I’m really looking forward to the third Life Settlement Roundtable that this magazine is sponsoring on October 11. And not just because this one is being held at the Atlantis in the Bahamas!
You may recall the two earlier roundtables we sponsored-the first on Oct. 4, 2006 and the second on March 23 of this year. They were the centerpieces of two supplements to National Underwriter Life & Health that focused on this fascinating business.
I know there is still a large contingent of industry people out there that will find the word ‘fascinating’ inappropriate and would prefer to refer to the life settlement business in terms far more negative and corrosive.
But journalists often see things differently than industry people and the rise of the life settlement business has all the earmarks of a good journalistic tale of how a spunky little upstart brazenly comes into a relatively staid business and shakes some basic assumptions to their core.
Settlements have created controversy ever since they first started to be marketed and, let’s face it, controversy is a lot more interesting than routine.
There’s always been a bit of the old Wild West about the settlement business. “We’re gonna shake this town up, partner.” With that attitude plus the implicit challenge to the status quo of the product itself, life settlement believers didn’t have to do too much more to create a phalanx of enemies.
There were the enemies in the life insurance business, of course; and then there was the arch-enemy on the regulatory front who just recently resigned his post in the Peace Garden State.
But what terrific copy as the charges, countercharges and scurrilities went back and forth. It turns out that this scrappy little bunch of entrepreneurs was able to give as good as it got.
The fact of the matter at the present time, folks, is that life settlements are here to stay. The business has an association that represents it well. It is pushing for more disclosure and transparency, thereby undercutting arguments that it wants neither.
Additionally, it is thriving because its fundamental proposition of seeing life insurance as a marketable asset is something that resonates with consumers and which, in truth, the life insurance business, for all its efforts, has not been able to answer with any kind of compelling argument that would put a fatal hole in that proposition.
I think this is starting to sink in and that the next phase in this battle will be not of life insurers seeking to crush life settlements but to co-opt them. Already, one major life insurer has announced that it will be entering the business. You can also expect to see life companies start to roll out new features in products that will make it more attractive for policy owners to keep their policies than sell them.
Additionally, you can anticipate other changes as more institutional players enter the life settlement business.
The roundtable I referred to up top (in the Bahamas) is going to explore the thoughts of top life settlement executives about the changes coming down the pike in the next few years and how they expect it to transform their business. You’ll be able to read their comments in a supplement coming out early in November.
While we may be just about over the Wild West phase of the business, the changes ahead may prove to be even more meaningful in the long-term picture.
It should make for quite an interesting conversation (in paradise).