in the state is extremely important; it is one of the reasons so many captive insurers choose Vermont.
As the industry in Vermont has grown, the Captive Insurance Division has committed to delivering the best service and quick turnaround times, says Bigglestone.
“When looking over proposals and prospects coming to us for risk management and risk financing insurance needs, some of it has been very innovative.”
“So, when we look at proposals, we meet with companies and want to hear directly from the sponsoring organisation or the captive owner to find out what they need, how they will govern the captive and provide funding for their losses.”
Brown adds: “We try to make the process as easy as possible and lay out everything we expect upfront. We have discussions with the company and are open to calls if they have any questions as they put their application together. The difference is the personal touch we try to put into the licensing process and the fact we are committed to turning around a review within 30 days of receiving an application.”
As part of its regulatory approach and ongoing commitment, the Captive Insurance Division also conducts regular examinations every five years, overseen by its own staff, Brown explains.
“Using our staff not only cuts costs but also makes things much more effective and efficient,” she says. “We are also performing analysis on an annual basis, so we are getting to know the companies we regulate as well as the risk areas we need to pay attention to.”
As more companies have chosen Vermont for their needs, a unique infrastructure to support the industry has also emerged, Brittany Nevins, captive insurance economic development director, says.
Over the years, the captive insurance scene in Vermont has evolved into a one-stop shop with banks, investment managers, law fi rms, actuaries and accountants complementing the regulatory division.
It is also home to one of the largest associations in the world, the Vermont Captive Insurance Association (VCIA), which has lobbied effectively for the industry at the state and federal levels for the past 42 years.
“There are at least 400 direct jobs that support captive insurance companies in the state and a wide range of services all right here in Vermont,” Nevins notes. “That means when a company chooses to license in Vermont, it has the services it needs. The VCIA also offers top-notch education to service providers and captive owners, hosting various events. It does a lot of advocacy in Vermont and has a full-time lobbyist in Washington, DC. They take feedback from members and monitor legislation so there are no surprises for captives.”
Bigglestone adds: “The evolution of the infrastructure in Vermont stems from the fact our law requires any captive insurance companies receiving a licence to maintain a principal place of business in Vermont. Companies interpret that differently, to some it means having some of their operations here, while others may just hire a manager as the regulatory liaison to fi le compliance filings. We don’t require insurance companies to have a Vermont lawyer or anything else. But a manufacturing company, for example, that wants to form its own captive insurance company would find strong infrastructure is in place to support that.”
An international reputation
As Vermont’s reputation as a global centre grows, it continues to attract non-US companies. It has also been encouraging them to the state through participation in international events and outreach work.
The Captive Insurance Division was recently part of a joint trade mission to Mexico with the VCIA, which involved a roadshow to educate local industry, insurance companies and government officials about the benefits of Vermont as a domicile.
“We have been hearing for years, from brokers and captive managers, how Latin America is very ripe for captive insurance business,” says Bigglestone. “A large percentage of US imports are coming from Mexico, from businesses that also have a presence in the US. It just seemed like a great opportunity to go there, introduce ourselves and make more connections.”
As well as Latin America and Mexico, Vermont has been reaching out to companies in other countries and regions to educate them about the benefits of forming a captive in the US.
“The main thing we focus on is raising awareness about captive insurance as a tool,” says Bigglestone. “We are focused on educating companies about the industry generally, not just in Vermont. And we have been talking explicitly about the benefits for multinational companies with US risks because those companies especially find it valuable to domicile in a jurisdiction such as the state of Vermont.”
Even though it has been named the number one global domicile for a second year, Vermont is not resting on its laurels.
The Captive Insurance Division continues to look at ways to strengthen the jurisdiction’s appeal and make the regulatory and legal regime more effective and efficient.
“We are committed to the captive insurance industry – we are always looking for ways to improve,” says Bigglestone. “We take comments and feedback from the industry very seriously when considering how we can make changes that keep us at the top of the list.”
Vermont’s journey to the top would not have been possible without the captive legislation and framework put into place all those years ago.
However, its ongoing work to adapt to the changing insurance landscape and remain up to date with the latest trends has helped shape companies’ view of Vermont as a modern captive domicile.
Nevins explains: “Vermont did a lot of research into this opportunity and wrote quality laws that gave us foundations to build on. And we have a lot of support in the Vermont legislature for the industry because it greatly impacts our economy.
“Our lawmakers are willing to make changes to meet the needs of captive insurance companies, and every year we work with the VCIA to put forward a captive bill addressing any issues raised by members or that the regulator’s work has flagged.”
As well as promoting the industry, Vermont is an active member of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), where it talks to representatives from other states about captive insurance and its benefits for companies.
Bigglestone notes: “It is vital other regulators and interested parties attending NAIC understand the owners form captive insurance companies to supplement their insurance from the commercial market.”
Ultimately, what sets the Vermont Captive Insurance Division apart from its peers in other states and jurisdictions is how visible and accessible they are to new entrants and existing captive insurers, says Bigglestone. “A lot of times, government officials or employees are not always accessible,” she says.
“We don’t want an overstaffed regulatory division, because we want to invest in our people. From a professional development perspective, this is important to me, as is ensuring people understand our mission and enjoy their work.”