National Association of Securities Dealers Chairman Robert Glauber says the self-regulatory organization wants to change the way annuities are regulated.
Glauber told attendees at an enforcement conference organized by the North American Securities Administrators Association, Washington, that fixed annuities, variable annuities and equity-indexed annuities are really “3 versions of the same product” and ought to subject to the same marketing rules.
The NASD is working with Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Glenn Wilson to bring the parties involved in annuity regulation together for a summit conference that would look at ways to harmonize the rules, Glauber said, according to a prepared version of his speech.
The goal of the conference should be to level the investor protection playing field among and between fixed annuity, variable annuity and equity-indexed annuity products, Glauber said.
Today, he continued, annuities are particularly troublesome from a regulatory standpoint.
The NASD and state securities regulators have jurisdiction over variable annuities, state insurance regulators normally have jurisdiction over fixed annuities, “and jurisdiction over equity-indexed annuity sales is essentially a jump ball, because it isn’t clear whether they’re securities, insurance products or something in between,” Glauber said.
Consumers have “every right to expect the same degree of protection when they buy what they think is the same product,” Glauber said.
The NASD, the SEC and state securities regulators have worked hard to clean up variable annuity sales practices over the past few years, “but fixed annuity investors generally don’t enjoy this level of protection,” Glauber said. “Unfortunately, when we clean up sales practices in one investment product, sales activity increases in similar products with less investor protection.”
The NASD has urged its 5,200 member firms to treat equity-indexed annuities as securities, even though the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has not determined whether they are, Glauber explained.
He noted that the NASD already handles some cases involving fixed annuities, such as instances of brokers persuading risk-averse retirees to exchange fixed annuities for far more volatile variable annuities.
“And we’re investigating some situations where brokers switched older investors from variable annuities into EIAs with high costs and long surrender periods,” Glauber said.
Jim Poolman, chairman of the life and annuities committee at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Kansas City, Mo., says he was surprised to hear about the NASD summit proposal through an article about a speech, rather than directly from the NASD.
“We’re happy to meet to talk constructively about how we can best protect American consumers,” says Poolman, who is commissioner of the North Dakota Department of Insurance.
Carl Wilkerson, chief counsel for securities and litigation at the American Council of Life Insurers, Washington, says any proposal coming from an NASD official of Glauber’s stature merits careful attention.
The idea of harmonization “is an intriguing concept that we’d be willing to evaluate carefully,” Wilkerson says.
The ACLI began an effort in the fall to communicate more with the NASD, to make sure that each organization understands the views of the other organization, Wilkerson says.
The National Association for Variable Annuities, Reston, Va., already has regular discussions with the NASD and the SEC about issues relating to annuities and annuity sales, according to NAVA CEO Mark Mackey.