Balanced open discussion is needed on UL Reserving Regulation
By Mark Konen
Volatile equity markets and lower absolute investment returns have caused consumers to seek out products with varying degrees of certainty and guarantees as part of their overall financial plan. Universal Life with secondary guarantees that provide death protection at a guaranteed price is an example of a product that has been responsive to this consumer trend.
According to recent LIMRA statistics, UL product sales have grown significantly relative to other product segments, with sales up 24% in the first half of 2004. Consumer demand for the secondary guarantee product is behind this growth. The industry should be applauded for its innovative response to a real consumer need.
However, the popularity of secondary guarantee UL products has caught the eye of competitors who do not manufacture the product and selected state regulators who suddenly have questioned the adequacy of reserves related to secondary guarantees as defined by Actuarial Guideline 38 (AXXX), which has been on the books since Jan. 1, 2003. Their activity has been directed toward changing AXXX to increase minimum reserves for UL policies with secondary guarantees. We question the undue haste with which the issue is being pushed.
Jefferson Pilot follows applicable reserve requirements, including AXXX. Our assumptions about future experience are sound, and we have had our internal work confirmed by a respected third-party actuarial firm. We view with incredulity and skepticism the “reverse engineering” arguments of competitors. It is not possible for competitors to know either our product assumptions or the reserves we hold.
A variety of explanations for changing the minimum reserves for UL products with secondary guarantees have been put forward: the intent of AXXX is not being followed; AXXX provides for possible lower reserves than other traditional products; and “a level playing field needs to be enforced.” What is surprisingly absent from the discussion is whether or not manufacturers of the product have established adequate reserves.
Further, the discussion does not include the impact of unnecessarily increasing reserves on the industry and consumers, which would have the effect of raising prices and reducing the availability of a popular and meaningful industry product.