Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.
The “collapse” of National Prearrangement Services comes as a shock to both the company’s clients and competitors. For the seventeen states in which NPS transacted business, regulators are scrambling to get their arms around the magnitude of the problem. NPS’ adversarial reputation will cause many regulators to move cautiously. However the capitulation by NPS to the termination of its marketing operations should cause regulators to consider whether the individuals that control NPS and its related sibling corporations have employed a rearguard strategy.
Missouri and Texas will figure prominently in regulators’ efforts to protect consumers. NPS maintains its corporate headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri. The insurance company to which NPS funnels its preneed sales, Lincoln Memorial Life, is a Texas company located in Austin. Accordingly, records of NPS’ preneed sales should be in St. Louis and the funds received by NPS should (hopefully) have made their way to Austin, and subject to the jurisdiction of the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI).
However, the news from TDI has been a bit confusing. On April 9th, TDI issued a press release that disclosed that an Agreed Order had been entered into with NPS. The press release states:
The TDI-issued Hazardous Financial Condition Order requires the companies to establish a plan to pay policyholder claims and to address existing contracts.
"While every effort was made to secure the companies and return them to normal operations, the decision was made to take this regulatory action," said Texas Insurance Commissioner Mike Geeslin. "As we move forward, our goal is to use every law on the books to protect consumers, coordinate with other regulators and states and – most importantly – keep all parties informed as issues develop."
"It is imperative that we work closely with NPS and the funeral providers to ensure all Texas consumers receive their prepaid funeral goods and services as originally promised," said Texas Banking Commissioner Randall James.
For years, these companies have been dependent upon new sales (and trust transfers) for revenues to meet promises made to funeral homes. Consequently, TDI’s assurances about returning these companies to ‘normal operations’ rang hollow when news of NPS’ termination of its sales personnel was leaked. A day later, the Kansas City Star reported that a Kansas lawyer had taken “control of the company Tuesday as action manager of behalf of Texas,…” So, what is going on?
The lawyer referenced by the Kansas City Star article has experience with insolvent insurance companies, and so one explanation could be that Texas is preparing to take control of Lincoln Memorial Life.
With NPS being deprived future sales, the Lincoln Memorial assets may be the only source of payment for hundreds of thousands of consumers. Texas reported 39,000 policyholders, and Missouri reported 46,000, and while these two states may account for a substantial portion of NPS’ business, there are 15 other states with NPS sales.
With information in such short supply, one must be careful not to read too much into these press releases. But each seems to place emphasis on “Policies” and “Policyholders”. There seems to be an assumption (or at least a hope) that each NPS sale ended in a Lincoln Memorial policy. Yet, many of us know that NPS aggressively pursued trust rollovers that included questionable records for the preneed contracts involved. With regard to those transactions, it is unlikely that purchasers were ever contacted. The question then becomes what NPS/Lincoln did with the funds from their trust rollovers?
To know just how deep the NPS waters are, Missouri is key to obtaining NPS and its corporate records. On April 9th, the Division of Professional Registration issued a press release that advised:
Funeral directors are cautioned to ensure they maintain adequate records and evaluate any preneed arrangement sold on behalf of their funeral establishment.
On April 11th, The Kansas City Star reported the following comments:
“We want people to know we are working to safeguard their interest,” ……….. “We’ve stopped the flow of business to look at what’s going on. Our concern is that they get what they paid for.”
While terminating NPS’ authority to enter new transactions had to be its first priority, Missouri must now determine how it can best protect all consumers, not just those from Missouri. If there is any doubt about the trust rollover transactions, Missouri needs to take prompt action to secure NPS’ corporate records.
Which brings this post back to its introductory muse: has NPS been sacrificed as some sort of rearguard maneuver?
We can hope that NPS will take all actions necessary to provide assurances to its policyholders, including cooperation with Missouri’s regulators. But if push comes to shove over records that document the company’s money trails, NPS may resort to its true colors when responding to Missouri’s requests. Funeral directors must prepare for that potential conflict.
All funeral homes that have NPS contracts should begin an inventory of their paperwork. For funeral directors that participated in an NPS trust rollover, the inventory should include documentation regarding the application of the trust funds. If their records do not include such documentation, funeral directors need to consider making an immediate written request to NPS. An even tougher (but necessary) decision may be whether to copy that request to your state preneed regulator.