Saturday, May 31, 2008


Last week, I received a notice from a life insurance company. I’ve had a small policy with them since I was 18, purchased by my mother.

“Dear Policyholder,” it said, “we are pleased to share some new information concerning our company. [Our company] has been redomesticated from Illinois to Iowa.” It also advised me that an Endorsement was also enclosed detailing this “new” information. (Actually, the endorsement was on the back of the letter and the information was effective September 27 of last year, so calling it “new” is already a problem for me.)

Now what did that mean, I wondered? It sounded like a dog that had been a house pet and then had gone wild for a time and now was being “redomesticated” as a pet. No wonder they sent additional paper along with the notice – domesticating can be a messy business.

It turns out the company had moved its principal office from Chicago to Iowa, presumably to take advantage of some corporate tax or rate structure not available in Illinois. They hastened to add that their facility in Chicago would remain; it would now be the “Executive Office.”

Wouldn’t it have been simpler – and more understandable to the average consumer – to say, “We’ve moved our principal office to Iowa?” Or we’ve relocated? It almost sounds like they’re ashamed of the move. I’ve never been to Iowa, but from all I’ve read, it’s a nice place with lots of good, honest people. No need to hide anything.

Corporations move headquarters and other units like credit card and payment processing offices all the time, whenever less operating expenses resulting from lower labor, energy or tax costs can benefit their bottom line. Sometimes it was done to skirt existing regulations in seeking new markets. In Pennsylvania in the 1970s, the state had a law that said a bank could only open new offices in counties that were immediately adjacent to the county that contained its headquarters. Banks played musical offices in a valiant attempt to place their ”headquarters” – usually just a post office box or one-room office – where they could border the counties with the highest growth rates. But I don’t think they called it “redomesticating.” Those were simpler times, you know.

Recalling one of the biggest moves of that era, Citibank decided to relocate its credit card operation from New York to South Dakota – to take advantage of that state’s favorable interest rate laws. Can you imagine the head of the credit card operation being called into the CEO’s office and being told, “Congratulations, you’re getting new offices. They’re in South Dakota.” Now that’s redomestication!

P.S. My know-it-all spell checker in Microsoft Word 2003 has never heard of “redomesticated” or any of its allied forms. Maybe I should have written this entry on my other computer that has Word 2007. Then again…


G's Cottage said...

Ha! I wonder if "redomestication" will show up in some future version of Zinsser?

Rod Carveth said...

I think it is more likely to wind up in an addendum to a new edition of Orwell's 1984.

Anonymous said...

Hey, what a great comment...imagine... I just received the same letter (guess from the same insurance company)...scratched my head and wondered what the "redomesticated"...must be some weird bureaucratic terminology, started to look in the dictionary..nothing...googled it...and found your opinion! I am a translator, so immediately thought...what do they mean by "redomesticated"...who wrote that??