New Hampshire Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny is planning to retire this summer after 16 years with the New Hampshire Insurance Department. His current term ends on June 11.
Prior to his 16 years working as a regulator in the state of New Hampshire, Sevigny spent 30 years in the military both in active duty and reserve time, retiring at the rank of Colonel, and more than 30 years working for Travelers Insurance and Citigroup. He is a National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) past president and member of the NAIC’s Executive (EX) Committee. Sevigny is also president of the National Insurance Producer Registry (NIPR) and chair of the Producer Licensing (EX) Task Force.
After a long career, he told Insurance Journal “the stars aligned” for him to retire.
“I had to decide whether I was going to ask the Governor to reappoint me or whether I was going to be looking to do something different, and the decision I made was that it’s time for the next chapter,” Sevigny said.
In light of this news, Sevigny spoke with Insurance Journal about how he has seen state regulation change over the years, his biggest accomplishments and challenges while in office and his advice for his successor about being a good leader.
Insurance Journal: How have you seen state regulation change during your years in office?
Roger Sevigny: I’ll address it both at the national level and then at the state level. At the national level, I’ve continued to see it get better and better, and in large measure, the work that’s done by regulators and by the NAIC and their staff has continued to develop very favorably. The NAIC, of course, because there is no federal regulator, is kind of what I call the glue that keeps us all together as state regulators. And that continues to get better.
I was honored to be the president of the NAIC in 2009 and was an officer before then, but I’ve seen it continue to better support state regulation. As a result, we as state regulators continue to do better at the job that we do. Keep in mind that when you talk about regulation and you talk about working to protect consumers, that really starts with being able to appropriately regulate the industry. You have to be really careful as a regulator that you’re not overly heavy-handed, but at the same time, you can’t let things go that could do a consumer harm.
IJ: Is there anything else you want to add about how you would rate state regulation today versus 15 or 20 years ago?
RS: We’ve continued to get better at interacting internationally with the International Association of Insurance Supervisors, and that’s become much more important over the last 15 to 20 years because more insurance carriers are doing business not just nationally, but internationally. For the insurance industry that we regulate, it’s important that we as regulators are very active internationally.
IJ: What was one of your biggest accomplishments while in office?
RS: Probably the biggest accomplishment was the part that I played with regard to helping navigate through the financial crisis of 2008-2009. At that time, not only was I a regulator in New Hampshire, but I was the NAIC president-elect and then president. Our work with all of the insurance carriers – looking carefully at their financial condition and working with carriers throughout that period of time – ended up [being] very successful. If you take a look at the financial crisis, you’ll see that many banks and trusts ended up in very serious financial trouble. You won’t see any insurance company that ended up bankrupt. People say, ‘Well, what about AIG?’ Well, AIG is a holding company. [The insurance companies] ended up quite fine. What I always say when I go out to speak to consumers is if nothing else – if I did nothing else – if I could be a really good financial regulator, in other words, make sure that the carriers that are doing business are solvent and remain solvent, then I’ve done a good job at protecting consumers.
The other accomplishment, as well as a challenge, continues to be the implementation and the ongoing effort to work with the ACA (Affordable Care Act). The ACA came to pass while I was the regulator, after I was an officer at the NAIC. We as state regulators were responsible for implementing it in our states. And it was no easy task. We had to make decisions as a state, all of us did, about whether we were going to have our own state exchange and whether it was going to be simply a federal exchange or a partnership. I think in New Hampshire, we – by we, I’m talking about not only the regulator, but our legislature and the governor – made the right decision and decided to go into a partnership with the federal government. I think that ended up being really good for the consumer, because we have a say in what products get on the market. It’s not simply the federal government telling us.
IJ: You’ve worked with Democratic as well as Republican governors. How would you characterize those differences?
RS: One of the things that I really take pride in is the fact that when I’m working, I am absolutely non-political, and the governors have all known that. They’ve all come to really respect the fact that I don’t take a political position. I inform the legislature; I inform the governor; I inform the elected officials, and I don’t do it from a political point of view. I do it purely from the statistics and the data that we have and the modeling that we’re able to do. My opinion is that as a regulator, when you’re responsible for dealing with all consumers and protecting all consumers, you don’t do the consumers any favor if you are taking a political position. I certainly understand the legislature or the governor doing it, but that’s not our job. Staying above the fray and above the political arena, I think, has served us all well here in New Hampshire. Frankly, I’ve gotten along with all of the governors. They’ve all been really good to work with, and they’ve all understood that I don’t take a political position and really have respected that.
IJ: Within the NAIC, you’ve been active with the National Insurance Producers Registry (NIPR) and licensing issues. What progress have you seen there?
RS: What I’ve seen specifically with NIPR is continued excellence. NIPR continues to get better. It is the licensing mechanism across the country that agents and brokers use for a whole variety of things. To get licensed to begin with in their home state, and then to get licensed in other states, and to do the day-to-day things that producers need to do, they need a way to do it easily and quickly.
As far as producer licensing itself, we’ve seen progress with regard to uniformity, but that progress seems to ebb and flow. Sometimes it can ebb and flow depending on a change in commissioner or a change in licensing director, so it’s something that the NAIC, and more specifically the chief regulators, need to continue to have as a focus. I believe uniformity is a really good thing when it comes to producer licensing. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re from New Hampshire or Vermont or California, you should be able to be licensed in a similar fashion.
IJ: Technology has been a big topic in the insurance industry lately. How do you believe state regulators can keep up with changes in technology?
RS: The NAIC once again has been a really big help, first of all, by having a technology committee – it’s called the Innovation and Technology Committee – that covers things like that. It covers things like insurtech, some of the startups such as Lemonade, and some of those ways to market and sell insurance. What’s good about the NAIC is that as these things are identified, regulators are included in the discussion, and therefore kept much better informed than if we were held in our own little bubble and didn’t have access to all that information. I also think that the evolution of big data and the use of big data is happening more nationally, but it’s happening at the state level as well. To speak for New Hampshire, we certainly are into big data. We’re into understanding things like predictive modeling. We know how to protect proprietary rating factors and data privacy.
IJ: Overall, how can state regulators keep pace with everything insurance companies are doing today?
RS: It can be difficult, but it’s certainly doable. I say it can be difficult because all of us on the state regulatory side or anybody who’s a bureaucrat working for the government doesn’t have necessarily the same access to a budget as the carriers do. It’s a matter of being able to appropriately budget for what it is you’re going to do. It’s a matter of being able to keep up with literally everything that’s going on in the industry, and you have to have a very keen staff for that. You’ve got to have a staff that’s able to follow what’s going on and able to participate. We’ve had people participating in many committees at the NAIC and informing all of us on what’s happening. It’s a constant effort to be able to keep up with what’s going on. I mention the NAIC because so much of that effort is coordinated at the NAIC level, and it’s a huge help for us to be able to keep up with it.
IJ: Do you think increasing federal regulation is going to be a concern going forward, or does some regulation at the federal level make sense in a global economy?
RS: I don’t think it’s ever going to go away, because there are some who believe that bigger is better and having a federal regulator would solve a lot of issues. I was very involved in that when Congress was looking seriously at developing an optional federal charter so the carriers could choose whether to be regulated at the federal level or at the state level, and I was very much against it. I spoke all over the country about that and about the benefit of state regulation – the fact that state regulation provides consumers close access to those that can help them when they have an issue or a problem. I still really believe that. It’s also the same with regard to carriers that have an issue. It’s, in my mind, far more effective to call the state regulator – who frequently you know by name – than to call 1-800-FEDERAL-GOVERNMENT.
I don’t think it’s ever going to completely go away, but I can tell you that it’s significantly reduced, and I think part of that is the way the insurance industry itself performed during the financial crisis. I think members of Congress saw that. If you look at Dodd-Frank, for example, Dodd-Frank does have some insurance elements to it, but they’re minimal compared to what banks have to go through. I think it was recognized at that time that the leadership and the guidance and the regulation at the state level really worked. And again, it’s up to us as state regulators to continue to be diligent in the effort and continue to do the best we can with providing good, solid regulation.
IJ: Getting back to your upcoming retirement, do you see any challenges ahead for your successor?
RS: We just finished doing a strategic planning initiative that we are just now implementing. It’s going to be a challenge, but I think for someone that takes my place, because they’re coming into it new, it’s also going to be a real opportunity to have even greater success at the state regulatory level. I think anybody who’s going to be a leader at the state level – and it’s not only my department; it’s any department – it’s got to start with being a good leader. Second, it’s got to start with being a good listener and not acting in an autocratic fashion. I really believe that you make much better decisions when you have healthy debate from all that are contributing to the debate, and that’s going to be both a challenge and an opportunity.
IJ: Do you have any other words of advice for your successor?
RS: Be a good leader; be a good listener; do what makes sense. Follow the law, but do what makes sense and regulate in a way that you would want to be regulated if you were on the other side.
Listen to the full audio interview on Insurance Journal TV.
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