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NASD Investigates Variable Product Sales Practices

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NU Online News Service, Feb. 19, 2004, 2:54 p.m. EST – NASD Inc., Washington, is investigating allegations involving some agents who represent Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company.[@@]

The allegations have to do with charges that some Northwestern agents may have misled customers into buying variable life insurance policies.

A spokeswoman for the Milwaukee mutual insurer acknowledges the existence of the investigation but insists the company did nothing wrong in any of the cases cited by NASD.

She also says the investigation was part of an industrywide probe of sales practices that NASD began in 1999.

“We were at the end of the train, in a sense,” spokeswoman Deanna Tillisch says.

NASD officials approached the company in April 2001 and asked for a “representative sample” of variable life insurance policy owners, she says. Northwestern supplied about 2,500 names.

Recently, the investigators came back to Northwestern, challenging sales of variable products to 20 of those customers. According to Northwestern’s account, the NASD investigators suggested that some of its agents sold the products inappropriately.

In at least one case, an investor was sold a variable life contract as a retirement savings vehicle, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Tillisch says the NASD investigation of the 20 sales was not a result of customer complaints.

“We went back and looked at [the sales], and we stand by them,” says Tillisch.

Northwestern tells its sales reps to inform customers up front that the primary reason for buying life insurance is the need for a death benefit, Tillisch says.

An NASD spokesman declined to comment on the allegations.

The spokesman did note, however, that NASD, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and some states have acted recently against certain sales practices involving variable products.

Those cases centered on allegations of unsuitable recommendations or inadequate explanations of the complexities of variable insurance products, NASD says.