There could be a lot less noise after June in the Vermont Captive Insurance Division. Maybe.
"I'll have to develop my yelling voice," David Provost says, jokingly.
Provost is pretty sure he's on the opposite end of the extrovert-introvert scale than the man he will be replacing in June, Len Crouse. And a lot could be fussed over about the comparison between the soon-to-be deputy commissioner Provost and the soon-to-be-legendary Crouse. But Provost has already gotten good at squelching any and all talk about the contrasts.
"People have said, 'You're going to be Len's replacement,' " he says. "I am not replacing Len, I'm succeeding Len."
"He's impossible to replace," adds Provost (who pronounces his French name in the English style, with the "t").
With that answer to the "big shoes to fill" talk, Provost also sums up a whole lot about his plan going forward with the No. 1 U.S. domicile. He intends to continue what's worked in the Green Mountain state for the last 27 years.
"I'm just going to keep on doing what Vermont's been doing," he says. "Fair and firm regulation, open to new ideas, responsible regulation."
Provost has that advantage going into his new post at the Vermont Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities & Health Care Administration: the domicile's track record of success and its enabling and oft-copied legislation.
If and when Provost does start making changes to the way things are done in Burlington, they will be "subtle," he says.
"It's going to be a while before it looks like it's Dave's Vermont instead of Len's Vermont, or Dave's department," he says.
Yet it will be Provost's Vermont when Crouse steps down on June 1. If he sounds understated here, it's important to understand that, when Risk & Insurance® spoke with Provost on March 6 at the Captive Insurance Companies Association annual meeting, he had spent only one day in the office since the announcement, which was made official on March 3.
After Crouse announced his retirement in mid-January, it could have been easy to imagine a drawn-out selection process for such an important position.
After all, Crouse has been Vermont deputy commissioner of captive insurance for 18 years, with more than 30 total years in captive regulation.
Vermont became the cream of U.S. domiciles under Crouse's watch, and Crouse became a powerful leader in the industry overall.
So the reality of what Provost will be taking on still had to be on his mind a mere few days after he learned of it.
Just take Provost's initial reaction to finding out about the big news.
"It was like, 'Uh oh, what did I do now?' It really was. It was, 'Oh my goodness,' " he recalls, laughing.
Then he had been reminded of the old Roy Scheider movie (or not so old, for some of you), All That Jazz, when Scheider's character, the entertainer extraordinaire Joe Gideon, wakes up every morning, stares in the mirror, and tells himself, "It's show time, folks."
At his first post-announcement public appearance--at that CICA International Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz.--Provost was reminded of this every step he took. The trade press, including yours truly, lined up to record and rewrite his every word. And an attendees' list of captive owners, managers, bankers, regulators and brokers wanted to meet him.
"It's hard to walk down the hall in a straight line anymore," he says, with a warm smile that gives you the sense he really is letting you in on some of his thoughts about this whole center-of-attention thing.
"A lot of the people coming up to me are people who I already know. Before, we could just wave and pass on by, but now they've got somebody they want me to meet. They want me to meet their clients, and captive owners, and prospects and everybody. It's nice. It's great," he says.
His answers about his initial reactions, about his early designs for the Captive Insurance Division, reveal a lot about Provost. As even he'll tell you, he plans to be a "quiet" leader, one who will grow comfortable with his new big shoes, one who will lead by example. But don't take it wrong: He is ready to lead now (though he has to wait until June 1).
"I'm not going to just leave everything alone and stay the course, but I'm not going to jump in and be hammer-handed, and threaten managers, and threaten captives--'you got to do it this way or that way.' It'll be very subtle and gradual changes," he says.
"We're looking at those things: what can we do to keep our processes streamlined and efficient so our costs are as competitive as they can be."
EVERY PIECE OF A PROGRAM
Another Provost quality comes across besides his honesty and modesty: his confidence.
"I've got something to keep going," he says--not something to prove.
He knows he can step up for his "show time." A lot of it comes from the simple fact that despite his clean-cut, clean-living, clean-shaven appearance, the 51-year-old is no fresh face in Vermont or in the captive industry.
Inside the standard-issue, captive-conference navy blazer beats the heart of a proud Vermonter, born and raised in Burlington. Behind the rimless glasses is the mind of a long-time industry veteran.
Provost has been in the insurance industry for the last 18 years or so, following a path that exposed him to every aspect of the insurance process.
Like many people in the business, Provost lucked into it ("lucked" might be the verb used by only some of those in insurance). Originally, as an undergraduate at the University of Vermont, he considered venturing next into culinary school. Provost had worked as a line chef and as a manager at fast-food chains as a youth.
But he weighed his affinity for the kitchen versus the reality of the job market and the demands of the hospitality industry, and instead went into data processing and programming.
"I figured I had to learn how to use a computer someday," he kids. He still makes a mean maple cheesecake.
While programming, a lot of his work was for accounting. Provost was attracted by the seemingly unending demand for accounting professionals, and found he had a knack for it. So he moved on. He rose to become central settlement and electronic banking manager at Chittenden Bank.
There, Provost got his first real dose of insurance, and a heady dose at that. In five years at his first "suit-and-tie job," as he puts it, he got to "dig into every bit of the process."
"That just got you into every piece of the insurance program. You had to account for every transaction, so you had to at least understand every transaction," he says.
It wasn't long before he had the chance to build on this solid foundation. One day in the mid-80s, a few college buddies offered to take him out to lunch, and the topic of discussion became insurance, brokering and captives.
They offered a job in the business and Provost jumped, joining Johnson & Higgins, where he became an account manager for risk retention groups and single-parent captives.
"I learned a whole lot about insurance working with the risk retention groups, and a little bit about politics, and a lot about dumps," he says.
Dumps as in solid-waste handling: sanitary landfills. Some of J&H's clients were in the "dump" business. Obviously enough to stick with Provost through perpetuity.
After about five more years, Provost would move on to greater opportunities with Sedgwick and then AIG, where he took on more and more sales and formation work (and the increased travel that came along with it).
EXAMINER'S FINAL TEST
Provost will tell you he's been "restless" in his career path. After more than five years at AIG, he had the feeling he'd done close to all he could in the captive industry other than become head of an office, which he thought would be more of the same anyway.
So in 2001, he set his sights for ... Montpelier. Working for the Vermont government gave him the opportunity to do something different, yet allowed him to apply his experiences in the same captive industry he loved.
He started out in the Office That Len Crouse Built as an examiner 3, moving up to examiner in charge, and then to his current position as assistant chief examiner. The gig seems to have been a perfect fit.
"It was a blast. Once a week, you're looking at a different company," he says.
Provost sits up with pride about an examination process that really sets the domicile apart from its competitors. After all, many other domiciles come calling to Vermont to copy their exam program, if that were possible.
But what gets him excited most--and what could finally satisfy his restless and ambitious spirit--is his new job. He foresees himself settling in quite nicely for the next 10 to 15 years as deputy commissioner (14 years to make it to age 66 and a neat retirement).
But not to get ahead of ourselves, Vermont is taking a big step this June too. The domicile has only had two such regulators in 27 years. What it's getting in Provost is an industry veteran with broad experience, one with an even-handed and patient temperament, and one who could surely take the helm of what is a top-notch and deep staff with more designations than people (The office operates with a couple of dozen professionals.)
Provost brings the confidence to say, "We can always improve," for a domicile that is already No. 1. But he also brings stability.
"I think what's great about Dave is that he represents a huge amount of continuity," says Dan Towle, the state's director of financial services.
"He's been in the department, he knows the players, he knows the industry, he's worked on both sides of the industry--he's been on the private side, he's been on the public side--and I think that's comforting to a lot of people."
MATTHEW BRODSKY is senior editor/Web editor of Risk & Insurance®.
April 15, 2008
Copyright 2008© LRP Publications