D.J. Bettencourt is the Deputy Commissioner of the New Hampshire Insurance Department. He was nominated by Commissioner Christopher Nicolopoulos and approved by Governor Chris T. Sununu in January 2021. Previously, Deputy Commissioner Bettencourt served as Governor Sununu’s Policy Director for four years, including as the Governor’s liaison to the Insurance Department.
Prior to his work in the Governor’s Office, he served eight years (2004-2012) in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, including two years as Majority Leader. During his legislative service, he was involved with setting policies impacting the insurance industry. Deputy Commissioner Bettencourt earned his J.D. from the University of New Hampshire School of Law, and his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Communications from the University of New Hampshire.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
The concept came from the creation of a first-of-its-kind college course between the New Hampshire Insurance Department and New England College, designed to provide students with the opportunity to learn about the insurance industry.
As part of organizing, designing, and instructing that course, I was entitled to a stipend from the college. However, there was some disagreement among the lawyers in our department and in our Attorney General’s Office about whether or not I could personally accept the money given my status as a state official. Eventually, they all concluded that it could be used for a charitable purpose. Thus, the concept of the scholarship was born.
Our mission at the department is to promote and protect the public good by ensuring the existence of a safe and competitive insurance marketplace, and a significant component of that charge is to ensure that the future workforce in the insurance industry is well trained.
Attracting highly educated individuals into the industry – whether as producers or regulators – is critically important to the health of our markets and the furtherance of our consumer protection efforts.
Therefore, it made sense to me to make this kind of investment to expand on the work already underway to help educate the next generation of insurance professionals.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Part of what I love about my job is that every day is different. There is no monotony in my role at the New Hampshire Insurance Department, which is great because the worst thing for me is being bored.
Every day, I wake up being prepared to juggle multiple issues at once. Most days, I’m up early to review my schedule for the day and get myself mentally prepared. I’m a big believer in communication, so keeping in touch with my team is definitely a consistency in my day.
What’s one trend that excites you?
In my role at the New Hampshire Insurance Department, my focus is squarely on consumer protection. However, part of that is working towards a regulatory environment that promotes competition among insurance companies to keep premiums affordable and preserve broad access to the products that people need.
As part of that, one trend that I am seeing in the industry is a progression towards innovative ways to make usage-based, on-demand and ‘all-in-one’ insurance products more prevalent. As this develops, it could provide opportunities to consumers who prefer personalized insurance instead of the one-size-fits-all model currently available. For example, flexible coverage options, micro insurance and peer-to-peer insurance all have the possibility to become opportunities for consumers.
This kind of innovation is great for consumers and is an exciting challenge for us as regulators to understand how we need to adjust our thinking and consumer protection objectives as these products develop.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Listen to your parents. Stop being a know-it-all because everything they tell you is true. Granted, I’m a bit biased now that I’m a parent.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
For the most part, insurance companies are not bad actors. Companies need to be held accountable when they make bad decisions or mistakes. In some of those instances, discipline is required. However, the vast majority of companies do value their insureds. They also appreciate the need to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse to keep affordable products available on the market to consumers who need them.
Overall, Insurance companies get a bad rap from the public. They have earned some of it, but as a regulator I have a more nuanced view. I see both the good and the bad of the industry. Nevertheless, this isn’t a topic I bring up with my family at Thanksgiving.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
While I’m not an entrepreneur, my biggest advice to those in the business community is to never allow yourself to get bored or complacent. Find a way to keep yourself engaged and advancing your cause.
My best ideas have come as a result of forcing myself to think of something outside of the box to fill my day. My colleagues thought I was a little crazy to create an insurance college course and a podcast for the department, but it was something I devised during a slow Friday afternoon, and it has been a success.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I’m a large consumer of news. Politically, I’m conservative but I don’t believe in just getting my news from likeminded outlets. Living in an echo chamber prevents you from understanding the totality of an issue or the opposing perspective. I’m a loyal reader of National Review, Commentary Magazine and the Wall Street Journal. Those are obviously conservative outlets. However, I also read The Atlantic and listen to NPR which are left or left leaning.
Recently, I came to the realization that these outlets are valuable to me and if I want to keep enjoying their content that I needed to do my part. So, I splurged and got subscriptions or sponsorships to all of them. My days of dodging the paywalls are over. If you value something, you have to invest in it. You can’t expect that someone else is going to do it for you.
That’s the same attitude that motivated the creation of the scholarship. We cannot just hope that by luck or happenstance that the future generation of insurance professionals will be first class and do right by consumers. We have to be proactive and invest in that outcome.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Having a solid website and social media presence is very important. Those platforms are your outward face to the public. As an insurance regulator, public trust is absolutely essential if consumers are going to rely on the information that we are putting forward. Most consumers learn about the department through an internet search, so if our on-line presence is not professional it undermines our credibility to ensure consumers are trusting us to be a credible source of information. I think this principle is equally true for the private sector.
Obviously, the value and utility of one technology over another depends on the sector you are involved with, so do your homework, don’t skimp on value, and make the best decision for your entity.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I can’t promise that your experience will be the same as mine. But I can tell you that, for me, reading Les Miserables was a profound experience.
Victor Hugo uses symbolism, characterization, and archetypes to develop incredibly powerful themes of redemption.
Perhaps the most powerful lines I have ever read in a book are: “Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man. … Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”
What is your favorite quote?
“I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there’s purpose and worth to each and every life.” ~ Ronald Reagan
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.