Life settlement market enjoying gains, but challenges remain

Investor interest is likely to translate into steady growth in new life settlements, according to a new Conning report. Investor interest is likely to translate into steady growth in new life settlements, according to a new Conning report.

Investors bought $1.7 billion worth of U.S. life insurance policies in 2014, boosting the face value of in-force, resalable life settlements at year-end to $32 billion-plus, according to new research.

Investment management firm Conning unveils this finding in a 2015 report on life settlements and secondary market annuities. Based on an analysis of state life settlement filings and in-force business, the study pegs the average annual gross market potential for life settlements over the next decade at $182 billion (between 2015 and 2024). During the same period, average annual volume of new life settlements will be approximately $1.8 billion per year.

“Life settlements continued to attract investor interest as an alternative asset class in 2014 and into 2015,” the report states. “This attraction reflects the desire for investors to generate above average returns in a prolonged low interest rate environment. Despite this environment, the life settlement industry continues to face a persistent challenge: the inability to re-attract capital to pre-2009 levels.”

A continuing issue, the report adds, is the bad rap the industry suffered in years past in cases involving “stranger-owned life insurance:” policies bought and funded by third-party investors for the purpose of subsequently selling the policies on the secondary market. Often these transactions involved financing arrangements in which loans extended to cover the premiums carried such onerous terms as to make a life settlement a necessity.

Industry organizations, including the Life Insurance Settlement Association (LISA) and the European Life Settlement Association (ELSA), have launched initiatives to counter these “reputational headwinds.” The efforts have yielded some positive results, the report notes, including the establishment of industry standards for recommending structuring life settlements; a clarifying of regulations governing the transactions; and legislation in some states mandating that insurers advise seniors of the option to settle as an alternative to lapsing or surrendering their policies.

The Conning report observes, too, that the industry’s stakeholders — investors, life settlement providers and brokers — are getting better at pricing the transactions. That improvement is based on a savvier understanding of factors determining the value of a policy, including the life expectancy of policy sellers.

Nonetheless, the industry faces “unresolved challenges.” Among them: high-profile lawsuits about overpricing and legal prosecutions alleging investor fraud. To boot, investors bear all the risk (and providers and underwriting partners none of the risk) if a life settlement doesn’t perform as expected.

“In short, the investor is the only one with ‘skin in the game’ when purchasing a policy,” the report argues. “This one-sidedness is recognized, and some life settlement investors and providers are experimenting with ways to better align investor, provider, and underwriter interests.”

The study also flags as a challenge the expansion of investment opportunities in secondary market insurance to alternative vehicles apart from life settlements. Upshot: While the market will continue to grow, it will not reach levels attained before the 2007-2009 recession.

“Looking ahead, investor interest is likely to translate into steady growth in new life settlements,” the report states. “That growth, while steady, is unlikely to reach pre-crisis peaks." 

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