NU Online News Service, June 17, 7:15 p.m. – Pivot/Info-One, Campbell, Calif., is going head to head with AnnuityNet Inc., Leesburg, Va., in the annuity transaction-processing market.

Pivot, a unit of Wachovia Corp., Charlotte, N.C., has released the VARDS Trading system, a new annuity order-entry platform designed to work with VARDS Online, Pivot’s annuity research, analysis and hypothetical performance illustration system.

Pivot promotes VARDS Trading as a system that can cut costs by processing annuity business, eliminating exception processing, and performing suitability and compliance checks for broker/dealers. VARDS Trading is “the first Web-based platform providing comprehensive order-entry services for fixed and variable annuity products,” Pivot says.

AnnuityNet, which describes itself as the first company “to engineer paperless annuities on the Web,” is going after insurers and brokers with a system that performs many of the same functions.

David Shapiro, Pivot’s chief executive, concedes that there is “a 95% overlap” between the two companies’ annuity-transaction platforms, but he emphasizes the value of having a system that combines back-end processing with front-end analysis and illustration tools.

An end-to-end system can “increase sales and reduce sales-related processing and service costs,” Shapiro says. “AnnuityNet, on the other hand, offers only the back-end order processing component.”

Steve Dunlap, AnnuityNet’s chief marketing officer, says the biggest difference between the two platforms “comes down to where we are in process of actually building and delivering this technology. At the end of day, both platforms allow brokers to enter a transaction. Ours will also allow them to check balances and process post-sale transactions, such as subaccount transfers.”

Pivot has said it will add these capabilities, “but we know it’s not built,” Dunlap says.

Dunlap also questions the value of offering an end-to-end solution.

Pivot has “interesting illustration and marketing capabilities, and they are focusing on them,” Dunlap says. “We are not a marketing shop. The bottom line is the industrial strength and scalability of what we’re building. Our technology expertise and scalability is the primary difference. Is it real or is it Memorex? All the 800-pound gorillas have come with AnnuityNet.”

Pivot disagrees with the argument that AnnuityNet serves all the 800-pound gorillas.

Insurers that are integrating their annuity products into the VARDS Trading platform represent “more than one-half of the variable annuity product sales in the independent broker/dealer market last year,” Pivot says.

Even Dunlap acknowledges that AnnuityNet is a real competitor.

“Carriers accept that it’s a two-player game,” Dunlap says. “The only two credible players in the market” are Pivot and AnnuityNet.

The competition could eventually drive down costs.

Dunlap says AnnuityNet charges $10 per distributor transaction, and $15 per insurer transaction, with fees varying on a scale based on volume. Setup fees, he adds, are “in the tens of thousands.”

At Pivot, transaction fees for the VARDS Trading system are $12 to $13 per new business transaction when the fees are paid by the insurers, according to Shapiro.

Insurers also pay Pivot a one-time license fee of $25,000 and a fee for each product loaded onto the platform.

Product load costs run from $2,000 for product variations up to $10,000 for fully unbundled products, and the VARDS Trading costs do not include costs for VARDS Online, Shapiro says.