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Where Are They Going To Put Their Money?

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Due to the volatility in the stock market, the lower interest rate environment, and the falling home values in many parts of the United States, some people might be tempted to stuff whatever liquid money they have into their mattress.

But, hey, a mattress can catch fire, so it’s not the most attractive parking place. Besides, money stashed at home doesn’t grow. Indeed, when today’s falling dollar is factored into the equation, mattress money will actually lose value over time.

So, where are consumers actually thinking of putting their money for safekeeping?

A lot of people today seem to be talking about exactly that. Here are some examples:

One man told me he is thinking of taking money from his bank account to buy stock in a bank that’s lost value due to the subprime crisis. “Might go up,” he said, bypassing the downside risk.

Another person is thinking of going the other direction–pulling money from stocks and putting it into bank certificates of deposit paying 2%. “At least it’s guaranteed,” she said, pooh-poohing the trading and opportunity costs on the stock side and the erosive effect of inflation and taxes on the CD side.

Yet another is considering using available cash plus a mortgage to buy foreclosed homes. “Houses are cheap right now,” he said, ignoring whether he can even get a mortgage and/or a profit.

These and other proposed solutions do not seem well thought out. My take is that many people talk this way just to get feedback. Their not-so-hidden-message is, “I’m afraid of this economy, but don’t know what to do. What do you think?”

I’m no advisor so I always urge them to talk things over with their agent, advisor or rep.

Still, I leave these conversations feeling more than a little unnerved. Many of these people have families, educations, jobs, homes and other assets. Yet where financial security is concerned, they’re a quart short.

Further, they never, but never, broach the idea of moving some money into insurance products that have guarantees. Why is that?

Let’s back-track a bit. In this week’s issue, LIMRA’s Joseph Montminy and Mathew Drinkwater point out that in 2007, for new VAs offering at least one guaranteed living benefit, a GLB was elected in 77% of sales premium. The authors also note that the overall GLB election rate rose from 75% in the 1st quarter of 2007 to 79% in the 4th quarter. (See article on page 12.)

Also in this issue, Beacon Research’s Jeremy Alexander points out immediate annuities have become a small but growing part of the fixed annuity market, accounting for 11.1% of estimated total sales in 2007–up 16.2% from 2006. (See article on page 14.)

So, let’s concede that some consumers are indeed putting money into insurance products that have guarantees.

But in everyday discussions, the insurance option doesn’t have a prayer.

Why not? Insurance products are widely perceived as having too many fees and internal costs, too little liquidity, too much complexity, and too long-term a focus for everyday chatter. In short, they lack sizzle. Does anyone at the water cooler ever ooh-and-ah about a hot new annuity?

This dull-boy, snap-trap image confounds insurance professionals who hear the same discussions I hear (as above). They are keenly aware that stocks, mortgage banks, interest rates and real estate properties are not always the superstars the water cooler buzz seems to suggest. They know that the recent declines in these areas are core to today’s jitters. Yet the talk goes on and on and on.

It behooves the insurance sector–advisors and insurers alike–to start another discussion. In meetings, advertising, promotional campaigns, blogs and more, point out how money that’s running scared could find safe havens in all sorts of guaranteed insurance products. Give examples–traditional fixed annuities, fixed index annuities, immediate annuities, variable deferred annuities with death benefit and living benefit guarantees, long permanent life policies, etc.

Perhaps even cite long term care policies–not as a financial investment but as a policy that helps shore up finances during periods when LTC is needed, enabling invested assets to keep growing.

Okay, insurance products are not a big wow. But beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. Consider: A boomer recently told me that she’s all set for retirement, including LTC. “LTC?” I marveled. Yes, she said–happily, no less. “I bought my LTC policy many years ago and it only costs me $150 a month. So, I can afford it, and I have it if I ever need it.”

If the industry does not present its products in a safe-place light, who will? This woman can reach only so many people.


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