A new development in what is becoming a major market
Can Web auctions do as much to help with sales of life insurance policies as they have with the sale of Star Wars collectibles?
Many in the life settlement industry are skeptical, but James Cavoli hopes to prove them wrong.
Cavoli is chief executive of Life Settlement Insights Inc., Cleveland, a life settlement brokerage firm that is trying to shake up the “secondary market,” or resale market, for in-force life insurance policies by working with a Web technology company and a Web auction company to form LifeX Inc. LifeX runs auctions for life insurance policies on the Web.
LifeX boasted about the sale of one policy through an auction in April, and then it disappeared from the media eye. Some life settlement market participants who were interviewed wondered whether the venture had disappeared.
But Cavoli says LifeX has sold 5 more term life and universal life policies through pilot auctions after the first auction. At press time, he was preparing to open the system to the public.
The pilot program attracted a dozen bidders. At one auction that lasted about half an hour, the policy had a cash value of $26,000, the “reserve,” or minimum price, was $60,000, and the winning bidder ended up buying the policy for $79,000. The participating bidders submitted a total of 19 bids, Cavoli says.
LifeX requires sellers and buyers to submit a large amount of paperwork, and it gives potential bidders 30 days to study the policies on the block. The buyer finances the auction process by paying LifeX a fee that amounts to a few hundredths of a percent of the sum paid to the seller, Cavoli says.
Cavoli is hoping LifeX will attract about 25 bidders once it is open to the public. Brokers are welcome to participate in the auctions, and brokers who sell through the auctions are free to negotiate their own compensation arrangements with clients, Cavoli says.
Although auction sales prices were not necessarily much different from the prices that experienced brokers could have obtained through a conventional sales process, “the [conventional] process for negotiating life settlements is cumbersome,” Cavoli says.
Speeding up and standardizing the process might cut transaction costs enough to push the minimum policy size below the current floor of about $250,000, Cavoli says.
“Below the $250,000 level, the number of policies increases dramatically,” he adds.
The life settlement market already is becoming a major market.
Life settlement funding firms probably bought life insurance policies with a total face value of more than $6 billion in 2004, according to Scope Group, Berlin, a German rating agency. In Germany, where investors in closed-end life settlement funds get tax breaks, life settlement funds attracted about 7 times more money during the first half of 2005 than closed-end funds that invest in energy production.
Although sales volume is increasing, financial advisors interviewed agree with Cavoli that the sales process still can be slow and awkward.
Ellen Fairbanks, a financial planner at MD&A Financial Management Company, Pittsburgh, found this out when she set about selling a 20-year-old $1 million second-to-die universal life insurance policy with premiums that were about to double.
The sales process took about 2.5 months, and the bid that was accepted was $130,000, or more than twice as high as the initial offer of $60,000, Fairbanks says.