By Linda Koco
Sometimes consumers seem to live in the Land of Oxymoron where annuities are concerned. That is, they give voice to seemingly contradictory views about annuity products.
That can explain the gulfs in understanding that sometimes emerge when consumers speak with advisors. Consumers may have two minds about annuities at the same time, and that can interfere with decision making.
A new survey from The Phoenix Companies provides a window into this annuity-buying duality. Although contradictory, this dynamic can open up opportunities for annuity professionals who wish to grow market share, Ed Friderici told AnnuityNews. He is managing director at Saybrus Partners, a subsidiary of The Phoenix Companies and an insurance agency affiliate of Saybrus Equity Services.
The disconnects have to do with receptivity to annuity benefits, ideas on creating a predictable retirement income and the use of advisors for retirement planning.
Benefits. In the survey, 1,000 American consumers, 676 non-retired and 328 retired, reacted favorably upon learning about the multiple benefits that are available in modern annuity contracts, Friderici said.
In fact, nearly three-fourths (71 percent) said they would consider purchasing an annuity for at least one of the following: the ability to obtain a predictable source of monthly retirement income (49 percent), to leave money for spouse or heirs (41 percent), to provide money for chronic health care expenses (36 percent).
But although they like the features available in annuities, a lot of those folks are clueless about annuities themselves. For example, over half (53 percent) said they are not familiar with annuities and 32 percent described themselves as only “somewhat familiar.” Also, 25 percent said they would not consider purchasing an annuity, a finding that sets them apart from the large majority who said they would consider such a purchase.
So, no overwhelming group-think here.
Income stream. Another dichotomy occurred when the consumers were asked how they will convert (or are currently converting) their retirement savings into an income stream.
As might be expected from the above, annuities did not head the list. Fifty-five percent said they plan to use their savings to supplement their pension and/or Social Security only as needed, and 50 percent plan to make fixed monthly or yearly withdrawals from an individual retirement account, 401(k) or other retirement account.
Those methods entail some risk and are often inadequate, the researchers pointed out. For instance, the savings may not be sufficient, and the withdrawal plan may hinge on funds that are subject to market volatility and are not guaranteed.
Meanwhile, only 20 percent said they are planning to use an annuity for income. This is even though the annuity is “a primary vehicle for producing a guaranteed income stream,” the researchers said, and it’s even though more than twice as many (49 percent) had said they would consider purchasing an annuity to secure a predictable source of monthly retirement income.
These findings are clearly at odds with themselves.
Advice. Consulting with a financial professional about converting retirement savings into a predictable source of monthly income is not big on the to-do list for non-retirees in the Phoenix survey.
For example, only 36 percent of non-retirees said they either currently work with a professional on this issue or have ever done so. That leaves over 60 percent who simply aren’t talking about retirement with financial professionals.
Yet among those who do talk with professionals, 85 percent report feeling confident about converting their retirement savings into a predictable source of monthly income. Only 62 percent of the never-used-a-professional group said they feel the same.
The numbers may suggest a challenged future lays ahead for annuity professionals. After all, the survey is showing that consumers like annuity benefits but they lack product awareness. Consumers may have ideas about creating retirement income but they may not include annuities in that strategy. They may know about retirement planning advice but many don’t use it.
Friderici sees all of this as opportunity for advisors. For instance, since many consumers are not well aware of annuities, this provides the annuity professional with an opportunity to provide education about how modern annuities work, he said.
“They can point out that ‘you don’t have to annuitize to get benefits anymore.’”
They can point out that the whole product line has been “revolutionized” to offer benefits that people need, he said, pointing to accumulation, asset protection, retirement income, personal care and death benefits. By talking with consumers about what’s most important to them, the agent can then look for annuities that meet the need, he added.
Now is the time to do this, Friderici maintained. People today may be pleased with the value of their non-annuity assets, which have reached new highs if invested in the stock market. But many may have forgotten that market lows can occur too, he said.
Agents who are licensed to sell insurance “can talk about taking risk off the table without talking about the stock market. Make this a generic discussion about lowering risk.”
As for advisors who have both insurance and securities licenses, “you have carte blanche to talk about annuities in comparison to securities like managed money, stocks, mutual funds and exchange traded funds.”
Friderici is concerned about a survey finding that nearly one-fourth of non-retirees feel confident they will be able to convert their retirement savings into a predictable source of monthly income.
A lot of those savings are likely invested in securities, he said, pointing to a 2012 LIMRA finding that 78 percent of pre-retiree assets were invested in securities. But that can lead to a false sense of security, with people thinking they can take out as much as 9 percent of their money from invested assets every year and use it for income. They don’t know that much smaller withdrawal rates — for example, of 4 percent a year — are coming under fire for potentially not being sustainable, he said.
But this too is an opportunity for agents to provide education, he said. They can educate on the “multiple layers” of benefits in modern annuities.
This includes education to people in the middle market, or those with $75,000 or less in household income, Friderici said. Only one-fourth (26 percent) of consumers in this category have ever worked with a financial professional, the survey found. That compares over half (53 percent) of those with a higher household incomes.
Agents can help clear up the retirement issues for the middle market and help consumers see what they should do so that they will be in a better position to retire, he said.
Linda Koco, MBA, is a contributing editor to AnnuityNews, specializing in life insurance, annuities and income planning. Linda may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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