By Linda Koco
ARLINGTON, Va. – The way the individual annuity market is shaping up this year, the rising stars are variable annuities without guaranteed living benefits (GLB), and fixed income annuities.
That’s according to figures from LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute (LIMRA SRI) to be aired here Thursday at the annual Retirement Industry Conference sponsored by LIMRA, LOMA and Society of Actuaries.
Joseph Montminy, assistant vice president at LIMRA SRI, told InsuranceNewsNet that these are among the trends that he and Timothy Pfeifer will discuss at a session on individual annuities. Pfeifer is president of Pfeifer Advisory, Libertyville, Ill.
Sales of individual variable annuities with a GLB feature elected dropped by 28 percent between 2011 and 2014, he said, citing research by LIMRA SRI. Meanwhile, variable annuities sold without a GLB —either because the feature was not available or not elected — jumped by 66 percent during the same period.
Montminy provided a glimpse into some possible reasons for these big shifts during an interview in advance of the annuity session.
The GLB surprise
Variable annuities “without GLBs” still represent a smaller market than those with GLBs elected, he said. However, the increase in sales of variable products without GLBs is definitely a trend to watch, he indicated.
The non-GLB sales jumped from $25 billion in 2011 to $41 billion in 2014, he said.
This increase may not be what some annuity professionals have been expecting. In the first decade of this century, the “with GLB” variable annuities enjoyed soaring popularity, so much so that many professionals routinely sold them and routinely expected them to be available. But following the recession of 2008, many variable carriers retrenched on the features as part of derisking strategies. Later, some started offering non-GLB variable annuities as an alternative; these are not being called investment-only variable annuities.
Despite those changes, some industry professionals have been expecting the GLB features to come roaring back to the variable annuity marketplace once post-recession economic conditions improved.
The LIMRA SRI figures cited by Montminy show that this is not what is happening, not even in the glow of the new record highs in the stock markets in the past year.
How to explain the non-GLB sales upturn?
Some of it has to do with the variable companies continuing to focus on offering non-GLB variable annuities in addition to structured products, Montminy said.
Also, some companies are trying to have more balance in their books between their GLB and non-GLB variable annuities, he said.
What the balance-minded carriers are doing is offering a choice of products with and without GLBs, or offering annuities that have not only a GLB option but several other options for the consumers to consider. That gives advisors more choices to offer to clients, and it gives clients more options that may meet their needs better than the variable annuities that only have GLBs, he said.
Examples of other options include death benefit features, alternative investment funds and long-term care benefit features.
The GLB-only variable annuities were the most popular design at one time, Montminy said. But now that the other features are increasingly available, some clients are attracted to those other features, he said.
The income annuity meteor
Another individual annuity trend to watch is the rising sales of income annuities (fixed immediate and deferred income, combined), Montminy said. In 2014, those sales totaled 12.4 billion, up from $10.5 billion in 2013.
“We project these annual sales will rise to (a combined total of) more than $20 billion by 2018.”
Income annuity sales could grow even more if the insurance companies find a way to expand their sales of the products into the bank and independent agent channels, Montminy said. Right now, the dominant channels for income annuities are career agents and full service broker/dealers.
The carriers will need to help the banks and independent agents find ways to fit the products into their approaches for helping consumers prepare for retirement, he said.
“Over time, this business should grow, but we haven’t seen it yet.”
The bank and independent channels accounted for just 3 percent each of deferred income annuity sales in 2014, and they accounted for 14 percent and 15 percent, respectively, of single premium immediate annuity sales, he said, citing LIMRA SRI figures.
Banks have more conservative customers than do the other distribution channels, he pointed out. So they will need to find ways to talk with customers about “being willing to give up control over the assets put into the annuity in order to get a higher guaranteed payout.”
In the independent channel, advisors might want to focus on how the income annuity fits into a client’s retirement income plan, he said. Some might point out that, by putting a portion of the money into an income annuity, the client can consider investing in other assets that have the potential for higher returns “while still enabling the client to sleep at night no matter what.”
InsuranceNewsNet Editor-at-Large Linda Koco, MBA, specializes in life insurance, annuities and income planning. Linda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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