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Inciting Smiles

I don’t know about you, but I find that after I have been looking at the same insurance policy forms for the past several hours, it takes very little to amuse me.

The other day I was humming along, reviewing application forms for individual corporate-owned life insurance, when I saw in the COLI checklist a reference to § 4216, which is one of the most important sections of the NY Insurance Law for the review of group life insurance policies, but one I do not have printed at my desk.

So, acting almost on auto-pilot, I dutifully logged in to Westlaw, entered my search terms of 4216 and New York, hit enter, waited for the results (which always, irritatingly, defaults to case law), clicked on Statutes, waited again, then automatically moved my mouse toward the first hit: Section 4216.

But then, I really smiled. Not quite an LOL, but close.

This statute that came up first on the list was from the Public Health Law, not the Insurance Law.

It read: § 4216 -- Body Stealing.

Of course I had to read the statute, which, fortunately, was only one paragraph. It turns out that removing any part of a dead body without having the authority to do so, from graveyards or vaults or really anywhere, for the purpose of selling it, or dissecting it, or because you’re feeling malicious or wanton, is a class D felony in New York.

As I said, some days it doesn’t take much.

If you’re wondering, the correct cite is §4216 -- Group life insurance; premium requirements; notice of conversion; filing of compensation. It’s 14 pages long. No body parts or felonies are mentioned. I noted that the employee has to be notified if the employer will be the beneficiary of the policy he’s applying for. But now I also know that even if the employee dies, and even if the employer gets the death benefit, the employer is still under no circumstances allowed to steal his body parts.

Off-Topic for a Moment:  Nuclear Regulatory Compliance

Regulatory Insurance Compliance News

As many regular readers know, my father passed away in January after a lengthy battle with Leukemia. He was a nuclear engineer and I knew very little about what he did during my growing up years. I still know very little about what he did, but I do know he was very good at what he did and he was very well respected for what he did. His work was classified. I was raised with the aura of classified information around almost all interactions with my father. Many conversations that seemed innocuous to me turned a corner that led to “I can’t tell you.” It was hard. I think about that often as I listen to all the news around classified information these days. I wonder what my father would have said about it. He was a news junkie and I miss the opportunity to talk to him about all that is going on in today’s national and international politics. But that isn’t what I set out to write about in this post.

I started to write about compliance in the nuclear industry. What? I know. Off topic. I know nothing about the regulation of the nuclear industry, only that it is an industry that I assume is very highly regulated.

Since my father’s death, his mail has been forwarded to my house. Most of what comes is junk mail – now I get his in addition to my own. But also forwarded is his subscription to the trade publication Nuclear News. It comes wrapped in transparent plastic, so I see what it is and I have generally not opened it. But one recent issue caught my attention: Buyer’s Guide 2017. Really? People shop for nuclear supplies from a magazine’s buyer’s guide? Maybe the industry is not so regulated after all. I ripped open the plastic.

The magazine explains it as follows:

This section, beginning on page 35, lists in alphabetical order the various categories of products, materials, and services that are used in the nuclear industry. Exactly 472 categories are given, each with the names of suppliers offering that item.

Advertisers are noted and their entries appear in magenta with the page number on which their ad can be found. All very convenient for the nuclear shopper. 

I decided to test the system. Maybe I did get a little something from my father – he was notorious for his tough but fair design reviews. So, I looked up compliance. The index had a listing for compliance (Compliance Support, Regulatory) and a reference to consultants. The entry for consultants offered no additional guidance, so I noted the code for consultants and flipped to the page where the listings began. Not many consultants advertise in Nuclear News. And not many consultants appear to be primarily regulatory compliance consultants. Most appear to be engineering consultants who advertise, among other skills and qualifications, that they know how to comply with regulatory requirements.

My little diversion into the world of nuclear regulatory compliance was not all that satisfactory. Nor was my experience with the Nuclear News Buyers’ Guide 2017. Perhaps one needs an in-depth understanding of the regulated industry to make sense of such a thing.

Ten years into my business of regulatory compliance for the life insurance industry confirms that a niche is a pretty sweet thing to have. Know the industry you serve, know it well, maintain strong relationships and do the right thing. I think that probably works whether the industry is nuclear power or life insurance. I will stick with life insurance – I am ready to put the Nuclear News Buyers’ Guide 2017 in the recycling bin. I probably won’t open the next issue. 

What’s It Worth?

Rebates, Gifts, Inducements

Have you read LA Advisory Letter 2015-01? Originally issued in 2015, it was revised and reissued in March of 2017. This advisory letter has a lot of information and we recommend that you read it in its entirety (6 pages). That said, we want to draw your attention to a couple of specific elements of this letter.  

In a nutshell, this letter does the following:

  • Reminds insurers, distributors, and producers (note that fraternal benefit societies are exempt from this Advisory Letter) that rebates are prohibited by the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act.
  • Then it distinguishes rebates from typical marketing practices, allowing a certain amount of discretion and common sense to be applied to determine if something violates the rebating laws:

The letter provides a list of things that fall into this category including, but of course not limited to: “giving of tangible goods (tee shirts, caps, pens, calendars, etc.), the giving or purchase of consumables (such as food and beverages, etc.), the provision of continuing education course materials or instruction, and the giving of tickets to sporting, cultural or other charitable events, or the making or giving of charitable donations (including pro bono services) …”

The letter also looks at services that can be offered by an insurer and draws a distinction between those that are “incidental to and closely related to the administration of the insured’s policy,” which the letter advises are not rebates, and those services that are not truly incidental to the contract of insurance. Those services are likely to constitute rebating if the costs are not passed on to the insureds. In both cases, the services are offered and provided to insureds. Examples of those that might be incidental, according to the letter, include risk assessments, claims form preparation, and billing under COBRA. Examples of services that are more likely not to be incidental include COBRA administration that goes beyond billing, legal services, human resource software or services related to employee compensation. When evaluating whether a service might fall into the prohibited category, the key is how close the nexus of the services provided are to the insurance contract. The closer the nexus, the more likely the service is permitted and not rebating. 

So that makes sense, but what about when services are offered to the public? Here the trade practice at issue is not as likely to be rebating and the question is more likely to be whether or not the services constitute an inducement.

Louisiana tells us that it is not rational to interpret “inducement” to mean any and every motivation. That is too broad of an interpretation and to do so would prohibit “common and ordinary business activities where such prohibition bears no reasonable relation to the evils sought to be cured by the Unfair Trade Practices Act.” But clearly there are actions and motivations that do operate as inducements and how do we tell them apart?

The letter includes four factors that the Louisiana Department of Insurance would consider:

  1. Whether the offering of the thing of value is open and obvious to the public. This is important because the starting point of the analysis is basically that we are all free to offer things of value to the public so long as our motivation is not a prohibited one, such as to unlawfully induce the sale of insurance.
  2. Whether the offering is directed primarily to insureds or prospective insureds. This then qualifies the first statement because if an insurer or producer asserts that the offering is to the public, but in fact only insureds or prospective insureds participate in the offering, then it begins to look more like an inducement.
  3. Whether a member of the public can obtain the thing of value on equal terms and through the same means as insureds or prospective insureds. This drills down a little further. If there are insureds and prospective insureds involved, but the public can participate on equal terms, then the argument is that the thing or the service may not be an inducement.
  4. Whether any impediment to access the thing of value exists that is imposed on the public and not equally imposed on an insured or prospective insured. And this is the flip side – another way of saying that the terms are not the same for the public as those for insureds or prospective insureds and again, this looks more like an inducement. For example, if an event is offered and it is free for insureds or prospective insureds, but the general public has to pay for it, it may look like an inducement. However, we then need to return to the beginning of the letter and note that if it is a common and ordinary marketing practice, then it may be acceptable.

The letter repeats that it’s not the spirit of the statute to prohibit any person from “employing marketing practices that are routine, ordinary, and acceptable throughout the broader economy and that do not inhibit or undermine the statutory goals of protecting consumers from discriminatory pricing or insurers from the risk of insolvency.”

Given this, we think LA supports insurers and agents leveraging regular marketing and promotional activities. Keep in mind, each state is different, and not all issue guidance as clear as this. Some states have strict limits that have resulted in significant fines on producers who were found in violation of the unfair trade practices act regarding unlawful rebating and inducements.

For more information on the laws and regulations governing rebates and inducements, we encourage you to check out this 50-state research tool.

Spring Conferences - on the road again!

I have been to three different conferences in three weeks. They show me just how diverse our industry is, while also sharing much in common. The three conferences were organized around three different elements: Geographical Location, Product Type, and Organization Type

Geographical Location: New England Chapter of AICP

On May 12, the New England Chapter of AICP held its Education Day (E-day) at the Nathan Hale Inn in Storrs, CT – right on the UConn campus, which is an unusual type venue for an industry event. It has seemed to me that AICP is getting slightly more P & C focused in the last few years, and that appeared to be true at this event as well. Those of us who focus on life, annuity, and health need to attend these programs and the AICP national conference. This year the national conference is in Seattle – who doesn’t want to go to Seattle? That said, back in Storrs, CT there was lively participation in the two sessions I presented: Managing Compliance Risk and Corporate Governance (With Kathy Donovan of Wolters Kluwer) and New York Developments, where we focused on proposed regulation 210, Circular Letter 1 (2017), deferred to immediate annuity replacements and recent policy form filing experience.

The New England Chapter of AICP is holding a joint meeting with the Mid-Atlantic Chapter in August to meet NYSDFS staff – it is sure to be informative and interesting, so if you are a member and want to join us, feel free to contact me.

Product Type: Group Annuity and Pension Compliance Association (GAPCA)

On May 18th and 19th, GAPCA met in Omaha. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate, so I did not do as much exploring of Omaha as I had intended. I was only in Omaha once before and it was also for a conference and I didn’t stray far from the hotel. I love GAPCA conferences and I highly recommend it if you do any group annuity work. I again spoke about developments in NY, however since we were talking about group annuities, this time the developments were primarily of the policy form filing experience type. Many commiserated about experiences of different reviewers providing different reviews. This may be because the group annuity outlines are among the oldest and the most difficult to use. They are organized in a way that does make it easy to determine which applies to what product(s). Perhaps the Life Bureau will reach out to GAPCA for some input when those outlines get picked up for refreshing. GAPCA has tremendous experience to help that effort.

Organization Type: American Fraternal Alliance Spring Symposium

This was the biggest of the conferences I attended and the most different from the typical conferences I attend because it was not limited to compliance. Held in Chicago, the AFA had multiple tracks happening at the same time, so attendees could spend the whole time attending compliance track programming, but they could also pop into a session held by the business operations or investments actuarial tracks. I spoke on cybersecurity from a compliance perspective, not an IT perspective. That said, because of all the different folks that AFA gathered, there were multiple perspectives on the issue and we had a great discussion after we walked through the NY regulation and talked about what might or might not make it into a NY-based NAIC model regulation.

Altogether, these three events reminded me why I love what I do. I met lots of different people in distinct parts of the niche of the industry we occupy. I was able to talk about issues and hear reactions from people who I normally don’t interact with or only communicate with via email or social media. The three weeks I spent at industry events were a bit tiring, but so worth it. Thank you to all the great folks who put these events on – I know it is a lot of work! Thank you to all who spent a few moments with me and shared your wisdom and experience. It is one of the best parts of this work and I value it tremendously.

Rebate, Gift, or Inducement – What Does It Matter?

No doubt everyone likes to get something extra, something for free, or a little treat now and then, right? Who doesn't like a good BOGO (buy one, get one) sale? Or that added incentive to buy big: purchase a $100 gift card, get a $25 gift card for free. Score! No big deal, right?

But if we’re talking about gifts in connection with the sale of insurance or annuity products, it IS a big deal, and one that can land you in hot water with state insurance regulators. Most insurance departments have published regulations that limit what, if anything, an insurance agent or carrier can give to prospective or existing clients as a gift. Some states have what I call a “zero tolerance” for gifts of any kind that are offered as a means to induce a consumer to purchase an insurance product. In these states, their rules generally state that gifts “of any valuable consideration or inducement not specified in the policy” are prohibited.

Other states have similar wording in their regulations, but they still allow gifts up to a certain limit to be provided, with amounts generally in the $5-50 range per consumer, per year. There are outliers, though. For example, the state of Idaho includes this same wording in their regulations, yet has the highest limit of $200 per person, per year. It’s also important to note that some of the states that do allow certain gifts not only have a monetary limit, but only allow the gifts to be given if they are unrelated to and not dependent on the purchase of insurance.

Whether you call it a rebate, a gift, or an inducement, the basic premise of the rule is the same – state insurance regulators want clients on even footing when it comes to the policies they purchase. To pass the rebate test in most states, any benefit must be expressly stated in the insurance or annuity policy, and provided to everyone who purchases the product. This also helps to ensure that consumers are not influenced to purchase a product primarily because of the gift, and that they have a real need for the product itself.

According to the NAIC Unfair Trade Practices model regulations (Model Reg 880-4(H)(1)), “Paying, allowing, giving or offering any of the following, if not specified in the contract, is an unfair method of competition and an unfair or deceptive act:

Rebates of premiums payable on the policy; special favors or advantages in the dividends or other benefits; any valuable consideration or inducement not specified in the policy; giving, selling, purchasing or offering, as an inducement, any stocks, bonds or other securities, any dividends or profits accrued, or anything of value not specified in the policy.”

So, what does this mean, especially for insurance agents? What exactly is a rebate? In some states, a rebate means a gift of value, such as cash, a gift card, a fruit basket, or some other tangible gift or object. Other states, however, may consider it a rebate if an agent holds an insurance seminar and serves a nice meal. The cost of that meal, per person, may need to comply with the states’ rebating limits, or the agent runs the risk of a state enforcement action for violating state laws. The same issue may apply with a client appreciation event, such as wine tasting party, golf outing, or other similar events. To determine if the event is in line with their rules, many states will calculate the cost of the event, including all possible variables, such as food, drink, cost of entertainment, etc., and divide it by the number of attendees.

Insurance companies and agents often conduct business in multiple states, so being familiar with and staying current with each states’ position on rebates is important. Let us do the work for you. Enroll today!

Rebating, Gifting, and Inducements

...how training helps compliance professionals make sense of a gray area.

I’m focusing here on the benefits of training for a specific compliance topic: rebates, gifts, and inducements. Why? Because it’s one of the hardest areas for compliance professionals to get their hands around, especially with any consistency or certainty. (Click here to read more about what training can do for compliance professionals and compliance functions.)

If you’ve spent even a short time working in insurance compliance, then you’ve probably answered the question of “Can we do this?” with “It depends…” This is probably even more true if you’re fielding questions about sales inducements.

While rebating is illegal in most states, there is much less consistency around the threshold of when something becomes a rebate, or how much money can be spent before exceeding limitations.

So, what can a discerning compliance professional do?

  1. Training and education. Learn what rebating is, how it can come up and why it’s problematic. But that’s not all, since it’s not possible to memorize each state’s various rules, what would serve you better is learning a framework to help you evaluate sales inducements. It won’t always mean a quick and easy answer, but having a process gives you clear markers of what to consider and think through before you can make a judgment call if something is allowable or not.
     
  2. Research Surveys. You can compile information about each state, or you can purchase a research survey. Here’s a sample of ours. A couple things to note there. First, researching each state’s rules and regulations is time consuming. The information can be found in various places that takes time to uncover and collect. Second, you’ll need to understand how often the information is updated. If you’re taking the DIY approach, what’s your process for ensuring it’s up to date? If you’ve found information or purchased a research survey, how often is it being updated? If you’re curious, our research survey is actively maintained, and those who have purchased it receive e-mail notification each time we record an update.

If you’re interested in learning more about rebates, gifting, and inducements, take a look at our Webinar replay on our education and training webpage.

Pants on Fire

I don’t lie … generally.

I do try not to share certain facts (and my interpretation of those facts) when it helps smooth a relationship for me to keep quiet; but even this restraint of pen and tongue is difficult for me.

Despite my forthrightness, I found myself feeling (almost) guilty upon reading Delaware’s Universally Applicable Bulletin #1. (That’s a broad net to cast, no?)

In essence, the bulletin reminded everyone that telling lies is illegal and we all can be fined up to $10,000 every time we utter an untruth about insurance in Delaware.

Do I need to be reminded of this? Actually, I think not. Will it help to remind the liars that their lies could have consequences? Maybe, but a bulletin may not be the most effective way to get the point across.

When an insurer gets a hefty fine for something or other, and a state DOI issues a press release announcing the punitive action, our office phone invariably starts to ring. It seems to me that DOIs get the attention of insurers and agents when a fine, or revocation of license, or some other type of punishment is handed down. This is perhaps not the way it should be, but it seems to be the way it works.

The bulletin stated that Delaware had been made aware that “various members of the insurance industry” have responded to complaints about premium rate increases by telling consumers that the Department forced the rates up. The bulletin went on to warn that anyone caught suggesting that the Department is responsible for rate increases would be prosecuted.

I’m thinking that this bulletin would have had more teeth if it ended with a short list of recent prosecutions. Perhaps that announcement is coming soon.

Are you a Person?

Many of the insurance statutes and regulations in New York use the word “person” to mean a human being. You know, like the person writing this blog. Or the person reading this blog. That kind of person.

If an insurance law is regarding a license, for instance, it spells out that the license must be obtained by a “person, firm, association or corporation.”  If the topic is life insurance, the phrase “the person whose life is insured” often pops up, clearly without the implication that a corporation has a “life” that can be insured.

But New York’s much hailed cybersecurity regulation defines Person to mean not just human beings, but any non-governmental entity, such as a corporation or an association. While this is not a unique definition in the financial services industry, I found it unsettling. It leads to a definition of Affiliate in the regulation that starts out with the phrase “any Person that controls, is controlled by or is under common control with another Person.” So does Affiliate include my 14-year-old, who claims he is controlled by me, his junior high science teacher, and his soccer coach?

The definition also gives rise to the phrase, “the ownership of stock of such Person.” I presume this regulation is not trying to revive the loathsome concept of one human owning another.

The use of the defined term Person apparently doesn’t serve particularly well the authors of the regulation, as it’s used in the opening Definitions section, and then again in the closing Exemptions and Severability sections. But nowhere else. When people are referred to in the regulation’s body, the words “individual,” “employee,” or “personnel” are used, as appropriate. These words are clear, despite not being defined.

Mainly the defined term Covered Entity is used throughout the regulation. Covered Entity includes a Person who is a human, a Person who (which?) is a corporation, a Person who (which?) is an association, etc.

While I am a big believer in defining words, whether in contracts or in laws and regs, I want the definition to help clarify, not add to the confusion. I find it slightly confusing, and more than a little distressing, to have to think of an insurance company, a bank, or a brokerage firm as a Person. I am completely comfortable with thinking about them as Covered Entities, however. But now we’re into plurals, which makes them, I believe, into Covered People. But even cybersecurity doesn’t go that far, so neither will I.

Compliance Metaphors: Options Abound, But I Want More

I once heard someone describe compliance as similar to the plumbing in a house – it’s not glamorous and functions behind the scenes, but it’s necessary – and when things break down, it stinks. I’ve heard many compliance metaphors, and when I first heard this one, I thought it was totally spot on. Many metaphors used to describe compliance centered around this theme. Compliance is necessary, but no one really likes it. And while I still enjoy the compliance-as-plumbing description (it certainly hits home when compliance breaks down), I think we can do better. 

I don’t want to settle on compliance being pigeon-holed as the un-glamorous, behind-the-scenes “necessary evil” that companies and agents have to deal with. Does it need to be front-and-center like the new central AC system that is totally wonderful, but not necessary? No, but I personally feel that if we’re able to stop thinking of compliance as a solely mandated function and instead push ourselves to see it as another business tool to leverage, not only can a company’s internal operational flow improve, so can the business bottom line. 

Why? 

Reputation. Our world is increasingly digitized with so much information instantly at our fingertips. Bad reviews or press? Easy to find it. Our attention span is decreasing. First impressions are everything, and if you do get additional time to impress someone, count yourself lucky. Embracing a pro-compliance attitude, including compliance as part of the businesses culture, demonstrating a commitment to compliance in all business areas of a company, and having conversations internally and externally about this commitment can set you apart from the pack, and build your reputation. 

Compliance is a form of risk management, just like the products sold in the insurance industry. Use compliance to mitigate risks and build your company’s reputation. Move it from behind-the-scenes, and start using this tool to propel your company ahead. Tell us, is compliance the plumbing in your company? What’s your favorite metaphor for compliance?

IAdCA 2017...A fun time was had by all!

Kasbah Pool, Omni Scottsdale Resort and Spa, Scottsdale AZ

The setting for IAdCA 2017 could not have been more beautiful – the Omni Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Montelucia in Scottsdale, Arizona. The scenery was simply spectacular and we all had rooms that gave us perfect views – if not of Camelback Mountain, of scenery equally magnificent. The conference was definitely fun, but there was also a lot of fantastic content presented by talented speakers.

For me personally, it was an honor to start our time at the Montelucia by being elected as president of the organization – a role in which I will serve for the next two years, finishing my term at the close of the 2019 conference.

As is the IAdCA custom, we opened Wednesday night with a wonderful welcome reception on the Kasbah Patio next to one of the stunning pools throughout the property. Because I was still on crutches due to a weightlifting injury, I happily sat still and enjoyed talking to those who made their way to where I was sitting. The food and drinks were appreciated and it was both a relaxing and pleasant way to start the conference.

We kicked off on Thursday with the opening keynote speaker, Joseph Jordan, who spoke on the topic of Living a Life of Significance. As a former life insurance agent and executive turned motivational speaker, he provided great content, which included an introduction to a concept that was repeated throughout the conference. I think one of the measures of a good motivational speaker is the ability to do what Joseph did: plant a seed that stays with the audience. What he talked about was the importance in our industry to share stories about how our products have touched peoples’ lives. He did so in a way that moved several people to share their personal or family stories about life insurance.

Joseph’s session was followed by two more general sessions before we moved on to the breakouts: one in which Rod Perkins, VP at ACLI was the speaker and the other was David Bolton of the Oregon Division of Financial Regulation and John Reilly of the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation where they shared hands-on information about how to make clean advertising and product submissions to their respective states. Rod had the dubious distinction of being asked to speak in two consecutive years on the DOL Fiduciary Rule – last year it was the sole topic of his general session and this year it was an obvious part of his more general “ACLI Update” session. Last year he spoke just days after the rule was finalized and everyone’s head was spinning. He did a great job last year giving us one of the first overviews and this year he brought us up-to-date on the current confusion about what it actually means to have April 10, 2017 come and go. He did a superb job in a very difficult situation two years in a row with the timing of the conference and the regulatory activity. We are certainly hopeful that he will not let that dissuade him from giving future conferences a chance to prove that the third time’s the charm!

CCS staff was busy during the Thursday afternoon breakout session schedule! Rod and I spoke on Regulatory Shifts in Standards of Care, while Glenda Bean, newly elected IAdCA vice president, spoke with Debby Paris of First Consulting on Effective Communication Tips & Tricks. In the standards of care session, Rod and I decided to broaden our discussion to more than the DOL Fiduciary Rule by including a discussion of the NAIC’s new working group on this topic and getting a bit into the weeds of how a transactional suitability standard may end up moving to a more transactional best interest standard that takes pieces of traditional insurance regulation as a transaction at a moment in time and the DOL’s fiduciary standard that changed the nature of the relationship well beyond any individual transaction. At this early stage of the NAIC effort and the ongoing uncertainty about DOL and SEC action, there are more questions than answers and we had a lively and entertaining discussion about how it could all play out – both the positive and negative outcomes that we could collectively foresee. Glenda and Debby presented on a topic that is one of Glenda’s passions. She has presented it many times and is also in the process of developing a course for our online platform that addresses this soft, but vital skill in compliance – effective communication.

Being the trooper that Glenda is, she rushed right into the second breakout session to substitute for Heidi Gabel of GamePlan Financial who was suffering from a terrible case of laryngitis. Heidi was completely unable to speak on Tuesday so Glenda agreed to take over the moderation of the Mobile Advertising breakout session. It was an easy fit for her since she is hosting a full CCS symposium (CICS) on advertising compliance around social media May 11-12 in Cincinnati, OH. She rounded out the afternoon with a session on Stories from the Trenches that she co-presented with Gary Romo of Allianz. They offered cautionary tales of recent market conduct and disciplinary actions related to sales practices and advertising compliance. While she was spinning scary yarns, our expert researcher, Kaycie Tyll, was presenting with Judith Villareal of CoreCap Investments on gifts and rebates. Kaycie has a 50-state research chart on this topic available on our educational platform (CICEd), so this session was a perfect fit for her expertise!

By the end of Thursday, the CCS team was exhausted, but exhilarated! Glenda and Kaycie went out on the town with local clients, while I hobbled to the resort’s restaurant with a group of eight for a very nice meal with great company. Friday always arrives so quickly at IAdCA and this year we all had to leave on the early side to make connections to Albany. At the last minute, Margaret Jones was added to our list of travelers because my injury made things much more difficult, both at our booth and in transit. Sadly for her that meant cross-country travel in middle seats! I must admit to feeling guilty as I upgraded to first class so that I could prop my bad leg up and move around more easily. The doctor had warned me that deep vein thrombosis is correlated to crush injuries of the type I suffered, so I felt compelled to take his warning seriously, wear compression socks, and sit in upgraded seats.

Fortunately, no adverse consequences happened and we all arrived home very late and exhausted, but feeling great about another fabulous IAdCA conference! Just like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the IAdCA officers are already working on making next year’s event – in Austin, Texas – even better! If you have never been to IAdCA, think about coming to Austin in 2018! If you have been once or all 16 times, make sure to put it on your schedule for April 2018 and check the website regularly for updates.

Put a #hashtag on it!

Put a #Hashtag On It

Hashtags – those little tags that turned the pound key to a hash sign – are a popular way to add searchability and a bit of personality to social media posts. But just like any other piece of advertising, they need to be reviewed from a compliance perspective. Here are some ways to go about reviewing hashtags.

  1. Understand the #basics: All the advertising rules and regulations apply to hashtags. They can’t be absolute, promissory, scary, incomplete, unfair, deceptive, or misleading. Due to their brief nature, and wanting to use tags that are punchy, clever, and eye-catching, keep these basic standards in mind to make sure that adding a few hashtags doesn’t change the overall tone of an ad.
     
  2. Understand the #context: What will the hashtags be used with? Do you have a copy of the entire ad? Or are you reviewing a list of possible hashtags to be used with any number of ads? The list approach can absolutely be workable; however you’ll want to make sure that you closely review the list with each applicable ad. If one of the terms is deemed inappropriate for a given ad, there needs to be some type of measure in place to ensure it doesn’t get used. For example, add within brackets on the approved ad [use any of the approved hashtags except: #XYZHashtag.] Another option would be to remove the hashtag in question from the approved list, or create more segmented lists by general product type or subject matter so that it won’t show up as an option for some scenarios. The big takeaway here is that context matters, and you need to be considering the big picture. Signing off on a list of hashtags and not looking at how they impact an ad can lead to unnecessary risk exposure.
     
  3. Understand #wheretheygo: Hashtags are used for searching, so it’s wise to understand what else is tagged with those terms. I can’t imagine an insurer, agent, or intermediary would be held responsible for other content that happens to be tagged with some of the same keywords, especially if it’s something as broad as #insurance. However, what if your company or firm makes hashtags specific to a company promotion? Or product? Or event? What if the hashtag is your company name? Aside from ongoing audits of what may be on the internet that’s associated with your company, when you’re reviewing hashtags, click on them. Look at what else is tagged with that content. Is it appropriate? Is it how you’d want consumers to find your company and information? Does it impact the overall ad? You may not end up making any changes, but it’s worth the time to investigate and flag any potential issues.
     
  4. Understand #whatworks: Hashtags are a microcosm within the marketing universe. Writing effective, timely, smart, and applicable hashtags is a skill, and also requires a fair amount of research to really understand the reach of any hashtag. There may be legitimate reasons why certain tags are desired over others. Understanding the marketing goal and why certain terms are being tagged are important for an ad reviewer to keep in mind. This allows ad reviewers to make suggestions that are in line with regulatory requirements, as well as speak to the marketing needs. Generally, long wordy hashtags are not effective. They can be hard to understand, and the more words used, the more unlikely it is someone is going to be searching for that specific sentence. On the flip side, using hashtags that are too simplistic or too broad results in content that will only get buried. You don’t need to become a marketer, but keeping the goals and length of the tag in mind can help provide more valuable feedback.

Namaste from Camelback Mountain

At the top of Camelback Mountain, Arizona

At the top of Camelback Mountain, Arizona

Another year, another wonderful IAdCA conference in the books! And this year’s event DID NOT disappoint! While we’re just settling into some spring-like weather here in upstate NY (fingers crossed…it’s still early in April, after all…), Scottsdale, AZ delivered in a big way by providing zero humidity, warm sunshine, and a view that must be experienced in person. The location (Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia) is just one of the elements that made this year’s event so great; the content provided was stellar as well.

Thursday’s events kicked off with a powerful and unique discussion around Living a Life of Significance presented by Joe Jordan. Joe, a notable industry professional in his own right, shared his perspective on the importance of the industry we work in, and how providing meaningful services to consumers is the way to be successful.

With that point, I couldn’t agree more. As a compliance professional, it’s my belief that the work we do is to ensure that valuable products are made available to consumers in a way that’s fair and reasonable. By doing the right thing, success will flow.

We also got to hear from Rod Perkins of the ACLI with some industry updates, as well as a Q&A session with state regulators John Reilly (Florida) and David Bolton (Oregon.) It’s always so great to get some perspective from state regulators, and there’s a reason these two have been repeat speakers – they’re extremely approachable and helpful!

The breakout sessions covered a range of topics, and it’s always hard to pick just one session per block to attend! Those attendees that are lucky enough to come with co-workers often take a “divide and conquer” approach to make sure they can get as much info as possible. But even if you can’t get to all the sessions you’d like, there are great networking opportunities available to talk about new things you’ve learned or ask about other sessions with attendees and presenters.

Friday’s general sessions included a wonderful (and eye-opening) session on Social Media & Big Data from Randa Zalman including tips on more effective direct mail from Jim Svoboda. Finally, it was time for some general Q&A (which I unfortunately missed – it was time to head out) I’m sure this session was great to close out the conference.

Finally, and perhaps most exciting of all for us at CCS, Cailie is now officially the president of IAdCA, and I have the privilege of serving as the vice president of the organization. It’s such an honor to represent IAdCA as an officer, and I look forward to this next chapter. As I said in my last post, this organization is near and dear to my heart – this only grows truer with time.

If you didn’t get a chance to attend this year’s event, we hope you’ll be able to join us in Austin in 2018.

Another successful AICP E-Day in the Heartland!

Well, I made it home safely from the trip to Des Moines where I attended the AICP Heartland Chapter’s E-Day. It was great to see everyone, enjoy some very nice meals, and catch up on what has been keeping all of us busy – both personally and professionally! Attending this E-Day was a very nice reminder that while it is true we are peers with similar agendas to network, learn, and ultimately do what we need to so we can get the work done, we are also friends with common interests.

Those of us in the compliance profession all want to do the right thing for the companies we represent, but more importantly, for the consumers who benefit from the products we help create. I think it is this commonality of caring that truly brings us together - those with the desire for a compliant, quality product can be found gathering in groups across the country to talk about how these goals can be achieved. To an outsider, that fact alone could raise eyebrows – why do we need to go to so many meetings to talk about compliance? Obviously, if the question is asked, the understanding is lacking. We care because it is in our nature; it’s what makes us good at what we do!

While attending these events, we are all in the role of a compliance professional, but I like to think of us as kindred spirits as well. We have the same goals as professionals, but it is the recognition of the caring, like-(compliant)-minded spirit in peers that makes us friends. It was great to see you all again, my dear friends!

IAdCA here we come!

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow morning I’ll be on a flight headed to Scottsdale for the 16th Annual IAdCA Conference. I’m so excited to spend some time in Arizona, although I'm a little disappointed that we’ll be a day late - missing the Final Four excitement just by the skin of our teeth!

Camelback Mountain, Scottsdale, AZ

This is my third year attending the conference and it’s something that I look forward to each year. It's so interesting and eye-opening to have the opportunity to meet other insurance compliance professionals and hear all about the various issues, challenges and trending topics from their own perspectives. My involvement this year is a bit different than the first two because this year I had the opportunity to volunteer on the education committee and I’ll be speaking alongside Judith Villarreal of CoreCap Investments, Inc. and M&O Marketing.

Although the topic of sales inducements and rebating is one that Judith has previously presented at IAdCA, I’m looking forward to putting my own spin on the information by discussing a few case studies and several enforcement actions to get a real feel for how the offer of gifts and giveaways can easily turn into a cause for concern that could warrant a violation.

Jim Svoboda’s Direct Mail Makeover session is one that I’m especially excited about attending that is loosely related to the session that Judith and I will be presenting. We all know that direct mailing is a tried-and-true marketing strategy used in the life insurance industry, and it will be interesting to hear his suggestions, analysis, and reviews of the campaigns that other IAdCA attendees submitted to him prior to the conference.

Like Glenda Bean noted in her post, I am also looking forward to this event, the sunshine, and meeting up with industry colleagues. We hope to find some time to hike the summit of Camelback Mountain while we're there – so keep your eyes peeled for our scenic selfie with the infamous Compliance Hero!