The life settlement industry has seen its share of turmoil in the past few years. But growing pains are part of any new evolving industry. Here are seven reasons why the future of the life settlement industry looks bright.
1. No more “Wild, Wild West”
Forty-two of the 50 states now regulate life settlements, covering more than 90 percent of the United States’ population. This is good for both investors and consumers, who are now able to transact business in a more orderly, regulated marketplace. These laws provide rules and conduct standards for the industry and add significant protection for the participants in a life settlement transaction.
2. The return of investment capital
The financial crisis that began in 2008 landed a one-two punch on the life settlement industry.
First, investment capital dried up globally. For life settlements, this meant almost no money for new investment, and it severely hampered lending for premium payments to existing portfolios.
Second, life settlements are often touted as investments that are not correlated to the stock and bond markets and thus provide diversification to investors. But during the financial crisis, investors became concerned about the solvency and claims-paying ability of the insurers that issued the policies they were buying.
Having come through the crisis, investors have more confidence in life settlements as an alternative investment because it is primarily a mortality play, with little correlation to stocks and bonds. New investment sources, like pension plans, are entering the market. The long-term nature of life settlements and the very favorable returns compared to traditional investments are attracting the attention of pension fund managers. And traditional investing sources, such as banks and hedge funds, are getting back into the game as the improving economy begins to generate more capital for investment again.
3. Higher-quality life expectancy estimates
Another factor that shook up the industry in 2008 was the sudden change in mortality tables used by two of the major life expectancy companies, which increased life expectancies by some 25 to 30 percent. Although the immediate fallout from these changes was the stifling of business, life expectancies that more closely resemble insurance company underwriting can only add to investor confidence over the long term. Additionally, life expectancy companies, now having had many more years of experience in underwriting life expectancies for life settlements, have much more data upon which to base their estimates.
4. The demise of stranger-originated life insurance (STOLI)
Life settlements were intended to bring added value for a policy that was about to be lapsed or surrendered. But by the early 2000s, it became clear that there was a significant difference between the mortality tables that insurers used to price policies and the life expectancy reports that were used by the life settlement industry.
Life expectancies used by life settlement investors were generally considerably shorter than those of the insurance companies. While an insurance company might be pricing their policies to provide a 4 to 5 percent internal rate of return at death, the shorter life expectancies calculated in the life settlement industry could bring compounded yields in excess of 10 percent. As a result of this discrepancy, under certain circumstances, a newly issued policy could have immediate value on the life settlement market. Taking advantage of this difference in underwriting, the phenomenon known as stranger-originated life insurance, or STOLI, came into being.
STOLI was marketed to older insureds and frequently touted as “free insurance” with an upside potential. The general format required the insured (or a trust created by the insured) to own the policy for two years to get beyond contestability provisions and the “wet ink” laws of a number of states, which prohibited the sale of policies within two years of issue except under certain hardship provisions. STOLI became so popular that many producers and insurers confused it with legitimate life settlements, which are transacted on properly originated policies with valid insurable interest at issue.
The beginning of the end for STOLI came in December of 2005, when the New York State Insurance Department released a General Counsel Opinion that STOLI-type arrangements violated insurable interest laws. This ruling had significant impact on the STOLI industry. State legislatures began passing anti-STOLI legislation that would make it easier to enforce insurable interest laws. Insurers — many of whom either ignored, supported, or were oblivious to these transactions — “got religion.” That is, they implemented underwriting procedures intended to detect and prevent STOLI transactions.
Insurers also began to review previously issued policies for STOLI, and, as a result, a number of suits were filed to rescind such policies. In addition to insurable interest violations, many of these policies were thought to contain false statements, particularly with respect to the insureds’ net worth, which was overstated in order to qualify them for larger face amounts of insurance. Investors’ interest in STOLI policies waned as they realized that such policies contained considerable risk because they could be unenforceable and subject to rescission by the insurer.