We Are Like Switzerland.
They are also Ringler reps Brian Farrell and Dennis Alonso.

And while they may not go around the world, they do go across the country aiming to be neutral third parties offering an advantageous way for all sides to make the most out of settlement proceeds. One of their stops is also Magna events, where they have been hooked since their first conference on the unparalleled networking and advertising opportunities Magna offers for their business.

Farrell is from Albany, New York and lives in Connecticut. Growing up, he wanted to be a professional basketball player but that was a tough sell for a 5’8” Irish kid. Farrell is third-generation insurance: His father and grandmother worked for Aetna, but he didn’t necessarily want to go into insurance. Still, he went into it out of college because he could get a job doing it. One of the reasons he has stayed with insurance is because of the structured settlements.

“We get to help injured people,” he says. “It’s a nice thing and keeps you engaged in the business.”

What distinguishes Ringler from other settlement companies is that it has “a true name brand” known throughout the industry.

“We have always been the largest settlement company in the industry,” he adds.

Some of the Ringler people work more out of their own regional backyard but Farrell has done a mediation in every single state in the United States

“I’m all over the map all year long,” he says. “You go wherever the cases are and we are needed. And we are all independent business owners, so it has an entrepreneurial competition but also friendship within the company itself.”

Alonso was born in Queens and lives on Long Island. He didn’t really want to be anything when he was growing up. He just wanted to do something he woke up and enjoyed. His father was a math professor at the University of Havana who came to America and ended up working for CitiBank. Alonso toyed with being an attorney.

He has 18 years of claims experience including 12 at the AIG excess group traveling country and pricing, investigating and settling seven to eight figure losses across multiple jurisdictions. He also became familiar with structured settlements and how a broker could impact a negotiation. He feels he is making that impact, and it has kept him going.

“When you are speaking to the needs of the injured party, it is compelling to the defense side because otherwise it is just trading cash. It is not a true negation of what people want: financial security, peace of mind,” he says. “You are never going to get your arm back. But we can make it right for you.”

How did you break into the structured settlement business?

Farrell: I first got cases from people I had worked with on the claims side and then built up relationships with other attorneys I had come to work with over the years.

We get business from all sides: plaintiff attorneys, defense counsel, mediators, judges, claims adjusters. We are like Switzerland. 

Alonso: I developed a reputation as a claims adjuster and to this day, he says half-jokingly, “I’m surprised people remember me. But it’s a big business within a very small community.”

My clients are claims people. I know what they are dealing with and what stresses they have. But I am also driven to see how I can help the plaintiff and give them a compelling reason to settle.

What is the advantage of a structured settlement vs going to trial or mediation or arbitration?

Farrell: It has a guaranteed rate of return and it’s tax free. If you take a lump sum and invest it, you pay taxes on any return. And in this high interest rate environment, the rates of return from a structured settlement are the best in 30 years.

Alonso: It’s my personal belief that when you have someone who has not had to manage a lot of money in their life and then you suddenly give them a lot of money, many of them lose their money. These are not sophisticated financial planners. But we take the mystery out of it.

What is the most difficult part of your job?

Farrell: Not being able to get time to explain what we can do to the injured person. Sometimes it’s tough after a long mediation and you are trying to get to them after the fact and a lot of times minds are usually made up or the plaintiff may just be too exhausted after a long day.

Sometimes people want to invest in the market. You can make more money. You can also lose as well. But some people have more of a risk appetite.

During COVID, people did not want to do structured settlements because there was a relatively low 1.5% rate of return, and the lack of taxes did not make up for that.

But I also tell people to use the structured settlement as the conservative part of your portfolio. You need some liquidity, and I would never tell someone to put 100% into a structured settlement but you can use part of your settlement money for guaranteed tax free payments.

Alonso: Time management is tricky. You can have 10 emergency items. Like, someone is in mediation, and they need an immediate structure quote, or a plaintiff attorney is on the other line, and they also want a quote. You need to prioritize each case. Although those are good problems.

Things are also changing: There is a claim industry in flux. The tort environment is volatile, and settlements are big. I am wondering, “Do you have the right defense lawyer?” Or people are asking me, considering my claims experience, “Do you have anyone in Knoxville?”

If I can tone things down, that is a win for everyone. You need to stay engaged with people and what they are dealing with and the challenges the clients are facing. You can be a sounding board. Give advice.

Do most of the people at Ringler come from insurance backgrounds?

Farrell: Yes. We have some attorneys. Some who are financial advisors. You get a broad scope of prior backgrounds. But at heart, a structured settlement is an insurance product.

Alonso: Much like Brian, I get connected with a lot of people in the insurance industry and I field a lot of questions because I lived that job as claims adjuster.

What is the most common complaint about structured settlements from plaintiff attorneys?

Farrell: They are always looking for a better rate of return. Sometimes they can say they can get more out there but often I get calls six months later saying they are interested in a structured settlement. By then it’s too late because you have to sign onto the structured settlement at the time of settlement.

I think plaintiffs find themselves in situations similar to lottery winners: most of us are not sophisticated enough to handle large sums of money and we are trying to help them for the future.

A structured settlement is not an investment vehicle; as I mentioned, you might get more off an investment portfolio. But you’re not necessarily living off of that.

Alonso: When you get to a structured settlement, you already have the buy-in at that point. But you have the negotiating process before that: The defense keeps sending in offers. The plaintiff wants a jury to weigh in.

It finally settles and you can’t always be sure what impact your proposals had. But early on, I’ve had plaintiff lawyers say a structured settlement does not belong in negotiations and they do not want to see a structured settlement plan. I say, “How do you know you don’t want to see it if you don’t know what it looks like?”

I also think a structured settlement offer brings added value when it is an option to be considered early on.

But plaintiff lawyers are single minded at times in their negotiation. They do not want their clients reading things that make more sense to them. We understand monthly bills. The plaintiff understands monthly bills. And a structured settlement can help with those bills.

What is the most common complaint from the insurers?

Farrell: The release language is a lot more detailed with a structured settlement and sometimes they are not versed in language about tax rate, flow of income, etc. Dealing with these releases is more labor intensive and something different.

Alonso: Brian and I feel like we are aligned with the defense side, but trial lawyers on the defense side can be transactional. They are all or nothing. A structured settlement is a very nuanced thing and for them to engage in; it is almost too much in the weeds. And for some attorneys, if they don’t know too much about it, I gotta say, it hurts their ego.

But the defense bar can learn more about it by just calling us. And in the end, a lot of times, I hear, “Thank you for being there.”

Structured settlements help the insurance company because they benefit the plaintiff by fulfilling their needs. Of course, you can’t quantify that, especially when you have a data-driven world and people say, “Show me the numbers.”

But even if the structured settlement is 1% of the process, it is gratifying if you can help settle it.

I should also say that some of my clients are plaintiff attorneys I have met through working with the defense.

What is the most common complaint from the plaintiffs themselves?

Farrell: We don’t get that really because unless you are in a situation of being a minor or have something such as a brain injury, entering into a structured settlement is completely voluntary. 

Alonso: The plaintiff, at least early on, will ask, “Who has the money? Who is giving me these monthly checks?”

It’s actually a question we like because then we get to brag about the most highly rated financial institutions and regulated companies that will be writing the checks and that is why we can offer this money as guaranteed.  

People will say they can make more in the stock market. That is true. You could make more. You could also make less. My favorite MBA course was finance, where I learned that the stock market only promises you good times. But there are no guarantees within the stock market. The structured settlement, however, is a guaranteed payout.

We think the product is aligned with what the plaintiff is seeking. You do not want to chase 15% because you could lose 30%. And our product is a guaranteed payout.

What do the various sides like about the structured settlements?

Farrell: Plaintiffs themselves will say, “You’re protecting me from myself. If I had all this money, I know that I would be burning through it.”

They like the peace of mind that they are going to be able to take care of their family.

The lawyers themselves will say the same thing because the clients cannot always be trusted with large sums of money: there are lots of good lawyers who care about their folks.

Alonso: The plaintiffs can resolve rather than litigate because they now have a product that can take care of them and that they can understand.

The plaintiff attorneys like structured settlement because all too often their clients make bad financial decisions and all the work they put into the case feels like a loss to them. A structured settlement can protect someone from themselves.

Insurance defense attorneys like it because they can illustrate how $1m could turn into a much larger guaranteed payout over time with a structured settlement proposal. So that $1 million has a much bigger value than just the typical cash offers.

In fact, defense lawyers will sometimes ask me, “Can you get me a deal like that?”

And I say, well, you need to get hit by a bus first.