Insurance industry gadfly Joseph M. Belth in December will stop publishing The Insurance Forum, a 40-year old newsletter that shook up the world of life insurance.
Mr. Belth, who is professor emeritus of insurance in the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, Bloomington, announced in the newsletter's November issue that the following month's would be the final issue.
“I am fortunate to have been blessed with good health,” he wrote in an article called “The Coming End of The Insurance Forum.” “Yet in recent years, I have noticed some loss of the stamina needed to keep up with the demanding requirements of a monthly newsletter.”
Mr. Belth is 84, but just as feisty and aggressive as he was when he ran the first issue in December 1973.
He will move his research and writing to his blog at josephmbelth.com, and will work on a memoir that will be “very autobiographical in nature, but mostly on The Insurance Forum.”
The publication has been necessary reading for journalists who cover the insurance industry, but it's also a staple for analysts, regulators, insurance company executives and advisers who appreciate delving into the more-complex issues pertinent to life insurers.
“Dr. Belth understands [insurance] better than anyone else,” said Larry J. Rybka, president and chief executive of ValMark Securities Inc. “He's been a personal mentor and someone I look up to enormously.”
Mr. Belth started his newsletter after running into censorship issues with insurance trade publications.
“I couldn't even write letters to the editor on companies' deceptive sales tactics — I couldn't get those letters printed because it would've been frowned upon by the company,” he said. “The censorship I encountered were classic examples of self-censorship: The editor decides he doesn't want to antagonize the insurance company.”
Indeed, The Insurance Forum has no advertising in it; the newsletter is funded by paid subscriptions.
It's hard to imagine there being such thing as a history book of the insurance industry, but Mr. Belth's newsletter comes pretty close.
For instance, he chronicled the fall of Executive Life Insurance Co., which became insolvent in 1991 after failed investments in junk bonds. As early as 1987, Mr. Belth flagged the company in “The Reinsurance Disaster at Executive Life.”
“What was interesting about Executive Life is that everyone was moaning and groaning about the investment in junk bonds,” he said in an interview. “But before the collapse, I wrote about the reinsurance.”
At the time, insurance regulators in New York investigated Executive Life and found the company had questionable reinsurance agreements in place. Though the carrier took credit for the agreements, the reinsurance actually didn't exist, Mr. Belth said.
Other hot-button issues included “The Problem of Unclaimed Benefits,” which Mr. Belth tackled in 1980 — decades before the recent debacle over insurers' hesitation to investigate and pay unclaimed death benefits in a timely manner.
“Shortcomings of Private Insurance in Financing Long-Term Care” and “Conseco's Separation from Financially Troubled Long-Term-Care Insurance Subsidiary,” both 2008 pieces, covered another burgeoning problem among life carriers.