The Center for Economic Justice (CEJ) says a new indexed annuity regulation proposal could help dishonest life insurers fool consumers.
The proposal could affect how life insurers illustrate the performance of indexed annuities featuring relatively new investment indexes.
If regulators aren’t careful, new annuity illustration rules could help a life insurer hide how an investment index would perform in a bad market downturn, the CEJ says.
The drafters of the proposal might have had good intentions, but “the change is an invitation to data mine recent historical returns to create an index favorable for illustration, but which dramatically misrepresents the actual risk-return situation for the consumer,” the CEJ writes in a comment letter sent to the Annuity Disclosure Working Group.
One problem, the CEJ says, is that an insurer could use a 10-year-old investment index to hide what might have happened to an annuity holder during the 2007-2009 Great Recession.
Providing a clear, complete illustration is critical, because, these days, illustrations have more effect on what consumers buy than the other required disclosure documents do, the CEJ says.
Indexed Annuity Illustration Revision Background
The Annuity Disclosure Working Group is part of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), a group for state insurance regulators. The NAIC cannot normally change state insurance laws and regulations itself, but states often use NAIC models when they start to draft their own insurance laws and regulations.
The Annuity Disclosure Model Regulation (Model Number 1998) was first adopted in 1998 and has been revised several times.
The current version of the model prohibits annuity issuers from illustrating the performance of investment indexes that are less than 10 years old.
Life insurers have noted that consumers have been asking for certain kinds of new indexes, and that, in some cases, changes in the availability of hedging instruments, such as stock market index options, might make some investment indexes easier or harder to build into an annuity.
In 2017, life insurers proposed changing the model regulation to allow for the illustration of a young index if the index was made up entirely of components that had been in existence for at least 10 years; the weighting algorithm provided no discretion for the index managers; and the index was calculated by an entity independent from the insurer using the index.
Since early 2017, life insurers, supporters of the life insurers’ proposal and skeptical parties have been sparring over the proposal.
The CEJ itself says regulators ought to get stricter, and require any index used in an annuity illustration to be at least 20 years old.
Insurance regulators from some states seem to warming up to the life insurers’ proposal.
John Robinson, a valuation actuary with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, says, for example, in an Oct. 11 comment letter that he believes proposal drafters and revisers have addressed one of his concerns about the wording, and that he sees ways to address another concern about the wording.
Links to a copy of the CEJ’s Nov. 2 letter, Robinson’s Oct. 11 letter and other index model revision documents are available here.
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