It’s no secret that persistently low interest rates have had variable annuity carriers scrambling to develop ways to remain competitive — carriers have initiated buyback offers and limited VAs’ investments to conservative options in order to limit risk exposure while continuing to offer these products. However, a new trend has recently emerged to allow these carriers to offer increased flexibility in variable annuity products while simultaneously managing the associated market risks.
The ability to alter key terms (including roll-up rates and rider fees) of in-force variable annuity contracts can provide both carriers and clients with a degree of flexibility — but for advisors, the key consideration becomes whether these adjustable term annuities are a smart choice for each individual client’s portfolio.
The new variable annuity landscape
As early as 2012, insurance carriers began issuing buyback offers for existing variable annuity contracts in order to manage risk. Others began requiring existing contract holders to move the majority of their investments to conservative bond funds in order to avoid losing guarantee features.
A recent study by the Insured Retirement Institute indicates that the potential need to modify variable annuity contracts has continued through 2015 — except that now, carriers are introducing contracts with adjustable terms so that clients are aware of potential modifications at the time of purchase. These contracts can allow the insurance carrier to reduce income payouts, change rider fees and alter roll-up rates on guaranteed benefits.
For example, some carriers have introduced products that allow carriers to reduce payout rates if the client’s account value is ever depleted (whether because of the client’s withdrawal rates, overall market performance or fees). A product that initially guarantees a payout rate of 6 percent could reduce the payout rate to 4 percent if the account value is depleted.
Some contracts allow the carrier to alter roll-up rates on guaranteed living withdrawal benefits (GLWBs) based on the 10-year Treasury or the CBOE Volatility Index. Similarly, some contracts will now tie fees to market volatility, reflecting the fact that low interest rates and higher volatility increase hedging costs.
Pros and cons of increased variability