On July 3, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) announced that Catherine Weatherford, long-time executive vice president and CEO, would be leaving her post after the 2008 Fall National meeting. Weatherford was the longest-serving executive VP in NAIC's history--having held the position for 12 years--and at the time of the announcement, Weatherford was quoted as saying that she would be pursuing "another professional career."
That career has turned out to be president and CEO of the National Association for Insured Retirement Solutions, formerly known as the National Association for Variable Annuities (and still using the acronym NAVA), where Weatherford assumed her new duties on September 3. A former insurance commissioner for the state of Oklahoma, where she oversaw the Oklahoma Insurance Department's accreditation process and established a long-term care insurance regulation system, Weatherford subsequently served as regional manager for public affairs at Liberty Mutual Insurance Group before heading to NAIC.
This new position, while a departure from her previous work, offers her the opportunity, she says, to "work . . . much more closely with a lot of the trade associations out there in the retirement planning arena." She'll also be working with broker/dealers, asset managers, and the insurance companies that manufacture and sell variable annuities. It's an easy transition, she says, because "I believe this organization [NAVA] is highly regulated, and highly committed to trust and integrity."
Weatherford sees her hand at NAVA's tiller as guiding it into areas in which it can "create greater financial education for financial professionals, and literacy for investors, so that there's better understanding, transparency, and trust among all people involved in the retirement planning relationship." She adds that she sees NAVA campaigning to "eliminate misperceptions about annuity products and promote sound financial planning for people of all ages." She believes, she adds, that annuities are a "good tool in the toolbox" to provide a lifelong stream of income for all Americans.
Relationships, she feels, will be crucial to much of that work, such as developing long-term productive relationships with NAVA's sister organizations in the insurance, financial planning, and retirement planning industries. She also plans to reach out to rank-and-file NAVA members, as well as to other trade association CEOs and the regulatory community as well, to be sure that everyone is on the same page and is able to work closely toward a "vibrant future."
Reaching out in such a grand manner may be just what proponents of variable annuities are hoping for right now. An April study by the Spectrem Group, sponsored by Ameritas Advisor Services, found that 70% of advisors are uneasy about the wisdom of using annuities for clients. Weatherford may have an uphill battle convincing them otherwise, since overall figures show that VA net assets dropped 6% at the end of the first quarter of 2008, compared to the last quarter of 2007, although they were up over same-quarter holdings in 2007 by 0.5%. In an already shaky investment climate, such a drop in assets is bound to be unsettling.
While NAVA's figures for total VA sales for the first quarter of 2008 were up 1.7% over first-quarter 2007 sales, with an increase of 12.3 percent in net sales over first-quarter 2008 sales, a separate survey on VAs for the first quarter of 2008 by Towers Perrin shows slightly worse figures---that most company gross premium sales for the first quarter of 2008 were down from the last quarter of 2007 by a cumulative drop of 12.5%." Individual company results recorded in the survey range from an increase over 1Q 2007 of a whopping 63% (Fidelity Investments) to a drop of 60% for the same period (Midland National Life).
Marlene Y. Satter, a freelance business writer, can be reached at email@example.com.