On March 31, in an enforcement action with potential implications for a range of financial service providers, the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) announced that an insurance holding company agreed to pay a $50 million civil fine to resolve allegations that two of its subsidiaries conducted unlicensed insurance business in the state, and that one of the subsidiaries made false representations about those activities. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office (DA) announced that the company agreed to resolve a parallel criminal investigation by entering into a deferred prosecution agreement and disgorging $10 million in profits.

The DFS and the DA claim that their coordinated investigations revealed that the subsidiaries used New York-based sales representatives to solicit insurance business for the companies and their affiliates, and to directly sell insurance products in New York to multinational companies, notwithstanding representations to the contrary from the companies. However, the authorities allege, neither company was licensed to conduct business in the state, and both companies used sales representatives who were not licensed as insurance brokers or agents in New York.

In addition, the DFS and the DA assert that one of the subsidiaries, while operating under the control of a different parent company, intentionally misrepresented to the New York State Insurance Department (one of the DFS’s predecessor agencies) that the subsidiary did not solicit business in New York and that its New York staff did not engage in such activities. At the time, in seeking an opinion as to whether it was required to obtain a license, the company asserted that its New York operations were limited to “back office” operations not subject to licensing requirements.

The civil fine in this action is substantially larger than fines typically imposed with regard to state licensing violations in other financial services industries. Notably, the large fine was imposed even after the companies agreed to cooperate in an ongoing investigation of the two subsidiaries’ former parent company. Also significant, the disgorgement order equates to two years’ worth of profits earned in connection with the alleged unlicensed activity. The holding company also agreed to certain restrictions on its business and that of the two subsidiaries pending full compliance with state law.

The DFS is the principal financial industry regulator in the state of New York, with jurisdiction over banks; mortgage lenders, brokers and servicers; consumer lenders; money transfer businesses; insurance companies; and others.