TOLI Trustees Can Gain Guidance From 401(k) Lawsuits (and the TOLI Handbook)

In the past, we have written about 401(k) lawsuits flourishing and what trust owned life insurance (TOLI) trustees can learn from them. This week, a research paper concerning 401(k) lawsuits landed on our desks that can provide guidance to trustees handling life insurance. The report published by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College notes that “over 100 new 401(k) complaints were filed in 2016–2017 — the highest two-year total since 2008–2009” (1).

The number of TOLI lawsuits has not increased like the number of 401(k) lawsuits has … yet. Regulations around 401(k) plans have been in place much longer than those concerning TOLI trusts. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, which governs 401(k) plans, is almost 45 years old, but lawsuits have only proliferated over the last ten years. In the TOLI world, the Uniform Prudent Investor Act and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s Unique and Hard-to-Value Assets handbook are much more recent guides.

The guides mentioned above share one common characteristic that was pointed out in the research paper — they do not “spell out” specific directions for managing an asset. They all provide general guidance, but it is up to the trustee to take that guidance and develop a process to prudently manage the assets. ITM TwentyFirst has just published a free handbook that provides more specific direction.

The authors of the research paper cite three main areas of contention in the 401(k) world that can be applied to the TOLI world.

  1. Inappropriate Investment Choices: In the 401(k) world, this relates to options in the retirement plan. In the TOLI world, this could relate to the separate account investments in a variable policy or even a broader application — the choice of the policy type. Variable life investment options are chosen by the trustee, not the carrier, which layers in another trustee responsibility. (See Chapter 9 in the TOLI Handbook for guidance.) Moreover, the asset in a TOLI trust must match the trust’s temperament and goals as well as the grantor’s financial situation. (See Chapter 12 in the TOLI Handbook for guidance.)
  2. Excessive Fees: 401(k) investment fees are easy to see, but in the TOLI world, the costs within a policy can be much more opaque. We have witnessed situations in which trustees were ready to accept replacement policies that had internal costs that were 3–4 times more than the existing policy. Why? Because they had no process in place with which to review the new policy and instead relied on the word of the salesperson. Without a process in place, a trustee could easily be held liable. (See Case Study #5 starting on page 128 of the TOLI Handbook for guidance.)
  3. Self-Dealing: According to the Boston College research paper, self-dealing occurs when a fiduciary acts in “its own best interest rather than serving” its clients. In the TOLI world, we have had our own lawsuits in this area — one in which a major bank that had received a large commission on a policy in its trust fought back against a lawsuit by beneficiaries who charged that the trustee had “violated the prudent-investor rule” (see page 14 in the TOLI Handbook for more information on how), and another in which trustees were held liable for over one million dollars when the beneficiary charged that they had breached their fiduciary duties. (See page 17 in the TOLI Handbook for further explanation.)

Many pundits believe that the trustees of trust-owned life insurance policies will encounter increasing liability in the coming years. The well-informed trustee will be less likely to be among those facing litigation. The TOLI Handbook – available here – can help inform.

 

  1. George S. Mellman and Geoffrey T. Sanzenbacher, “401(k) Lawsuits: What Are the Causes and Consequences?” Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, May 2018.

 

ITM TwentyFirst Publishes Free Trust Owned Life Insurance (TOLI) Handbook

As a decade plus provider of services to the TOLI marketplace, ITM TwentyFirst has developed a reputation as the expert in the trust owned life insurance arena. A pioneer in the field with the introduction of a web based administration portal for TOLI trusts in 2002, ITM TwentyFirst became the first company to offer total outsourced TOLI administration and policy management in 2007. In 2017 its affiliated entity, Life Insurance Trust Company became the first trust company in the United states to focus exclusively on life insurance, offering trust companies the opportunity to off load the asset to a firm that would not compete in other areas.

Over the last year ITM TwentyFirst has developed a handbook for TOLI trustees and advisors dealing with life insurance, especially in a fiduciary capacity. The 17-chapter book was developed and written by in-house specialists to provide internal education for staff, but was adapted and is being released to the public as a free downloadable manual. ITM TwentyFirst has always championed peer education developing a robust internal program for team members, as well as ITM TwentyFirst University that offers free CE for the industry. The company blog has provided timely industry insight for almost 6 years.

The handbook is a practical reference guide for those who are aware of life insurance, but not necessarily expert. It provides an overview of the responsibilities of a TOLI trustee and the guidance to live up to them.

The TOLI Handbook includes many actual cases studies and anecdotes drawn from the day to day work of ITM TwentyFirst team members. It is being published as a live document and is expected that it will be updated periodically as it adapts to the changing marketplace and industry. We believe that it presently represents the best single source of information available for managing TOLI trusts and life insurance. To receive a free copy of the TOLI Handbook, go to http://www.tolihandbook.com./

The TOLI Handbook Chapter Listing:

Introduction

Chapter 1 – The Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT)

Chapter 2 – The Responsibilities of a TOLI Trustee and Some Guidance

Chapter 3 – Developing a TOLI Administration System

Chapter 4 – An Introduction to Life Insurance

Chapter 5 – Whole Life Insurance – A Closer Look

Chapter 6 – The Mechanics of the Universal Life Chassis

Chapter 7 – Current Assumption Universal Life – A Closer Look

Chapter 8 – Guaranteed Universal Life – A Closer Look

Chapter 9 – Variable Universal Life – A Closer Look

Chapter 10 – Equity Index Universal Life – A Closer Look

Chapter 11 – Why Did the Cost of Insurance Increase in My Policy?

Chapter 12 – Selecting the Best Policy

Chapter 13 – Taxation of Life Insurance

Chapter 14 – Understanding Life Settlements

Chapter 15 – Understanding Life Expectancy Reports

Chapter 16 – Policy Remediation

Chapter 17 – Closing Thoughts

First John Hancock Cost of Insurance (COI) Increase Letters Arrive

In February of 2017 we reported John Hancock had placed limitations on inforce ledgers for certain Performance UL policies.  A year later, in February of this year, we wrote that The Life Settlements Report, a trade publication, reported that John Hancock had voluntarily notified the state of New York that it would be raising the cost of insurance (COI) on 1,700 Performance UL policies.

Today, our New York City office received the first official COI increase announcement from the carrier.  The letter, dated May 7th, noted that the carriers’ “expectation of future experience has changed” and for that policy, the cost increase would occur on the next policy anniversary date.

The carrier provided several “options to manage the increase,” including; increasing the premium to keep the current death benefit in force, reducing the death benefit to “keep the current premiums the same,” or maintaining both “current death benefit and premium payment,” though if that option were chosen, “your policy will not remain inforce as originally projected.”

The carrier also offered the option to surrender the policy, though they “strongly encourage” policy holders “to consider the value of your policy and the goals you established when you purchased it” before taking that course.

The carrier provided an 800 number to contact “dedicated service representatives” for assistance and “personalized information and illustrations specific to your policy,” and noted they are “committed to working with” policy holders to choose an option that “best meets their needs.”

We are not sure of the size of the COI increase. According to a John Hancock representative contacted by our New York City office, the amount of the increase will vary by policy.   The representative also noted that roughly 4,000 Performance UL policies were evaluated and approximately 1,400 will be affected by the increase, though we cannot officially verify that.

It appears that inforce illustrations for the policies affected will begin to flow in the next few weeks, and as they are received and analyzed we will report back on our findings.

Shared Characteristics of Long-Term Care and Life Insurance Cost Increases

Sally Wylie, a retiree living on an island in Maine, was stunned when her long-term care (LTC) policy premium almost doubled. According to the Wall Street Journal article that recounted her dilemma, the one-time learning specialist took on part-time work to help with the finances, and she and her husband cut back on expenses to afford the premium for the policy that was purchased to be their safety net (1).

Permanent life insurance has experienced similar, large cost increases. Because of articles we published in the last few years on this subject, we have received more than one hundred emails from consumers stung by the cost of insurance (COI) increase on their life policies. Some people, like Sally and her husband, scrimp in other areas to pay the increased policy costs. Others have simply dropped coverage, which I suspect many long-term care policyholders have also done.

The cost increase dilemma facing life and long-term care policyholders stems from the decade-long, historic low-interest rate environment. Insurance carriers take in premiums, invest them and (hopefully) generate enough Moodysinvestment income to pay out future benefits and still make a profit. The general accounts of most insurers are invested primarily in high-grade corporate bonds. As the chart to the right, which shows the bond yield for Moody’s Seasoned Aaa Corporate Bonds, points out, bond rates have been slipping generally downward for the last 35 years. And since the market crash of ‘08-’09, interest rates have dropped to never-before-seen lows.

John Hancock, the insurer of the federal government’s employee long-term care program, raised premiums dramatically after interest rates that were expected to rise after securing the government contract in 2009 instead dropped by about 33% (2).

Current assumption universal life insurance carriers profit from what is called the interest rate spread. They invest at 6%, credit the policy 4% and keep 2% as “profit.” One carrier, among the first to raise COI rates, was contractually obligated to credit their policies 5.5%, even while their investment earnings were less than 5%. No profit there.

Most LTC and life insurance policies experiencing the cost increase are older policies written in the ‘high’ interest years of the ‘80s and ‘90s, another characteristic these policy increases share. They both impact older aged policy holders who have paid premiums for 20 or 30 years. Many retirees, who have reduced income due to low interest rates in conservative investments, now face higher costs driven by those same low interest rates. And for most older life and LTC policy holders, there is no alternative. They are typically too old or unhealthy to obtain more economical coverage.

Another similarity is that carriers are providing both life and LTC policyholders, as a principal option, the ability to maintain the same premium cost by lowering the benefit that would be paid, reducing carrier liability while still retaining their cash flow. In every life insurance COI increase notice we have received, reduction of death benefit to retain current carrying cost is proposed as a policyholder choice. And LTC carriers are leading with the same benefit-reduction option.

Many policyholders—both LTC and life—are simply abandoning their policies after years of premium payments, potentially risking their retirement security. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal lamented the fact that use of private retirement insurance products is dropping, with the burden being shifted to public plans (3). The needs of a widow whose husband dies without life insurance or a couple incurring large LTC bills without resources will shift to and drain the public system going forward.

As the article pointed out, “retirement security isn’t just about having a nest egg, but…also about having options for turning that saving into security.” For some who have seen the costs of their life insurance and LTC policies rise, some of their retirement security may be slipping away.

While we focus on life insurance, the ITM TwentyFirst University is offering a session on long-term care insurance with expert Kim Natovitz on Tuesday, April 24 at 2 p.m. Eastern Time. The session provides one hour of free continuing education for Certified Financial Planners and Certified Trust and Financial Advisors. To sign up, click here.

 

  1. “Millions Bought Insurance to Cover Retirement Health Costs. Now They Face an Awful Choice.” Leslie Scism, Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2017.
  2. “Another Big Long-Term Care Insurance Premium Hike.” Howard Gleckman, Forbes Magazine, August 1, 2016.
  3. “Retirement Insurance Products Are Disappearing. And That’s Dangerous.” Benjamin Harris, Wall Street Journal, April 13, 2018.

 

How About Just Doing the Right Thing?

During an ITM TwentyFirst University webinar on trustee liability, I described a replacement case that came into our remediation department. A grantor with a whole life contract in his trust had decided to stop gifting. His agent advised him to complete a 1035 exchange of the cash value from the existing policy into a new current assumption policy. The exchange, with no other premium, would carry the new policy out past life expectancy on a non-guaranteed basis but not to policy maturity. The death benefit in the trust would be lowered, but the grantor was comfortable with this, as the focus was on limiting the costs associated with the trust. Our remediation team notified the trustee that the death benefit in the existing policy could be guaranteed to maturity by requesting a reduced paid-up policy with the existing carrier, which would contractually guarantee the existing policy’s death benefit with no additional premium. The death benefit would be lowered but would still provide $900,000 more in death benefit than the new non-guaranteed policy was proposing.

I was reminded of the case while reading an article in the Wall Street Journal explaining that the Fifth Circuit Court had “struck down” the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule, stating that the department “overreached” by requiring those who handle retirement accounts to act in the “clients’ best interest” and asserting that the “rule is unreasonable” (1). I understand the industry fight against this law. They are afraid that it will mire them in lawsuits and make the sale of some products much harder in the retirement plan community. The law as it stands only affects retirement accounts, but states are pushing to have “best interests” laws apply to non-qualified annuities and even life insurance (2), which would certainly increase the number of lawsuits.

What ever happened to just doing the right thing? In the case above, had the trustee allowed the replacement, the agent would have made approximately $20 thousand, depending on his brokerage arrangement, but the grantor’s beneficiaries would have lost almost a million dollars. Believe me, many trustees without specialized skills are allowing these cases to slip through.

At ITM TwentyFirst, we service trustees bound by fiduciary duty, and our new affiliated company, Life Insurance Trust Company, is bound by that same duty to maximize the benefit in the trust for the beneficiaries, but that duty does not extend to most of those selling life insurance products. This has created a conflict in the marketplace that trust owned life insurance (TOLI) trustees must recognize. Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 20, at 2PM, we are sponsoring a free webinar providing CE for CFP and CTFA designates that addresses the prudent purchase of life insurance. Click here to register, and if you cannot attend, stop back by our website for a replay at a later date.

 

1.) Fiduciary Rule Dealt Blow by Circuit Court Ruling, Lisa Beilfus, Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2018
2.) N.Y. Urges Life Insurance Fiduciary Standard in NAIC Rule, John Hilton, insurancenewnet.com, January 25, 2018

 

 

NCOIL Tables Model Legislation Efforts to Deal with Cost of Insurance Increases in Life Insurance

NCOIL, the National Council of Insurance Legislators, met in Atlanta last weekend to discuss, among other things, “legislative solutions to unjustified premium increases (1).”

NCOIL is an organization made up of state legislators interested in insurance and financial matters, many of whom serve on related committees in their home states. The goal of the organization is to inform state legislators by creating a venue for interaction and education across state lines. The organization meets three times a year in open sessions that allow the legislators to hear from consumers, industry executives, and regulators.

The organization develops model laws that can be adopted on a state-by-state basis, and part of its published goal is to “preserve the state jurisdiction over insurance” and “speak out on Congressional initiatives that attempt to encroach upon state primacy in overseeing insurance.” The organization provides a needed open setting for the interaction of ideas designed to “improve the quality of insurance regulation (2).”

In its November 2017 meeting, Assemblymember Pamela Hunter of New York, brought up Insurance Regulation 210, a New York regulation we wrote about back in September of 2017. The regulation requires carriers raising expenses or cost of insurance in life and annuity policies to notify the New York State Department of Financial Services at least 120 days prior to “an adverse change in non-guaranteed elements” and to notify consumers within 60 days (3).   The leadership of NCOIL decided to continue the conversation Hunter started at their spring meeting, and on March 3rd, the Life Insurance & Financial Planning Committee of NCOIL met.

Winter storm Riley kept Ms. Hunter from attending the session, which was chaired by Representative Deborah Ferguson, who serves on the House Insurance and Commerce Committee in her home state of Arkansas.

The session opened with a statement by Darwin Bayston of The Life Settlement Association who pointed out there are 142 million life insurance policies in force with $12.3 trillion of death benefit, and stated that the current cost of insurance increases are harming many consumers. Darwin focused on the older population of insureds who had paid premiums for many years only to find that cost increases now made their policies unaffordable.

In my testimony I went over two of the many cases that we have reviewed for trustees at ITM TwentyFirst, where well over $400 million of trust owned life insurance (TOLI) death benefit administered on our Managed Service platform has been affected by the cost increases. I highlighted the problem of trustees, who have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize the asset in the trust, being forced to make decisions that deliver much less benefit to the trust than was expected. I also reviewed the many comments I had received from the public, including advisors who expressed dismay that their clients were subject to cost increases of 150 to 200 percent and consumers who cancelled policies because of COI increases and felt they had been “scammed” – their words, not mine.

Steven Sklaver, an attorney at Susman Godfrey LLP spoke next. Sklaver currently has multiple cases filed against carriers who have raised COI on policies and was “handcuffed” in his presentation as a result. However, he did contrast what is occurring in New York state versus the rest of the country, because of the New York regulation, by calling attention to a situation where a carrier who raised rates elsewhere decided not to raise rates in New York. In his testimony, he questioned whether the carriers could be raising rates across an entire class, as required, if NY state insureds were left out. He also pointed out an issue we have seen at ITM TwentyFirst – carriers not providing in force illustrations on policies in the grace period, a major burden for those of us attempting to help policyholders manage a distressed policy.

Kate Kiernan, Vice President, Chief Counsel and Deputy at the American Council of Life Insurers, spoke for the council, expressing their belief that there was no need for any new regulations concerning cost of insurance increases, either in New York or any other states.

Members of the committee had several inquiries. Representative George Keiser from North Dakota asked Mr. Sklaver several pointed questions, and disputed Steven’s assertion that the carriers were not raising rates across an entire class as required, if New York were left out of the increases.

The chairwoman, Representative Deborah Ferguson, asked me if there was anything in a sales illustration that might alert a consumer to a cost of insurance increase in the future. I informed her that the illustration is not the contract, and in fact, a poor tool to explain the policy. Though the illustration has language that indicates all assumptions could change, there is nothing in the illustration that can predict future changes in the policy.

Senator Bob Hackett from Ohio, a veteran of the financial services industry, opined that cost of insurance increases center more around tracking the policy with in force ledgers than the sales illustration, noting that he reviews the in force ledgers with his clients.  I agreed, but explained that though the cost of insurance in a policy will increase as we age, the cost of insurance increases that were the topic of discussion were beyond the natural rise, and resulted in carrying costs on policies to double or even triple overnight.

Our session, the first of the day, was brought to a halt by the vice chairman, Representative Joe Hoppe of Minnesota, who stated that he thought they should wait to see how it would “play out” in the court system before making the decision to move ahead. With a tap of the gavel, Ms. Ferguson brought the meeting to an end with the committee agreeing to not move forward to develop a model act – at least not now.

We have written often in the past about the cost of insurance increases we have seen in life insurance, including at least one article outlining some possible causes. Over the next year or so as the courts work through the various cases brought against the carriers and market interest rates adjust from the abnormally low rates of the last decade, the story will evolve. We will continue to follow up.

 

  1. NCOIL to Discuss Problems Facing Life Insurance Premium Increases, NCOIL News Release, January 23, 2018
  2. NCOIL website, http://ncoil.org/history-purpose/
  3. NY State Department of Financial Services, 11 NYCRR 48, (Insurance Regulation 210)

The ITM TwentyFirst Solution for Lost Insurance and Pension Benefits

60 Minutes, the CBS news magazine, looked at the problem of unclaimed life insurance benefits in 2016. Lesley Stahl interviewed Jeff Atwater, Chief Financial Officer of Florida who had worked with many of the top companies to get benefits paid to policyholders that had died as far back as the 1960s. Who were the carriers? According to Mr. Atwater, “all the large brand names that you are familiar with.” The carriers, to their credit, “sat down with us and made right,” according to Mr. Atwater. But, 60 Minutes pointed out instances where it was clear the carriers were at fault. After all, this is 60 Minutes. It has been said that if you are a company or an industry, you do not want to be mentioned on 60 Minutes, and this mention gave the industry a black eye. After the show aired, states began to ramp up regulatory activity.

This is not a new issue. Carriers lose touch with their policyholders. In 2000, John Hancock demutualized, sending information packages to millions of policyholders. Four hundred thousand were sent back undeliverable. It has been reported that Prudential lost contact with 2.7 million policyholders at one point (1).

Currently, the problem is also creating negative financial consequences for institutions who deal with pension benefits. In December, the Wall Street Journal reported one company had “failed to pay monthly pension benefits to possibly tens of thousands of workers in accounts that it has on its books,” requiring them to strengthen reserves, which may negatively affect their “results of operations.” A company executive said that the people owed the money were beneficiaries that the company “sought to locate over time unsuccessfully” (2). The company, MetLife, Inc. saw its stock drop nearly 9% and has lost approximately $8.5 billion in market cap (3).

The good news is there is an economical answer for companies like MetLife. In July of 2017, ITM TwentyFirst merged with Pension Benefit Information (PBI), bringing the pre-eminent location and death audit firm in the country under the ITM TwentyFirst umbrella and widening the increasing services we offer to clients and prospects alike. PBI provides proactive solutions for those financial institutions struggling with these issues.

It does not look like this problem will disappear. According to an article published just this week, MetLife’s CEO, when discussing the missing pensioner issue, said, “It’s hard for me to know, really, what happens in the other companies in our industry, but I can’t believe we’re the only one.” He went on to say, “It is an area where I think the entire industry has to find ways to do a better job and find these people and pay benefits to these people that they are owed” (5).

For those companies looking for a solution to this problem, PBI is there to help. For more information on Pension Benefit Information (PBI) you can visit their website at http://www.pbinfo.com/.

 

1. The Insurance Forum, Joseph Belth, November 2010
2. MetLife Discloses Failure to Pay Thousands of Workers’ Pensions, Leslie Scism, The Wall Street Journal, 12/15/2017
3. MetLife Shares Tumble on Pension Shortfall News, Joann S. Lubin and Leslie Scism, The Wall Street Journal, 1/30/2018
4. MetLife Hires Investigators in Search for Missing Pensioners, Alistair Gray, Financial Times, 2/13/2018
5. MetLife CEO on Missing Annuitants: “I Can’t Believe We’re the Only One”, Marie Suszynski, AM Best, 2/16/2018