Advisors have dramatically increased their  recommendations of variable annuities since the 2008 credit crisis, mostly in response to greater client demand for guaranteed income, according to a new survey.

The Insured Retirement Institute and Alliance Bernstein LP published this finding in a survey released today at IRI’s 2012 Marketing Summit, being held in New York City at the New York Hilton, April 1-3.  The study offers insights into how and why financial advisors are using variable annuities as demand for more predictable and steading income increases.

Conducted by market research firm InsightExpress, the survey polled advisors who have either a FINRA Series 6 or FINRA Series 7 and an insurance license. Eight in 10 of the respondents use these products. And nearly a third of these sold more than 10 contracts in the past year.

The survey segments participants into three categories: sellers (sold more than 10 contracts per year); dabblers (sold between 1 and 10 contracts annually); and non-sellers (sold zero contracts).

Nearly half of the dabblers (49%) and 60% of sellers have increased their recommendations for VAs since the credit crisis, the survey finds. And 43% discuss VAs in “every conversation” with clients, viewing the products as integral to a financial plan.

“The fact that fewer people today feel confident that they will be able to meet their financial needs in retirement is driving a robust market for lifetime income solutions,” says IRI President and CEO Cathy Weatherford in a prepared statement. “Our survey found that more and more financial advisors are turning to VAs as a second portfolio solution because they provide guaranteed income and can help clients attain financial security in retirement.”

The survey finds that 73% of dabblers and 79% of sellers say they never want their clients to have a year like 2008 again and therefore will continue to recommend VAs.

The market crisis of 2008, the survey adds, increased the perceived value of VAs among clients and advisors: 50% of respondents say they started recommending VAs more because their clients are demanding “guaranteed investments.” And 57% of respondents say they increased their use of VAS because the designs have become more attractive.”

Top VA sellers, the report notes, have more successful practices and more high net worth clients than advisors who sell less. About 45% of the top sellers charge both fees and commissions. More than 7 in 10 sellers have more than a decade of experience selling VAs, compared with roughly half of non-sellers and dabblers.

The average allocation for new clients, the survey notes, is 29% for VAs, 14% mutual funds, 14% IRAs, 8% life insurance, 6% unified managed accounts/mutual fund wrap accounts and 29% “other.”

About a quarter of sellers have assets under management exceeding $100 million, the survey adds. Nearly a third of sellers have annual revenues (fees plus gross commissions) topping $500,000. And sellers have double the number of high net worth clients (with investable assets between $1 million and $29 million) of dabblers and one third more than non-sellers.

The report also discloses that more than 70% of dabblers and sellers say that a colleague or wholesaler influenced them to begin recommending VAs.