While some companies are running away from annuities by selling their portfolios, Prudential is embracing a bigger commitment to the business.
For Newark, N.J.-based Prudential, doubling down isn’t simply developing new products and adding to the number of distribution channels through which it sells.
Forging ahead means integrating annuities into the discussions advisors are having with clients and helping advisors better communicate the benefits, said Kent Sluyter, president of Prudential Annuities.
“Innovation is less about a core income solution engine, but how do we make that more reachable to advisors and consumers?” Sluyter said. “We have to find simpler ways to offer these solutions and how we describe these solutions.”
Voya and The Hartford recently announced they had completed their respective sales of annuity blocks of business in search of higher profits elsewhere.
At Prudential, the in-force block is performing well and the message to outsiders is the company intends to go after annuity business in an even bigger way, he said.
First-quarter sales of fixed and variable annuities rose 21 percent to $1.7 billion over the year-ago period, with a big jump coming from independent financial planners, the company reported.
Annuities received a further boost with the launch of a 24-company consortium, which will educate advisors and consumers about the value of annuities by reframing the discussion away from asset accumulation and toward income protection.
Annuities and RIAs
The creation of the Alliance for Lifetime Income, of which Prudential is a member, changes the narrative around annuities, Sluyter explained.
Instead of getting bogged down discussing product features, insurers need to be asking registered investment advisors how and where annuities show up in the RIA world, he said.
Are annuities simple? Are they accessible? Can annuity fee structures be worked into an RIA’s book of business? Do annuities solve a need? Are distributors talking to RIAs about protecting income?
“There’s an integration element to this and that speaks to simplification there, but it’s more than just product simplification,” Sluyter said.
For years, annuities were tangential to many RIAs, who found them too complex and expensive – if annuities came up for discussion at all.
But that’s changing.
RIAs say they appreciate the need for income planning and surveys show consumers like the idea of receiving the equivalent of a pension as defined benefit plans fade into oblivion.
Two New Products
The future opportunity for annuity sales hinges on a broader discussion of income protection, and Prudential is pushing ahead with new products.
The financial giant entered the indexed annuity market for the first time in February with PruSecure. The annuity is distributed through broker-dealer Prudential Advisors, independent broker-dealers, banks and wirehouses.
Prudential is looking at whether to add independent marketing organizations to the distribution quiver. Meanwhile, advisors can expect the company to fan out its indexed annuity portfolio as sales appear to be back on track after a difficult 2017.
In March, the company made available its GIFT deferred income annuity only through employers and via digital distribution.
Described as the simplest product ever launched by Prudential, workers who would not otherwise be talking to an advisor about annuities are now likely to do so, Sluyter said.
Clouds Lift Over Distributors
Distributors are more optimistic than they have been in months with the advent of a more manageable regulatory environment in the wake of the death of the Department of Labor fiduciary rule. However, annuities are not “out of the woods yet,” Sluyter added.
“We're hopeful that we'll land in a place of uniformity and appropriate regulation and we believe annuities can coexist in a fiduciary world,” he said.
The Securities and Exchange Commission’s public comment period on its Regulation Best Interest – which covers brokers -- closes in early August.
Prudential’s emphasis on annuities should not be seen as a sign that the company is moving away from life insurance, Sluyter noted.
Just as annuities are core to protecting consumers from living too long, life insurance contracts are vital to protecting families breadwinners from dying too soon.
“Protection needs are greater than ever and the same elements that are making annuity solutions easier and simpler for advisors and consumers apply to buying life insurance,” Sluyter said. “You'll see us continue to focus on life insurance as a critical dimension.”
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Writer Cyril Tuohy has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at [email protected]
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