Lawmakers Hear From Insurance Regulators, Industry Execs at St. John Hearing

Director of Banking and Insurance Gwendolyn Hall Brady at Monday's Finance Committee hearing (Photo by Barry Leerdam, V.I. Legislature)
Director of Banking and Insurance Gwendolyn Hall Brady at a previous hearing (Photo by Barry Leerdam, V.I. Legislature)

How to raise the national profile of the Virgin Islands insurance industry was the topic of discussion Wednesday for the 33rd Legislature’s Committee of the Whole. Under consideration were two bills sponsored by Senate President Kenneth Gittens.

The first bill, No. 33-0015, calls for amendments to local insurance laws that would satisfy accreditation requirements of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. The second, No. 33-0016, would codify the association’s accreditation standards and update local laws to mirror legal standards used by U.S. states.

NAIC represents insurance commissioners in 50 states and some U.S. territories. Gwendolyn Hall-Brady, the head of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor’s Division of Banking and Insurance explained in testimony that the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa are not accredited.

Hall-Brady pointed to features of bill no. 33-0015 that would raise local standards. If passed by the full Senate, the bill would give V.I. insurance commissioners assurance when sharing confidential information with association officials; the bill would also allow regulators to share information about insurance companies doing business in their jurisdiction and elsewhere.

It would also provide a means for local insurance regulators to share information with law enforcement about criminal activity involving fraud, money laundering and cyber security violations.

“And our financial examination and our analytical reports will be readily accepted in those jurisdictions where these companies conduct business,” Hall-Brady said.

Banking and Insurance Legal Counsel Monica Williams Cabron shared the advantages anticipated upon the passage of Bill No. 33-0016. If adopted by the Senate the bill will encourage insurance companies to assess their ability to remain financially solvent if they encounter a massive influx of claims, as was the case after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

The Lieutenant Governor’s Office officials were joined at the testifiers table by executives of the territory’s two major insurance companies, Dorchester Insurance and Guardian Insurance.

They, too, expressed support for the measures. “It’s no secret that many sections of our insurance code were drafted decades ago,” said Guardian Vice President Karen John.

Lawmakers’ questions followed Wednesday testimony heard in the Cleone Creque Legislative Hall. St. Croix Senator Oakland Benta asked why the Virgin Islands Code still has statutes governing the insurance industry dating back to 1968.

Past efforts have been made to amend the laws, Hall-Brady said. What’s different this time is the move to gain accreditation.

St. Thomas-St. John Senator Athniel Thomas asked whether gaining accreditation would be a lengthy process. Cabron said an NAIC per-accreditation visit was originally scheduled for September 2017, but was preempted by two Category 5 hurricanes.

Banking and Insurance officials are now working with association representatives to reschedule the visit for May.

Senator Kurt Vialet offered the opinion that adopting the two measures would not only benefit V.I. insurance consumers, their families and properties, but would also be good for Dorchester and Guardian.

Once uniform laws are put in place and accreditation is achieved, the two companies can expand their businesses to other states and territories without having to apply to individual entities.

“I’m happy today that both of these companies are here in support of these two items,” Vialet said.