Guarantees dominate variable annuities amid sharp sales decline

Almost all variable annuities offered include some form of Guaranteed Living Benefit (GLB) according to a survey by Milliman released Tuesday.

The firm's new survey of leading carriers shows the number of variable annuities offering GLBs jumped from 87 percent of total VA sales in 2004 to 96 percent in 2008. Policyholders are also increasingly choosing GLBs with an election rate of 52 percent in 2004 climbing to 62 percent in 2007. That figure increased to 69 percent within only the first half of 2008.

NAVA - the Association for Insured Retirement Solutions - reports combined net assets of variable annuities plummeted almost 25 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 relative to the same quarter a year before; total sales decreased 30.3 percent.

The year ahead will present unprecedented challenges, says NAVA's President and CEO Cathy Weatherford.

"Our industry is facing many challenges not unlike other industries that are being touched by today's global financial crisis," Weatherford said. "We understand that consumers are wisely taking their time to review and assess their investment options."

Interest in variable annuity will rebound, however, according to NAVA, which cites a recent study by Ernst & Young that shows nearly three in five new middle-class retirees can expect to outlive their financial assets, if they try to maintain their pre-retirement living standard.

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