Someone is looking through a hole in the wall (Image: Thinkstock)

One challenge for consumers thinking about buying indexed annuities may be the lack of well-known, accessible tools for comparing the performance of various investment indexes, or even knowing which of the indexes have been around for 10, 15 or 20 years.

(Related: Regulators Consider Young Annuity Index Rules)

The Center for Economic Justice — an Austin, Texas-based group that’s skeptical of use of newer investment indexes in indexed products — raises questions about index information availability in a comment letter sent to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Annuity Disclosure Working Group.

Annuity issuers have asked regulators to let them illustrate the performance of indexes that have been around for less than 10 years, especially when the indexes are made up of other indexes that have been around for at least 10 years.

The Center for Economic Justice has been asking state insurance regulators to keep the illustration rules as is, or to forbid illustrations of the performance history of indexes with less than 20 years of performance history, to keep issuers from building products around indexes that appear to offer high growth rates simply because the indexes were started after the last big stock market crash, which occurred during the 2007-2009 Great Recession.

The Center for Economic Justice says it found that even annuity data providers seem to be having some trouble with tracking and comparing the 90 investment indexes now in use in indexed products.

Keeping insurer performance illustrations in check is important, because, if consumers do not have good tools for interpreting the illustrations, and the product marketing promises turn out to be false 15 or 20 years in the future, the annuity purchasers will have no meaningful remedy, the centers says in the comment letter.

“While industry will be able to adapt to almost any set of illustration guidelines that create a level competitive playing field, consumers have neither the time nor flexibility to recover from misleading sales and defective products,” the center says.

What the Industry Says

Jim Poolman, executive director of the Indexed Annuity Leadership Council, is one of the industry representatives who submitted comments.

Poolman says providing index options that reflect the investment markets today, and that can offer 20 years of historical performance data, is difficult because of the rise of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and other investment market innovations.

“ETFs are generally preferred over other types of index components because they are traded frequently, which makes them cheaper and more efficient to hedge, which allows more value to go to the policyholder,” Poolman writes.

But the first bond ETFs weren’t introduced until 2002, and other ETFs have been coming out ever since, Poolman writes.

Excess return indexes and volatility-controlled indexes are also make good, efficient arrangements for supporting an indexed annuity, Poolman writes.

“A 20-year history restriction would exclude these innovative indices and ETFs that offer a significant value to policyholders from being illustrated,” Poolman writes.

Resources

Links to a copy of the Centers for Economic Justice comment letter and other Annuity Disclosure Working Group resources are available here.

— Read Insurers Ask NAIC to Ease Annuity Index Illustration Age Ruleon ThinkAdvisor.

— Connect with ThinkAdvisor Life/Health on LinkedIn and Twitter.