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

USAA Settles Class Action Lawsuit Over Cost Increase In Term Policies

Last week, our Cedar Falls, Iowa, office received notice of a class action lawsuit settlement. The settlement, stemmed from a suit filed in Alabama, Erkins v. USAA Life Insurance Co.

According to a complaint filed on October 20, 2015, (1) Moses Erkins purchased a “Level Term Life Policy” with premiums designed to remain fixed for the “Level Benefit Period.” The $250,000 policy had a 20-year level death benefit period with a $1,025 “current” premium. After the 20- year period (up on July 20, 2017), the $1,025 annual premium would purchase a decreasing amount of insurance. The $1,025 premium cost was guaranteed for the first 5 years only, after which premium costs could increase.

The policy contract listed both the current and guaranteed premium cost of coverage, but according to the complaint filed, the policies were sold by USAA with “Current Premiums set substantially less than the maximum guaranteed premium and, with the Defendant’s stated expectation that the Current Premiums were planned to remain the same for the full duration of the contracts. Otherwise, the Policies would be prohibitively expensive and could not be marketed as they were.”

According to information provided in the settlement, (2), USAA did not “increase premium rates on any of the policies … before the end of the Level Benefit Period, but a premium increase” was “planned to take effect after the Level Benefit Period.” The plaintiff argued that in order for USAA to increase the costs in the policy it could only do so based on “expectations of future changes in mortality experience, expense experience” or “investment performance change from those expectations used in the original pricing of the Policies.”

The court did not rule in favor of either USAA or the plaintiff, instead a settlement was reached. According to settlement information, USAA agreed to provide “Settlement Class Members who submit a valid and timely claim form either a two-year term certificate or a single payment of varying amounts,” depending on their category.

In addition, USAA agreed to “provide additional written notice to all In-Force Policy Owners to inform them that their premium will increase after the Level Benefit Expiration Date.” They also agreed that there would not be any “additional re-pricing of the Policies for five years after the Effective Date of the settlement.”

It is unfortunate that the court did not rule in this case to provide us with some guidance on the issue of cost increases in life insurance policies. USAA, founded to provide a wide array of services for military member and their families, has consistently garnered high ratings from many consumer groups over the years and given the relatively small amount that they had to pay out, it is understandable why they decided to settle.

  1. Moses Erlins v USAA Life Insurance Company, Circuit Court of Barbour County Alabama, 10/30/2015
  2. LevelTermPolicySettlment.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

The Biggest Story in Trust Owned Life Insurance (TOLI) in 2016? Trustees Running Away From Their Portfolios-How Can They?

In blogs published throughout 2016, we highlighted the increased challenges for TOLI trustees attempting to manage life insurance policies prudently. Life insurance cost increases more than doubled the carrying costs of many policies, while there were increased fiduciary and regulatory burdens and a multimillion dollar verdict against a major financial institution over a life insurance policy. All this occurred in 2016 and underlined the difficulties and risks associated with managing this asset.

Many banks and trust companies have TOLI portfolios that are filled with “orphan” trusts, with clients that have no other wealth-management relationship with the bank. These portfolios, many obtained through acquisition, often contain much more risk than revenue, and as institutions await a new presidential administration that appears to favor an end to the federal estate tax, some are looking for an exit strategy.

In the past year, we have witnessed and assisted in a number of “bulk transfers” of TOLI portfolios from institutions wishing to exit the business to other firms still committed to servicing this asset. The exiting firm can offload all of the TOLI trusts in their portfolio or just a select group. Generally, in a bulk transfer the selected trusts are moved at once, with one trustee taking control over them from another at a specified date. Obviously, this is not a transaction that will fit with every firm’s business goals, but for those that can take advantage of the transaction, it can be a true win-win scenario.

On Tuesday, December 13, at 2 p.m. Eastern time, ITM TwentyFirst University will feature Leon Wessels, a 15-year veteran of the TOLI industry, who will discuss Knowing Why, When and How to Move ILIT Accounts Out of Your Portfolio. This will be our last session of 2016, and if you are contemplating any changes to your TOLI business in 2017, it will be one you will want to attend. To register, click on the following link: https://www.itm21st.com/Education

 

Ratings Agency Downgrades Outlook For Life Insurance Sector, But Others See Positive Opportunities For The Future

A report just out from Moody’s on the global life insurance market has downgraded the sector for 2017 from Stable to Negative. (1) The historically low interest rate environment is cited as a main reason. Moody’s acknowledges the “post-U.S. election bump in yields” we have seen after Donald Trump’s victory, but still believes the low rates will continue “to depress the sector’s investment returns and profitability.” While interest rates may be pushing slightly higher, rates credited to policies take a longer time to turn around, a fact we acknowledged over two years ago (see: Turning the Battleship Around…An Update.) For Moody’s, the low rates are “the main driver for the outlook change to negative.”

Another consideration was the increased market volatility that could occur because of higher worldwide political risks and uncertainty in 2017. This could negatively affect carriers’ earnings and drive risk-averse clients to products containing higher guarantees, which demand larger and costlier reserves. Increased regulation and higher reserve requirements were other factors affecting the rating downgrade.

The low interest rate environment also drives carriers to chase higher returns in illiquid and alternative investments, as well as equities. While these asset classes may bring higher returns, they pose more risk than the fixed investments that make up the bulk of a carrier’s portfolio.

The United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands were among the specific countries Moody’s cited as earning a Negative grade.

In another report out this year, EY believes “stagnant growth and lingering low interest rates” mean the life insurance sector “faces a challenging future,” but points out some areas of change that might positively affect the industry. (2) These include “new thinking and cultural shifts,” especially in the area of innovation. The industry as a whole has been slow to modernize, and developers in other areas are beginning to creep into the life insurance space. These “disruptors” are providing applications and systems designed to improve the customer experience, while streamlining the life insurance process. Data-driven companies entering or in the marketplace, including ITM TwentyFirst, will change the way life insurance is underwritten, sold, and monitored. The report points out the “perception problem” of an industry with difficult to understand products that many believe are out of touch with today’s consumers and cites the need for “engaging and educating customers with media…that customers are comfortable with.” By adapting to the changing world, EY sees tremendous opportunity for innovative companies in the space.

The ITM TwentyFirst team of independent life insurance professionals helps to empower policy owners to make informed decisions and realize the full value of life insurance assets. We appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the state-of-the-art changes taking place in the evolution of life insurance and life insurance policy management.

  1. “Life Insurance – Global: 2017 Outlook – Low Interest Rates, Risk of High Volatility and Legislative Changes Turn Outlook to Negative,” Moody’s Investors Service, December 5, 2016
  2. “2016 Life Insurance and Annuity Executive Survey,” EY, 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