MIKE FAHER, Brattleboro Reformer
BRATTLEBORO -- Anna Petropoulos has 35 years of experience in the insurance industry, and Jeff Lewis -- as the former head of Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. -- knows about economic development.
Together, they are trying to ensure that a Brattleboro company called Apetrop USA takes full advantage of a new Vermont insurance law designed to bring investment and jobs to the state.
"There is serious interest in the insurance industry," Petropoulos said. "For us here in Brattleboro, that means an office, staff and training for claims-adjusting expertise."
Added Lewis: "There’s a lot of opportunity that lasts a long time."
The pair on Wednesday celebrated Gov. Peter Shumlin’s signing of the Legacy Insurance Management Act (LIMA).
The bill, which was approved by the state Legislature earlier this session, takes on a complex topic -- the transfer and regulation of "closed blocks of nonadmitted commercial insurance policies and reinsurance agreements."
Petropoulos, Apetrop president, laughs as she acknowledges that attempting to understand the finer details of those insurance portfolios can cause the uninitiated to "lose the will to live."
In a nutshell, she and others involved in the effort explain it this way: The "closed blocks of nonadmitted commercial insurance policies" are big, old insurance portfolios that have continuing, slowly developing "long-tail" or legacy claims -- for instance, claims for asbestos or pollution liabilities.
There was a time, company administrators say, when European companies saw advantage in taking on such insurance policies from the U.S. These days, however, those companies oftentimes want to rid themselves of the complex, long-term, specialized management that such insurance policies require.
Vermont’s new law allows insurers that are based here or licensed to operate in the state to take on those policies. It also sets up a regulatory framework for such transfers through the state Department of Financial Regulation.
Also regulated under the new law are transfers of "reinsurance agreements," which essentially are policies that cover other insurance policies.
State officials see opportunity in such insurance-industry technicalities, and they stressed that the new law -- dubbed "the first of its kind in the United States" -- will not involve the transfer of any personal insurance such as life, health, auto, homeowners or workers’ compensation.
"Patterned after Vermont’s captive insurance companies, I believe LIMA will bring new revenues to the state through transaction tax revenues and fees and will create a wide variety of high-value, skilled, well-paying financial sector job opportunities," Shumlin said in a statement issued after the bill-signing ceremony in Montpelier.
Petropoulos notes that, even as a Vermont-licensed company such as hers would be taking on large, long-term insurance liabilities, it also would be receiving big sums of reserve cash to invest.
She presents this hypothetical situation: "I’m transferring you $50 million in liabilities along with $50 million. But the liabilities are going to gently unfold over the next 35 years. The $50 million in cash is in your hands."
The new statute actually was the brainchild of Petropoulos, who -- after making a career in the insurance business in the United Kingdom -- moved to Vermont for personal reasons and established Apetrop USA in 2010 in Brattleboro.
Petropoulos recalls that a European insurer "approached me wanting to divest itself of its portfolio of legacy U.S. liabilities. I looked for a solution that benefited everyone, and LIMA was the result."
It wasn’t quite that easy, as those involved in the effort say it took years to lobby for and then craft workable legislation.
"We’ve been working on this bill for three years," Lewis said. "It was Anna’s idea originally. We’ve been working with the Legislature and the regulator -- the Department of Financial Regulation -- and with the administration, including the governor’s office."
He had particular praise for Susan Donegan, the state’s commissioner of financial regulation.
"She is an acknowledged expert and talent," Lewis said.
Lewis initially became acquainted with Petropoulos and her company through his economic-development duties with BDCC. Following his retirement from that organization at the end of 2013, Lewis became chief executive officer of Apetrop.
"As we went along, and my retirement (from BDCC) began to come closer, I got to know more about the business and Anna invited me to join it," Lewis said. "So for me, it was serendipitous."
He knows that Apetrop won’t be the only company looking to capitalize on Vermont’s new law.
"There will undoubtedly be other companies that arise to compete with us and to take other pieces of this business," Lewis said.
But he and Petropoulos want to grab a share of an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars in the U.S. and Europe. Petropoulos says there is "backed-up opportunity" in the business for these insurance transfers, and she believes large insurers are already well aware of the transfer mechanism and the financial potential.
"We just have to say, ‘And now the door is open,’" she said.
Petropoulos and Lewis are reluctant to attempt to quantify the possible financial impact on their company. They will be looking to develop, in Petropoulos’ words, "a trained batch of long-tail claims adjusters here."
Lewis said the opportunity will extend beyond Apetrop’s office.
"There will be ancillary professionals that will be strongly impacted -- lawyers, accountants, actuaries -- all of whom are required in the transactions," he said. "We will have an impact in those professions, as well."
Petropoulos believes Brattleboro is the right spot for such growth.
"We’re on the edge of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire and the East Coast for flying over to Europe," she said. "So we’re in a very, very practical place. And there’s a available work force."