The problems facing many banks in the current economic environment are well-documented. For troubled banks’ directors and officers, the banks’ D&O insurance may represent a last line of protection. But what if the insurers could just cancel the policies? Surprisingly, many bank D&O insurers have that right under their policies, and while cancellation is rare, it is not unprecedented, and some insurers are now invoking that right to shed the risks associated with failing or problem institutions.


As reflected in a January 24, 2010 FinCri Advisor article entitled "Your D&O Insurer Might Be Scouring Your Call Report Looking to Cancel Coverage" (here), the policy forms of many bank D&O insurers have cancellation clauses that permit the insurer to cancel the policies mid-term, either because there is a "material change in the risk" or for any reason at all.


Many of these clauses are found only in policies that were issued on a multiyear basis, but even some single-year bank D&O insurance policies contain cancellation clauses. While many policies also specify that the insurer must give the policyholder 60 days (or more) notice so that the policyholder can try to replace coverage, the fact is that if something serious enough to cause the insurer to cancel coverage has occurred, it likely will be a very difficult time for the policyholder to try to find replacement coverage.


For D&O insurance practitioners who don’t venture into the Financial Institutions arena (or FI as it is known), the very existence of these clauses in bank D&O policies may come as a surprise, since these clauses do not appear in most mainstream commercial D&O insurance policies.


The obvious question is how did a cancellation clause get into bank D&O policies when it is rarely if ever seen in other kinds of D&O insurance policies? Part of the answer is that, particularly with respect to community banks, the D&O insurance marketplace has over the years become both very specialized and intensely competitive.


Before the current troubled bank era began, D&O insurance for community banks became increasingly less expensive. But as buyers became increasingly (or even exclusively) focused on price, some carriers looked for ways to trim coverage. And so a term such as the cancellation clause that isn’t seen in other D&O insurance policies found its way into the basic forms of several community bank D&O insurance carriers.


A neutral observer might question the value of a contract that one party can simply cancel unilaterally. The promise to provide insurance seems tenuous indeed if the insurer can walk away because problems have emerged – which is of course the very circumstance for which buyers purchase insurance in the first place.


All of this does raise the question of why any buyer would agree in the first place to accept a policy that has a cancellation clause. The answer is either that the buyer is unaware the clause is there or the buyer has no other choice.


Given the number of bank D&O insurers that have cancellation clauses in the policy forms, there undoubtedly are many banks whose policies have these clauses. I am guessing only a very small number of these banks (many of whom may have purchased their insurance on a direct basis) have any idea the clauses are there.


The problem is that the market for D&O insurance for banking institutions is in turmoil now due to the number of failed and troubled banks. For banks that are struggling, it may be challenging in the current environment to obtain a policy without a cancellation clause. Or, if they can a policy without a cancellation clause, the coverage afforded may otherwise be restricted (as for example, by the inclusion of a regulatory exclusion or the absence of past acts coverage).


Healthy financial institutions in many instances can still get coverage on a relatively attractive basis. Healthier banks should not have to accept a policy with a cancellation clause. However, even the healthy banks can only avoid the cancellation clause and other undesirable policy features if their advisor is well-informed and knows what to look and ask for.


One added note is that even some bank D&O policies that do not have cancellation clauses have other undesirable features that are almost as bad. For example, the policy form of at least one D&O insurer that is active with community banks does not allow the policyholder the option of purchasing extended reporting period coverage, even in the event of nonrenewal, which could have a similarly negative impact on a bank whose D&O insurance is not renewed. Again the presence or absence of an extended reporting period option is a term that the bank’s D&O insurance advisor will, if well-informed and knowledgeable, be looking for.


For the banks whose D&O insurers hit them with a notice of cancellation, the only recourse may be for the banks to provide their insurers with a "laundry list" notice of circumstances that may give rise to a claim – always a challenging proposition because of the uncertainty of knowing what claims may arise later. But the laundry list may be the only chance the bank has to lock in coverage before it is unilaterally taken away.


All of this underscores the critical importance for banks and for all insurance buyers of involving a knowledgeable and experience advisor in the acquisition of D&O insurance. Without informed advice, policyholders can be left with inadequate insurance protection when problems arise.