Illustration Restrictions Placed On Some John Hancock Inforce Policies

In the past we have written about limitations on obtaining ledgers to manage inforce life insurance.  In one instance the inability to provide in-force ledgers based on “current assumptions” was a precursor to a cost of insurance (COI) increase.

Our servicing team recently received notice that due to a “temporary” situation John Hancock cannot provide inforce ledgers on its Performance UL Policies issued in particular states from 2003 to 2010.

According to the information received from the carrier, they are unable to provide this information because “regulatory standards that govern illustration practices…prevent us from illustrating currently payable amounts based on our current non-guaranteed elements.”

John Hancock is “reviewing the non-guaranteed elements applied to these Policies because emerging experience has differed from the current assumptions which are reflected in the illustrations” and it expects the review to be completed “in the first half of 2017.”

The carrier notes that if the review results in “changes to Non-Guaranteed Elements such changes will not take effect before the policy anniversary immediately after the completion of the review.”

While we do not wish to speculate on the future actions of a highly rated and respected carrier, we will be closely monitoring the situation.

Second Amended Complaint Filed In The Brach Family Foundation Lawsuit Against AXA For Cost Of Insurance Increase

Late last week, a Second Amended Class Action Lawsuit was filed in the United District Court, Southern District of New York in the Brach Family Foundation vs. AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company case we first wrote about on February 2, 2016.

The 35-page document expands and adds to the original 18-page Class Action Complaint filed February 1 of last year, and follows on the heels of two unrelated lawsuits filed against AXA last week.

The suit, brought on behalf of the foundation and “similarly situated owners” of Athena Universal Life II policies subjected to the COI increase, alleges the increase was “unlawful and excessive” and that AXA violated “the plain terms” of the policy and “made numerous, material misrepresentations in violation of New York Insurance Law Section 4226.”

The rate hikes, which were applied in March of last year, were targeted to a group of approximately 1,700 policies issued to insureds with an issue age of 70 and up, and with a policy face amount of $1 million and up.  Since the increase was focused on this “subset”, the suit alleges that the increase was unlawful because the policies require that if a change in rates occurs it must be “on a basis that is equitable to all policyholders of a given class.”   The suit points out that there is no “actuarially sound basis” to treat policyholders differently simply because one may be 69 and one 70 at issue age, or because one may have a policy with a face amount above or below $1 million. The suit also points to actuarial studies that indicate there are actually “lower mortality rates for large face policies.”

The suit notes that there are six “reasonable assumptions” that COI changes can be based on: expenses, mortality, policy and contract claims, taxes, investment income, and lapses. AXA has stated that the COI increase was based on two of those: investment experience and mortality.

In order for the increase to be “based on reasonable assumptions” for investment income, the increase has to “correspond to the actual changes in investment income observed,” according to the lawsuit, which points out that “since 2004, there has been no discernible pattern of changes in AXA’s publicly reported investment income” that would “justify” any type of COI increase.

AXA defended its increase, in part, by stating that insureds in these policies were dying sooner than projected. However, the lawsuit claims that “mortality rates have improved steadily each year” since the policies were issued.   According to the lawsuit, the Society of Actuaries has performed surveys comparing observed mortality of large life insurance carriers to published mortality tables and has found that the “surveys have consistently showed mortality improvements over the last three decades, particularly for ages 70-90.”  The suit points out that AXA informed regulators in public filings as late as February 2015 that it “had not in fact observed any negative change in its mortality experience,” and answered no when asked if “anticipated experience factors underlying any nonguaranteed elements [are] different from current experience.”  When questioned whether there may be “substantial probability” that the illustrations used for sales and inforce purposes could not be “supported by currently anticipated experience,” the carrier again answered no.

The suit alleges that if AXA’s “justifications” for the COI hikes are valid, “then AXA applied unreasonably extreme and aggressive haircuts to the 75-80 mortality table when setting original pricing of AUL II, and these pricing assumptions were designed to make AXA’s product look substantially cheaper than competitors’ and gain market share” and by doing so, AXA engaged in a “bait and switch” which resulted in “materially misleading illustrations, including all sales illustrations at issuance” in violation of New York Insurance Law Section 4226(a).

By focusing the increase on older aged insureds, the suit alleges AXA “unfairly targets the elderly who are out of options for replacing their insurance contracts” and forces the policyholders to either pay “exorbitant premiums that AXA knows would no longer justify the ultimate death benefits” or reduce the death benefit, lapse or surrender the policies.  According to the lawsuit, any of these actions will allow AXA to make a “huge” profit from the “extraordinary” COI increase.  According to the lawsuit, AXA originally projected that the COI increases, which ITM TwentyFirst has noted ranged from 25-72%, would increase “profits by approximately $500 million.” The lawsuit also notes that in its latest SEC filing, the carrier said that “the COI increase will be larger than the increase it previously had anticipated, resulting in a $46 million increase to its net earnings,” which the suit points out is “in addition to the profits that management had initially assumed for the COI increase.”

For a copy of the Second Amended Class Action Lawsuit in the case, contact mbrohawn@itm21st.com

Two More Lawsuits Filed Against AXA For Cost of Insurance Increases

Two lawsuits were filed one day apart last week against AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company for cost of insurance (COI) increases in its AXA Equitable Flexible Premium Universal Life Athena II policies. We “looked under the hood” of the AXA policies affected by these cost increases back in November of 2015. The increases were limited to those policies originally issued to people age 70 and above with a policy face value amount of $1 million or more, which factored into the substance of both lawsuits. There are now at least three lawsuits filed against AXA, including one we wrote about back in February of last year.

The first suit, filed January 18 in Arizona (Wenokur v AXA Equitable), accuses AXA of “improperly targeting a subset of policyholders who exercise their contractual rights to keep their accumulated policy account values as low as possible and pay flexible premiums.” According to the suit, the “exorbitant” cost increases were designed to force policyholders to “take one of two unsavory courses of action”; either pay increased premiums that the carrier “knows would no longer justify the ultimate death benefits” or surrender or lapse their policies.

Though AXA stated the increase was “warranted” because “affected insureds are dying sooner than AXA anticipated,” the suit points out that in a regulatory filing in February of 2015, the carrier answered no to the question asking whether its “anticipated experience factors underlying any nonguaranteed elements [are] different from current experience,” and also pointed out that “mortality trends for the affected insureds have improved substantially since the time the policies issued.”

The lawsuit states that AXA “violated the terms of the policies” by “targeting only a subset of a risk class” and by basing the increase on unreasonable assumptions, breached the contract. Though AXA based the increase at least partly on expectations of “investment experience” in the future, the suit points out that investment experience is not a listed factor that may be considered for increasing COI rates, though “investment income” is, but “even if AXA’s investment income has changed, this factor cannot justify inflicting a COI increase solely on the subset of AUL II policies upon which AXA has sought to impose the COI increase (those with higher issue-ages and face-amounts).”

The second suit (Hobish v AXA Equitable), filed the next day in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, accuses AXA of “breach of the terms of the policy, deceptive business practices, and excessive, unconscionable and unlawful premium increase.”

The insured was issued the policy at a standard nonsmoker rating class. According to the suit, the policy contract stated that any changes to interest rates, charges, or other deductions would be on a “basis that is equitable to all policyholders of a given class.” When contacted by the insured, the carrier stated the cost increase would apply only to a class of insureds “with issue age of 70 and above and with a face amount of $1 million and above.” According to the lawsuit, nowhere was that class identified. The only policy class that was identified was the insured’s rating class of standard non-smoker. “Nothing in the policy permits AXA to imposed a COI increase based on the issue age or face value of the policy,” according to the suit.

The lawsuit also accuses AXA of deceptive business practices in violation of New York business law since they targeted consumers aged 70 and “misled” these consumers “into believing they would not be targeted for premium increases” that were “not applied generally and equitable to all members of a designated class.”

The suit cites the “predatory increase” in the cost of the policy as a “flagrant tactic to increase revenues and to drive aging individuals out of their policies.” In this case, the plaintiffs surrendered the policy on the insured, then age 92, “under protest” four months after the cost increase took effect. They received $412,274 as surrender value for the $2 million policy, after funding the policy with a total of $913,804 in premium payments.

For copies of both of these lawsuits, email mbrohawn@itm21st.com

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Lincoln National For COI Increases In Jefferson Pilot Policies

A class action lawsuit was filed last week in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against Lincoln National Life Insurance Company on behalf of the owners of Jefferson Pilot-issued, JP Legend 100, 200, 300 and 400 series life insurance policies.   Lincoln National purchased Jefferson Pilot in March of 2006.

We wrote about this COI increase in August of 2016.   The announcement from the carrier at that time noted COI changes, stating that while most of the changes were increases, there were some decreases, “reflecting Lincoln’s commitment to acting fairly and responsibly.”

The class action lawsuit alleges the COI increase breached the contracts underlying the policies in several ways.  First, the “increases were based on non-enumerated factors” since “the 3 factors that Lincoln relies upon to justify the increase could not possibly justify an increase of the size” of the policies in question.  Those three factors included “its estimates for future cost factors of investment returns, mortality assumptions, and reinsurance costs.”  According to the suit, the carrier’s “expectations of future investment returns could not reasonably be materially lower than what Lincoln originally expected—and certainly not nearly so much lower as would be need to justify” the stated increases of “50-90%,” which are in line with the ITM TwentyFirst analysis of these policies in portfolios we manage.  The suit points out that, in filings from 2010 to 2014, Lincoln stated, “It expects mortality experience to improve.” The lawsuit also notes that “Mortality (normally the most important element in COI charge rates) has continuously improved nationwide since the policies were issued.”  Reinsurance costs “cannot provide material support for the increase, and reinsurance costs are not an enumerated factor for an increase,” according to the filing.

Second, the suit alleges that cost increases were not designed to respond to expectations but to recoup losses.  The policy contract states, “[R]ates will be based on our expectation of future monthly interest, expenses, and lapses,” which “forbids COI increases that are based on a carrier’s desire to increase profits or to make up for past losses,” according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also indicates that Lincoln admitted they were focused on the past, not the future, since they pointed to a “decade of persistently low interest rates” and the “recent historic lows” to provide a rationale for an increase when the costs were announced.

In addition, the suit points out that the cost increases were not uniform “across insureds of the same rating class” and notes “COI rates being higher when the insured is 98 years old than when she is 99.”   According to the suit, the “strange and illogic shape” of the cost increase “could not possibly have been replicated for every one of the same rating class,” which violates the contract provision. This provision states, “any change in the monthly cost of insurance rates used will be on a uniform basis for Insureds of the same rate class.”

The lawsuit also points out that, by refusing to provide an illustration while the policy was in the grace period, Lincoln breached the contract. During the grace period, the policy is still considered to be in force, and the contract language states that the carrier would, if asked, “provide, without charge, an illustration showing projected policy values based on guaranteed as well as current mortality and interest factors.”

The suit seeks damages and court costs, along with reasonable and necessary attorneys’ fees, an injunction against the increase, treble damages, and “such other relief as this Court may deem just and proper under the circumstances.”

For a copy of the lawsuit, contact mbrohawn@itm21st.com.

Latest Federal Reserve Hike Viewed as Generally Positive for Life Insurance by Moodys

Less than two weeks ago, we reported that Moody’s had downgraded its 2017 outlook for the life insurance sector from Stable to Negative. A new Moody’s report published after the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark federal funds target rate by 25 basis points last week indicates that hike will benefit life insurers and “help reverse the downward march in investment portfolio yields.” (1)

The federal funds rate is the interest rate that depository institutions charge each other for an overnight loan. Banks are required to keep a minimum reserve requirement and will move monies back and forth, charging a rate based on the target rate set by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), which is the Federal Reserve’s primary monetary policymaking body.1-fedres2

As can be seen in the graph to the right,
the federal funds rate that is actually charged dropped dramatically through 2008 as the target rate sank and stuck at 0 to .25 percent. A bump in December of 2015 pushed the target to .25 to .50 percent. Last week’s increase pushed the target rate to .50 to .75 percent.

While the rate only pertains to overnight loans among very creditworthy financial institutions, its effect is actually broader since banks use it for the basis of all other short-term rates. It also indirectly affects longer-term rates, such as home mortgages. An article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday declared, “The era of the ultralow mortgage is over.” It also pointed out that after the US election, even before the Fed acted, rates on a 30-year mortgage jumped .76 percentage points, to 4.38%, (2) the “post U.S. election bump in yields” we mentioned in our prior blog.

The increase in long-term rates would be a welcome relief to life insurance carriers who have struggled mightily in this low interest-rate environment. Insurance companies attempt to match their investment time horizon with their liabilities, and life insurance is a long-term liability. The Moody’s report points out that “new money rates on long-duration investments are more important for insurers,” a good benchmark for new money rates of life insurers being the 10-year treasury plus a credit spread, which has seen a “100 basis point rise…from… summer lows.”

Should the long-term rates become sustainable, Moody’s sees the profitability of older annuity blocks improving and believes “interest-sensitive life insurance,” like universal life, would benefit, along with other “long-tailed specialty products” like long-term care, both of which have seen dramatic cost increases in the last few years. With increased rates, the pressures on carrier reserves would lessen, and the chances of GAAP charges and write downs would decrease.

The Moody’s report believes this might be a first step toward a “more normalized policy rate environment that would be conducive to better long-term operating conditions and profitability.” Let’s hope so, but let’s also remember that the current target rate hike, only the second in 8 years, only pushed the rate from .50 to .75 percent. A decade ago, a “normal” fed funds rate was 5.25 percent. We are a long way from that.

  1. Moody’s Sector Comment, December 14, 2016, Financial Institutions, United States
  2. Rising Rates Ripple Through Mortgage Market, Wall Street Journal, December 19, 2016

New York State Floats Regulation To Require Life Insurance Carriers To Justify Cost Increases

Yesterday, the New York State Department of Financial Services proposed a new regulation designed to “protect New Yorkers from unjustified life insurance premium increases.”

In a press release dated November 17, 2016, Maria T. Vullo, the Financial Services Superintendent, proposed a regulation to “govern life insurance company practices related to increases in the premiums of certain life insurance and annuity policies.”  The regulation would provide the agency the opportunity to review increases by requiring the carriers to provide notification “at least 120 days prior to an adverse change in non-guaranteed elements of an in-force life insurance or annuity policy.” In addition to notifying the agency, the regulation would require the carriers to “to notify consumers at least 60 days prior to an adverse change in non-guaranteed elements of an in-force life insurance or annuity policy.”

According to Superintendent Vullo, “under New York law, life insurers may only increase the cost of insurance on in-force policies when the experience justifies it and only in a way that is fair and equitable.” She went on to note that her agency “will not stand by and provide life insurers free reign to implement unjustified cost of insurance increases on New Yorkers simply to boost profits.” (1)

The regulation is designed to “establish standards for the determination and any readjustment of non-guaranteed elements that may vary at the insurer’s discretion for life insurance policies and annuity contracts.” It requires carriers to “establish board-approved criteria for determining non-guaranteed charges or benefits” and mandates an agency review of “the anticipated experience factors and non-guaranteed elements for existing policies whenever the non-guaranteed elements on newly issued policies are changed.” The regulation defines experience factors as “investment income, mortality, morbidity, persistency, or expense that represents the insurer’s financial experience on a policy. Profit margin is not an experience factor.” (2)

An article in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) notes that although the regulation only applies to New York state, it “could be widely copied by other insurance departments.” We at ITM TwentyFirst have reported often about the cost of insurance (COI) increases that have hit the life insurance industry and the lawsuits that have followed. The WSJ article reports that those lawsuits have alleged that “insurers are hiding behind the little-used contract provisions to rummage up cash for shareholder dividends.” But the article also points out that “insurers maintain they are acting in accordance with policy provisions allowing higher charges up to a maximum amount, based on expectations of future policy performance.”  (3)

According to the press release from the New York State Department of Financial Services, “the proposal is subject to a 45 day public comment period following publication in the State Register on November 30, 2016 before its final issuance.”  We will be following the progress of the proposed regulation and provide updates when warranted. For a copy of the NY Department of Financial Services Proposed Insurance Regulation 210, contact mbrohawn@itm21st.com.

 

  1.  NY Department of Financial Services Press Release, November 17, 2016
  2. NY Department of Financial Services, Proposed Insurance Regulation 210, November 17, 2016
  3. New York Regulator Aims to Require Life Insurers Justify Higher Rates on Old Policies, Leslie Scism, The Wall Street Journal, November 17, 2016

Judge Rules That Consolidated Lawsuit Against Transamerica for COI Increase Can Be Heard

On November 8th, a United States District Court judge in California’s Central District ruled that a consolidated class-action lawsuit against Transamerica could move forward. The lawsuit’s main allegation concerned Transamerica’s “breach of faith” for the cost of insurance (COI) increase in their Universal Life policies.
We reported back in September of 2015 that Transamerica increased costs in several of its Universal Life insurance policies (see: Transamerica Cost Increase Causes Premium to Maturity to More Than Double: A Case Study for Trustees). Earlier this year we discovered another Transamerica cost increase while working on a policy review, which we subsequently covered in Transamerica Cost of Insurance Increases: Is the Other Shoe Now Dropping? That increase was dramatically higher than the first one. Transamerica acknowledged this new increase shortly after we discovered it.
The Transamerica cost increase dramatically raised the carrying costs of life insurance policies and several class-action lawsuits were filed against the carrier. Three of those lawsuits were combined: one filed in California by Consumer Watchdog (see: Consumer Group Files Suit Against Transamerica for Cost of Insurance Increases); a second California lawsuit, Thompson v. Transamerica Life Insurance Company (see: Another Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Transamerica for Cost Increases); and one originally filed in the Southern District of Florida (see: Preliminary Injunction Motion Filed in South Florida Against Transamerica to Stop Cost of Insurance Increases). In a June 10, 2016, Consolidated Class Action Complaint filed in the Central District of California, the plaintiffs asserted “seven claims against Transamerica on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated”. On August 1, 2016, Transamerica filed a motion to dismiss the complaint.
In the complaint filed, the plaintiffs argued that Transamerica was not allowed to set monthly deductions (which included the COI) “in whatever amount or by whatever method it determines.” The plaintiffs also argued that the standardized policy language requires that Transamerica can only change deductions based on underlying mortality rates and that Transamerica was not allowed to “set or increase [monthly deduction rates] to recoup past losses” because of low interest rates or other factors. They further argued that the deduction increase of “as much as 100%” caused “an astronomical increase in the premiums necessary to maintain coverage under the policies” which was designed to induce “shock lapses.”
On October 31, 2016, the court heard oral arguments. On November 8th, the Honorable Cristina A. Snyder ruled against Transamerica; their motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims was denied.
For a copy of the Civil Minutes in the case, please email mbrohawn@itm21st.com.