For retirement planners, two of the most common concerns among clients involve annuities and Social Security. Our partner site LifeHealthPro recently spoke with three top producers about how they handle both topics. Here’s their advice.
Q. Consumers continue to hear and read strong criticism of annuities, often criticism centered on their complexity. How do you combat that criticism in your own retirement planning discussions?
Curtis V. Cloke, CLTC, LUTCF, financial advisor and retirement income expert, trainer and speaker: I often espouse a strategy that follows what I call a “divide and conquer” approach. This involves separating the retirement income a client requires into two sub-categories: (1) an inflation-adjusted income floor and (2) everything else. The inflation-adjusted income floor is the money a client needs to cover expenses in retirement to live the lifestyle he or she wants. The “everything else” category covers assets that are left over to achieve legacy, growth and liquidity goals.
What I find is clients are more willing to allow a higher level of risk for assets that are intended to achieve goals that fall under the “everything else” category more than for those that will fund the income floor. Once they have come to that inevitable conclusion, I begin educating them about annuities.
I talk to them about how an annuity, being an insurance product, is a guaranteed source of income that is not subject to the caprice of the markets, an especially important benefit for those people who do not have pension plans. I explain how mortality credits add an extra source of investment return — Retirement Alpha — over what can be realized from traditional investments of comparable risk. I also explain that certain single premium immediate annuity — SPIA — and deferred income annuity — DIA — contracts come with optional riders that can provide valuable benefits, such as inflation protection. It all has to do with framing the problem and its solution correctly and clearly.
Randy L. Scritchfield, CFP, LUTCF, president of Montgomery Financial Group in Damascus, Md.: Something that will always provide job security for us advisors is the inherent complexity of products. The ability to translate complex products into simple — but still complete and accurate — terms will ensure that such an advisor will flourish. The sayings that we learned early in the business still apply: “People want to know what time it is; they do not want to know how the watch works.”
Of course, our new disclosure requirements and forms facilitate our explaining the products fully to clients, but we must still convey what it does for them, and that is provide a lifetime income.
I also tell clients, “When you were young, you needed life insurance in case you died too soon. Now, as part of retirement planning, an annuity — with living benefits — is what you need to insure against your living too long.” Paul S. Carpenter, CPA, CFP. Carpenter Financial Services: Knowledge is always the foremost way of overcoming ignorance. I educate my clients to better understand the differences between sequence of returns and a simple average rate of return. Nobody can accurately predict the sequence of returns of any given portfolio, other than a fixed account. Negative returns in the early years of the spending phase of a portfolio will sink an income plan beyond the point of recovery. An example goes a long way in helping clients understand this concept. Longevity is also an unknowable variable. An annuity solves this by promising lifetime cash flow of a certain amount, regardless of the sequence of returns experienced. This is a rather simple concept to understand, because it is similar to a defined benefit pension.
Usually, it is not complexity but cost that is a pressure point for an annuity. To me, this is a value proposition; all economics involve costs. When the cost is worth the value, I believe you have a fair trade. Annuities are never the entire solution. In a world where the defined benefit plan has gone the way of the leisure suit, I do not think you can ignore the fact that there is a need for a steady dependable core of predictable cash flow.
The underlying mechanics of an annuity can be complex, but you don’t have to know the physics of an internal combustion engine to safely drive a car, just the rules of the road and how to operate the vehicle. I think the average person can understand the rules of the road on what to expect from a particular annuity. I absolutely believe in full disclosure of costs, surrender tables, and limits to how cash will ultimately be disbursed. A client needs to know how to read the dashboard of their annuity — the quarterly and annual statements. I explain each of the gauges and what reading it shows — cash value, surrender value, benefit base, anniversary date, etc. We provide drivers ed and some refresher courses — periodic account reviews — along the way, so clients can safely navigate their annuity through retirement without crashing.