In an earlier entry, we reported on the dividend declarations from two of the gold standard mutual insurance companies – Northwestern Mutual and Massachusetts Mutual. Both are very highly rated carriers, and have paid dividends each year for well over 100 years. However, like most insurance companies these days, both are feeling the effects of the historic low interest rate environment, and as a result, have reported lower dividend interest rates (DIR).
Last week we reported on on a $37.5 million settlement paid by Mass Mutual Life Insurance Company for a lawsuit that alleged the carrier “was obligated to pay additional dividends on its participating policies.” Recently, a similar lawsuit settled for a much higher sum. Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company settled a suit for $110 million that alleged that the carrier failed “to pay the full amount of annual policy dividends out of divisible surplus that are due.” The suit was initially filed in November of 2012 by a husband and wife who together owned 5 Penn Mutual participating whole life contracts, on behalf of them and “all persons similarly situated.” (1)
A class action lawsuit brought against Mass Mutual Life Insurance Company has resulted in preliminary approval of a $37.5 million payout. The payout benefits policyholders of Mass Mutual participating policies held between January 1st, 2001 and December 31st, 2016. A participating policy is one that receives dividends. ITM TwentyFirst has begun to receive notices of the payout that was agreed to in a document filed March 13th of this year in United States District Court District of Massachusetts. ITM TwentyFirst manages or reviews almost 1,000 policies from the carrier, the majority being whole life participating policies.
A couple of weeks ago, we reported that Northwestern Mutual had declared its 2017 dividend and had not only lowered it but also increased some costs (see: Northwestern Mutual Dividend and Crediting Rates Drop, Expenses Rise). Northwestern Mutual was the first of the so-called “Big 4” mutual carriers to report. These A++ (AM Best)–rated companies are considered to be the gold standard among life insurance carriers. The others in the group (New York Life, Massachusetts Mutual, and Guardian Life) have now all reported in, and all but New York Life experienced a drop in their dividend interest rate (DIR).
Over the last two years, we have written extensively about the impact of the low interest rate environment on life insurance policy performance, primarily Current Assumption Universal Life policies. Many carriers have pointed to low interest rates as a primary cause for their cost of insurance (COI) increases in these policies. Anyone who has attended one of our webinars on life insurance policy subjects (see: https://www.itm21st.com/Education) knows that we describe Universal Life as a living Excel sheet—you can see each expense and credit in the policy if you know where to look.
A recent US Tax Court Memo identifies the financial risk in unwittingly or intentionally mismanaging a life insurance policy. In 1987, a policy owner purchased a single premium variable life policy (since this was pre Code Section 7702A, it was not considered a modified endowment contract) with a payment of $87,500. The policy contract permitted the owner to take loans from the policy, allowing any unpaid loans and interest that accrued to be added to the “policy debt.” Once the policy debt exceeded the cash value of the policy, the carrier could terminate the policy after giving the policy owner notice and the opportunity to pay down the policy debt to avoid termination.
The historic vote this week on a non-binding referendum to determine whether the United Kingdom should leave or remain in the European Union has made headlines. The 52–48% vote, with a participation rate of almost 72% of the electorate, was in favor of exit by a 4% margin.
In our last Blog post, we recapped the year in Trust Owned Life Insurance (TOLI) for 2015 (see: The Year in TOLI – 2015 Edition). As one of the pioneers of life insurance policy management in the United States, ITM TwentyFirst has the unique ability to participate in and track trends in the TOLI industry. Almost a decade ago, we surveyed our TOLI portfolio. In 2015, we updated that survey and the results clearly reveal changes – many of which will lead to additional challenges for those of us who manage life insurance policies.
In the early ‘80s when interest rates skyrocketed (Are you old enough to remember 18% mortgage rates?) the insurance industry created Universal Life insurance (UL), with sales illustrations based on “current assumptions,” which included the fixed rate being credited to the policy’s cash value at the time of the policy’s issue. As with all sales illustrations, the historically high “current” assumptions were projected over the life of the insured, creating a rosy scenario that was easy to sell. The higher the interest rate credited, the lower the premium needed to sustain the policy. Unfortunately, as can be seen by the chart to the right, which shows the actual crediting rate of a top UL carrier, those rates did not hold. The rosy scenario promised turned into a thorny reality as policy cash values plummeted and policies lapsed. In the mid to late ‘90s when a monkey with darts could rack up double-digit returns in the equity markets, many agents were selling Variable Life contracts tied to the equity markets with 12% annual return assumptions. How did that work out? Same outcome: crashing cash values and lapsing policies. Even venerable old Whole Life has seen a steady downturn in dividend rates over the last twenty years, with forecasted “vanishing premium” scenarios that led to vanishing policies and lawsuits. Point being, a sales illustration is just a projection, and your job as a trustee is to determine whether that projection will come true.