A third of financial advisers surveyed in February believe that insurers do not understand the risks posed by their own guaranteed-minimum variable annuities and many are worried about it, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The poll of Merrill Lynch advisers was conducted at what is now Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch, a unit of Bank of America Corp. As the Journal notes, the poll comes amid ratings downgrades for some of the largest life-insurance companies, who for the past five years have become increasingly generous in their guarantees, some promising annual increases of 7% or more.

Last year, Merrill brokers sold $5.9 billion worth of variable annuities from different insurers, a decline of 23% compared to 2007. Industrywide, variable-annuity sales slumped 15% in 2008 and 30% in the last three months of the year, according to Limra International.

According to the survey authors, “demand has not held up nearly as well as we have expected it would during a bear market” possibly due to the health of the life-insurance industry.