This is the fourth in a series of blogs on what advisors don’t know, but should, about variable annuities (VAs).
Guaranteed Lifetime Withdrawal Benefits (GLWB) and work inside of variable annuities. In continuing our discussion, this installment will talk about VAs and how current market conditions impact their benefits.
On paper, VA contracts look like a win-win situation, but the last five years have created a lot of problems for both variable annuity holders and providers. With that in mind there are two areas that need to be taken into consideration.
When VA accounts fall lower than their guaranteed value
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First, there is the situation of many current variable annuity policyholders who find themselves with account values that are much lower than the guaranteed value of their policies. Second, there is the issue of changes in both fees and benefits for those looking to buy a VA as underwriters look to pare back their risk exposure.
Many policies, particularly those sold before 2008, now have an actual account value that is far lower than the guaranteed value. The problem with this situation is that the only way for an investor to access the higher guaranteed level is to begin taking income. While taking income based on the high-water mark is not a problem, having those payments ever keep up with inflation over their retirement years is. As explained earlier in the series, for these investors to ever achieve an increase in the payments they receive, their account values have to grow by huge, and in today’s markets, highly unrealistic amounts. Higher withdrawals based on the high-water mark are going to exhaust these accounts much faster, which, as recently pointed out by Moshe Milevsky, might in fact be a good thing.
To illustrate how this works, let us use an example with a GLWB that has an actual value of $100,000 and a high water mark of $125,000. If returns are 8 percent a year, and fees 3 percent, then the policyholder gets constant nominal income of $6,250, which is equal to 5 percent of the high-water mark.
As the graph above demonstrates, the account value of $100,000 (the investor’s money) drops even faster given the higher withdrawal amount that occurs when the account value and high-water mark start at the same level.