“What happens if the insurance company goes bankrupt?”
That’s probably not the most common objection to investing in variable annuities (VAs) but it’s a concern for some prospective buyers.
The good news is that historically, insurance companies don’t fail much. Peter Gallanis, president of the National Organization of Life & Health Insurance Guaranty Associations (NOLHGA) in Herndon, Virginia, notes that several insurers failed in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Subsequently it’s been a different story, however. “But, since those companies got into trouble, I don’t think there has been any company of any size or any company that most people even in the business, let alone general consumers, would have heard of that has failed that has written any significant portfolio of annuity business of any sort,” he says.
That doesn’t mean a VA-issuer can’t go bust, of course, but it’s worth understanding the built-in safeguards that protect investors. At the sub-account level, the investor has an interest in the separate account’s portfolio. Amounts allocated to non-guaranteed investments—stocks, bonds, alternatives, etc.—are subject to market risk, of course, and the VA-owner bears the price volatility risk.
If the assets are valued properly and their markets function normally, though, there are tangible financial assets supporting the investor’s units. Amounts held in a VA’s fixed account fund are considered part of the insurer’s general account and are guaranteed by the insurer.
The role of state guaranty funds
Should a VA-issuer encounter financial difficulties, the insurance regulator in the issuer’s home state would work with the company to find another insurer to take over the failing business.
If that effort fails, the state guaranty associations (GA) step in. Its state’s statutes set each GA’s coverage levels, Gallanis says. Most states closely follow the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) model and provide $250,000 or more in annuity coverage.