Variable Products: Who Is Bearing The Risk Now?
Like many other people, I have retirement assets invested in the equity markets. Thus, it has been a welcome change recently to see more up days than down days for the major indices.
Consumers have noted this as well. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, net mutual fund flows in May 2003 were negative for money market funds (-$17.8 billion) while other fund types (equity, bond and hybrid) were positive ($24.2 billion). Equity mutual fund net flows were $12.1 billion in May after enjoying $16.1 billion in net flows in April.
Although 2nd quarter statistics outlining interest in variable annuity separate accounts were not available at this writing, early indications suggest there has been a similar resurgence in equity investment in these products. This follows a lengthy period where deposits into fixed annuities and fixed accounts in VAs were in the lead.
Does this mean the giddy bull market days are returning, comparable to the days leading up to the spring of 2000?
Not so fast. A few things have changed, at least in the minds of a few VA players. A quick look around the industry reveals some companies are now missing from the VA market. Some decided that continuing VA sales is no longer in their business plan.
Other players have significantly restructured products, especially in the area of VA guarantees. VA guarantee benefits are not as rich today as they were even last year. Rollup percentages, for instance, are rarely in the 6%-7% range. Those products are being replaced by ones with percentages more like 4%-5%.
Some companies no longer offer certain guarantees, at all. And the guarantees that do remain now cost the consumer more than before (i.e., through increased mortality and expense risk charges).
So, what has happened? For one thing, requirements are forthcoming that will force companies to put up more reserves and capital to support VA guarantees.
Companies are also rethinking their risk exposure, especially in light of the severe equity market declines experienced from the spring of 2000 to the early part of this year.