DOL ‘relief’ would kill small annuity marketers, groups say

Fiduciary rule battle moves into the Trump era

EBSA posted a collection of 33 IMO exemption proposal comment letters on the web this week. None of the letters comes from a consumer group, a regulator or a retirement saver who works outside the insurance industry. (Photo: Michael A. Scarcella/NLJ) EBSA posted a collection of 33 IMO exemption proposal comment letters on the web this week. None of the letters comes from a consumer group, a regulator or a retirement saver who works outside the insurance industry. (Photo: Michael A. Scarcella/NLJ)

An Obama administration offer to put an air hole for indexed annuity marketing firms in its fiduciary rule is a sham, insurance industry groups argue.

The administration's proposed exemption for independent marketing organizations is so narrow that it would let most suffocate, the groups say in comment letters sent to the Employee Benefits Security Administration.

Charles Anderson, executive director of the Washington-based National Association for Fixed Annuities, says a minimum size requirement included in the proposal would probably shut out most of the 200 or so major IMOs directly affected by the proposal.

"NAFA estimates that the proposed exemption will put hundreds of IMOs out of business, with each employing between five and 35 employees," Anderson writes. "Of course, many of these IMOs are NAFA members, and our association will also be harmed as a result."

Related: DOL posts indexed annuity fiduciary rule exemption draft

EBSA, an arm of the U.S. Department of Labor, posted the IMO exemption proposal Jan. 19, the day before Donald Trump became president.

If EBSA's new fiduciary rule takes effect as written and works as drafters expect, it will require entities that sell financial products to retirement plans or individual retirement savers to show that they have put the purchasers' interests ahead of their own interests.

The IMO exemption proposal posted Jan. 19, for a Best Interest Contract Exemption for Insurance Intermediaries, would carve out room for some IMOs to get paid to distribute indexed annuities and traditional fixed annuities without violating the fiduciary rule.

EBSA has already created a BICE provision for insurers that sell products aimed at retirement savers. IMOs asked EBSA to create a similar exemption designed for them.

The Trump administration's EBSA has proposed pushing the effective date of the fiduciary rule back to June 9, from April 10. The administration could eventually kill or change the fiduciary rule, but it's not yet clear how Trump's DOL will proceed.

EBSA posted a collection of 33 IMO exemption proposal comment letters on the web this week. None of the letters comes from a consumer group, a regulator or a retirement saver who works outside the insurance industry.

IMO groups say the qualification standards in the exemption proposal are unrealistic. (Image: Thinkstock)

IMOs say the qualification standards in the exemption proposal are unrealistic. (Image: Thinkstock)

A $1.5 billion sales minimum

Representatives from many insurance groups, including the American Council of Life Insurers, the Independence Insurance Agents & Brokers of America and the Insured Retirement Institute joined NAFA, the Indexed Annuity Leadership Council and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors in objecting to the proposal.

Authors of the proposal argue that the sale of indexed annuities is prone to abuse. They proposed requiring that an IMO eligible for the exemption should have to average at least $1.5 billion in annual annuity sales over a three-year period, and for an exempted IMO to meet minimum capital standards.

Jim Poolman, executive director of the Washington-based Indexed Annuity Leadership Council, notes in the IALC comment letter that EBSA itself acknowledged in the introduction to the proposed IMO exemption that the proposal would lead to bigger IMOs acquiring smaller IMOs.

EBSA "suggests this outcome would be beneficial and create efficiencies," Poolman writes. "This outcome would certainly not be beneficial to the thousands of individuals employed by those small business IMOs that will be put of business by the proposed exemption."

Michael Tripses, president of CreativeOne Marketing Corp., a Leawood, Kansas-based IMO, argues that meeting another provision in the proposal, the minimum capital proposal, would be impossible, because it would require the creation of a special kind of insurance policy that would serve only about five to eight IMOs.

The fiduciary rule is already leading to the kind of insurer and product line consolidation that is more likely to lead to collusion among insurers than any real benefits for retirement savers, Tripses writes.

Related:

Official DOL fiduciary rule delay expected shortly

Fixed annuity sales hit record $117.4 billion in 2016

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