At the 2014 MDRT annual meeting in Toronto, NU Senior Editor Warren S. Hersch secured an interview with Michael Weintraub, president of the Retirement Plan Division of Ascension Benefits & Insurance Solutions, based in Walnut Creek, Calif. The following are excerpts of the interview.
Hersch: Why do you find the MDRT annual meeting valuable to attend? What do you hope to take away from this year’s show?
Weintraub: Our practice doesn’t just sell products. We’re also a third-party administrator or TPA that manages qualified plans for business clients. There’s always something new to learn — at the main platform, afternoon workshops and when networking with advisors who share our practice focus.
There’s a wonderful sharing of ideas at the annual meeting — I think of it as a big fraternity or study group — which we don’t always see at other trade show gatherings. Given the regulatory and legislative changes in recent years, an evergreen topic of conversation is how best to serve clients while remaining in compliance with new government rules.
Hersch: How has the round table evolved in recent years, both in terms of the focus and the composition of the membership?
Weintraub: The meeting has become more of a global convention than a gathering of predominantly U.S. producers. Also, the distribution channel has changed a lot. It’s no longer dominated by producers who only sell life insurance; many of our members also provide investment and financial planning. So we in the profession have to be more agnostic about the products and services we offer.
Hersch: Given the current tax regime, what opportunities do you foresee for incorporating life insurance into employer-sponsored retirement plans?
Weintraub: We haven’t used life insurance in qualified plans. There may be opportunities to do so now that the estate tax has been solidified. Given this year’s $5.3 million estate tax exemption level, you can have life insurance in a plan without worrying about the policy being estate taxable. The tax was previously a concern because it was very difficult to keep the death benefit out of the estate for estate tax purposes.
Hersch: Are income tax rates at an appropriate level, in your view?
Weintraub: Everyone would love to see lower income tax rates. But under the circumstances — I refer to the federal budget deficit and the national debt — we have to expect them to be where they are.
Frankly, the higher the income tax rate, the better it is for the products we sell. But I would love to see lower tax rates for a number of reasons — income taxes in particular — because they really affect the planning I provide business owners.
Hersch: As you know, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Labor are exploring implementing fiduciary standards, the SEC’s for investment advisors and the DOL’s for retirement plan advisors? What concerns do you have about these proposed standards?
Weintraub: Over the years, the regulatory environment has changed dramatically; we now have one staff person who deals only with compliance issues. Yes, we have to stay to abreast of regulatory changes that might impact our practice. But I’m not sure that new rules will protect people any more than the current ones do today.