Given my well-earned skepticism and public criticism of all things NAIC, I realize I’m probably the last person the NAIC’s leadership would seek out to advise it on its search for a new CEO. And I know full well the value of unsolicited advice (my Dad used to remind me of that frequently), but I’ve wasted time on less entertaining endeavors, so here’s my list of priorities for the new NAIC CEO.
• Reform the place
The NAIC is in need of serious reform. The new CEO (and the regulators themselves) needs to recognize the NAIC is not a club; it is now part of the fabric of state insurance regulation. The NAIC staff is doing regulatory work. For better or worse, that is the reality. As a result, the NAIC must adopt new policies of transparency and accountability. Stop having closed meetings. Develop some system of accountability—what happens if an NAIC staff person recommends a course of action on a regulatory matter to a state? What recourse does a company have? None today, and this must change. I know I get to be a broken record sometimes, but these organizational “what-is-the-NAIC and how-does-it-operate” issues are critical to get right.
• Adopt a priority-setting process
Right now any regulator, department staff person or even NAIC staff person who gets a bee in his or her bonnet about an issue can drive policy for the entire organization. The new CEO needs to develop a system where issues are identified as problem areas and then set to work fixing them. Not every regulatory idea is a good one; in fact, most are bad. All of them cost policyholders money, and there is no system in place to weed out bad ideas before they get moving. The climate-change fiasco is a great example of this: There was no direction from leadership at the NAIC that this should be a priority; it just became one out of thin air. I could list dozens of issues like this. At the core of this problem seems to be the belief that more is always better. It’s not; it’s just more.
• Acknowledge the flaws in state regulation
State regulation of insurance does have its flaws: It’s too redundant and too inefficient. We spend entirely too much time and energy on price regulation. This is by no means an indictment of the state system; it really does fit P&C insurance to have a state-based system of regulation. And it is far better than anything that would come from the federal government. But it needs fixing. The NAIC should be the champion of reform, not the champion of every idea on the block. The new CEO is in a great position to lead efforts to fix the problems of state regulation. In fact, the NAIC could actually make state regulation more efficient—but today, unfortunately, the association makes it more costly and dysfunctional. It starts with being honest. To save state regulation you don’t have to defend its flaws and problems—you have to fix them. The first step in fixing flaws and problems is acknowledging that they exist.
• Get involved in the issues
One of the great strengths and great differences of outgoing CEO Terri Vaughan was that she got involved in the substance of the issues. This was a big departure from her predecessor, and it made a big difference on some very important issues. Vaughan, of course, has a unique background, and the next leader may not have that same ability, but I believe moving away from this would be a mistake. Sometimes the industry becomes too entrenched (who, me?), sometimes (OK, most of the time) regulators become too entrenched, and a third party is necessary to find common ground. Vaughan did this, and she did it well. The new CEO would be well served to follow.
Under any circumstances the new CEO will face many challenges, but I truly believe if the NAIC leadership followed at least some of this advice, the organization and, in turn, state regulation would be better for it.