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Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Labor was fighting to put indexed annuities in  the retirement services doghouse.

Now, issuers are hoping they can persuade DOL officials to let managers of 401(k) plans and other types of defined contribution plans use indexed annuities as qualified default investment alternative (QDIA) options.

Elizabeth MacGowan, a vice president at National Life Group, presented that idea earlier this week in Washington, at a meeting of the ERISA Advisory Council. MacGowan testified at a council hearing on behalf of the Indexed Annuity Leadership Council (IALC).

(Related: DOL Tries to Clarify QDIA Regs on Annuities in TDFs)

The council advises DOL officials on issues related to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), a law that governs large employers health and retirement plans.

Congress blessed the creation of QDIAs by including a provision in the Pension Protection Act of 2006 that freed employers from responsibility for losses if a plan participant who failed to actively choose any investment options ended up with assets parked in the plan’s QDIA.

The regulators who developed the QDIA option wanted QDIAs to offer younger participants enough exposure to risk to allow for asset growth. Originally, regulators declined to let employers use same very safe, low-return products, such as stable value funds as QDIAs.

Today, the typical QDIA is a target-date fund, a risk-based lifestyle fund or a risk-based lifestyle fund. Some plan sponsors wrap the QDIA funds in a variable annuity wrapper.

MacGowan asked the ERISA Advisory Council to help employers use more types of annuities as QDIAs.

Today, QDIA regulations prevent employers from using many kinds of annuities, including indexed annuities, as QDIAs in 401(k) plans and other retirement plans governed by ERISA, MacGowan testified, according to a written version of her comments provided by IALC.

Indexed annuities protect holders against market downturns and but offer the holders a chance to share in investment market growth, MacGowan said.

Many issuers offer the contract holders lifetime income benefit riders, MacGowan said.

Today, however, many experts believe that the typical indeed annuity would not qualify as a QDIA, MacGowan said.

IALC believes the current regulations could be modified to allow use of indexed annuities with a lifetime income rider to qualify as a QDIA, MacGowan said.

MacGowan suggested that regulators could add consumer protection requirements to make an indexed annuity suitable as a QDIA, such as new disclosure and surrender charge requirements.

“While a participant could always elect a market index for crediting purposes on an annual basis, the default mechanism could be an annually declared fixed rate,” MacGowan said. “This would allow daily interest crediting and prevent the potential loss of partial year earnings since index crediting methods are credited at year end.”

— Read QDIA Rule Allows VAs, Excludes Stable-Value Fundson ThinkAdvisor.

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