SACRAMENTO, CA, Nov. 29, 2016 — The California Department of Insurance yesterday announced the enforcement action taken against Zenefits for multiple license violations has resulted in a $7 million penalty.
Zenefits was charged with allowing unlicensed employees to transact insurance and circumventing insurance agent education requirements. This is the largest penalty assessed by any commissioner against Zenefits and one of the largest penalties for licensing violations ever assessed in the department's history.
A 2013 start-up, Zenefits is a San Francisco based company whose business model was to provide online HR services to businesses and then encourage those same businesses to use Zenefits as an insurance broker.
“Businesses and consumers should have confidence that anyone selling insurance to them in California is doing so in compliance with our consumer protection laws,” said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. “Our enforcement action has resulted in Zenefits paying substantial monetary penalties for their licensing violations and ensures Zenefits complies with all of California’s insurance laws and regulations or they will face additional automatic penalties and sanctions.”
The California Department of Insurance launched an investigation in 2015, after receiving complaints that Zenefits employees were transacting insurance without a license. Shortly after the investigation into Zenefits’ business practices and compliance began, the company announced publicly that they were not complying with insurance laws and regulations, which was followed by the resignation of Zenefits’ CEO, Parker Conrad.
“In California, we value innovation and new business models, including Internet based start-ups, but we also insist that consumer protections laws are followed,” said Jones. “Zenefits is an example of an Internet based start-up whose former leaders created a culture where important consumer protection laws were broken—a bad strategy that placed the company at risk and that other start-ups should not follow given our strong consumer protection laws and the Department of Insurance's rigorous enforcement of those laws.”
The settlement agreement obtained by the insurance commissioner includes a $3 million penalty for licensing violations, including allowing unlicensed employees to transact insurance, a $4 million penalty for subverting the pre-licensing education and study-hour requirements for agent and broker licensing, and a $160,000 payment to reimburse the Department of Insurance for investigation and examination expenses.
In recognition of the self-reporting and remedial actions already implemented by the company, including the replacement of the former CEO, retraining of all licensed producers, and implementation of an automated process to verify that only licensed individuals solicit and sell insurance products, the settlement provides that half of the total $7 million in monetary penalties are suspended. The suspended portion of the monetary penalty will be reinstated if Zenefits fails to confirm continued compliance with licensing and regulatory mandates based on an examination of the company’s business practices to be conducted in 2018.
Download the Stipulation and Waiver Signed by Commissioner Jones
Download the Stipulation and Waiver Signed by Zenefits
Download the Order to Show Cause and Notice of Monetary Penalty