Equity Index Universal Life Illustration Projections to (Thankfully) Get Another Look by Regulators

We have written as recently as November of last year about the issues trust-owned life insurance (TOLI) trustees encounter when dealing with policy illustration projections. If you are a fiduciary managing a policy, a sales or an in-force life insurance ledger may be one of the only tools you have to predict the outcome of a policy under your care.

However, life insurance illustrations are simply hypothetical projections – at best, just a guide. Too often, they are a sales tool, and the person purchasing the policy (you, if you are the trustee) often assumes they can reasonably expect that the outcome projected for the policy will occur.  This is rarely the case for many reasons, chief among them being overly optimistic rate of return projections and non-guaranteed interest rate bonuses and multipliers that are not readily seen in an illustration.

This has been a significant concern for us with equity index universal life policies that we have been tasked to review and then help manage for trustees. These policies have become popular as a ”more conservative” alternative to variable universal life policies because though they track an index (the S&P 500, for example), they have a limit to the downside that “eliminates losses.” Many variable universal life (VUL) policies assumed cash value rates of return of up to 12% annually, and when we first began seeing these EIUL policies (often as a replacement for a VUL policy), the crediting rates in the projected policy crediting rates shown in sales illustrations approached 8%, which the salesperson told the grantor was a reasonable assumption. We disagreed and have pointed out one carrier who actually sells the product has an online “translator” that shows that in order to obtain an 8% crediting rate for the policy, under most common policy parameters (10% cap, 0% floor), the index tracked would have to exceed a 12% return. The regulators also disagreed, and in September of 2015, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) placed limitations on the crediting rate that could be shown on both sales and in-force ledgers to approximately 7%.

The limitations placed by the NAIC dampened EIUL sales since the policies could not illustrate as well. It was not long until carriers figured out how to game the system by adding interest bonuses and multipliers that were barely decipherable in an illustration. The ploy worked, and sales rebounded, but now the NAIC is going to take another look and has created a subgroup to review the regulations, which according to one article on the matter, “enabled some insurers to show double-digit returns that many considered unrealistic.” (1) We applaud the second look and hope the outcome will generate a more reasonable methodology for EIUL illustrations.

One of the most significant risks to a TOLI trustee is accepting a policy that has little hope for success. Many EIUL policies purchased in the last few years will fail. How many are in your portfolio?     

  1. NAIC To Reopen IUL Illustrations Guideline, John Hilton, January 11, 2019, insurancenewsnet.com

Rating Agency Upgrade for Life Insurance Industry Bodes Well for TOLI Trustees

Less than a year ago we reported that AM Best published a special report in which the rating firm issued a negative outlook on the US life insurance and annuity market.  They cited the continuing low interest rates, a flattening yield curve, regulations, potential for market corrections and the need for innovation as the major reasons for the outlook.  The report highlighted one potentially harmful issue – an abrupt increase in interest rates noting that insurance carriers prefer a slow increase to rates that “allow them to adjust their credited rates on liabilities and their asset portfolios to optimize returns.”

Recently the agency upgraded their life and annuity outlook from negative to stable for 2019, mentioning the moderately increasing interest rates as one of the positive factors.  Other positive indicators were strong sales in the annuity segment which had been down, as well as strong sales in indexed universal life. 

According to the AM Best report, lower effective tax rates going forward will be a boon to the overall profitability of the carriers, as will the general increase in carrier investment returns.

It is this increase in carrier returns that will be most beneficial to TOLI trustees.  Policy performance issues have been centered on the downward slope of fixed interest rates over the last two decades which was exacerbated by the economic crunch of 2008-09 and the Federal Reserve System’s actions that drove federal funds rates to near zero over the last 10 years. Most life insurance products are driven by fixed investments and the last two decades have not been kind to these financial vehicles.  Dividends in whole life policies swooned and crediting rates in many current assumption universal life policies dropped to their guaranteed lows. Some carriers looking to offset the loss in investment income raised the cost of insurance in their products, creating carrying cost increases of 200% or more and making some policies unaffordable for policyholders, many who could no longer purchase newer, more affordable policies. 

This AM Best report provides those of us who manage life insurance for a living with the hopeful prospect that policy performance will improve going forward taking a bit of the pressure off of managing a life insurance portfolio.

New Legislation Introduced in Congress Would Help Seniors and the Life Settlement Industry

A bill introduced in Congress could help spur sales of life insurance in the secondary market by allowing policyholders to use the proceeds from the sale of a life insurance policy to fund an account to be used for paying long-term care expenses on a tax-favored basis. 

HR Bill 7203, introduced by U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant of Texas, a Republican, and U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins of New York, a Democrat, has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill would allow policyholders to reduce “the amount of gain from the sale or assignment of a life insurance contract … by the amount of contributions to a long-term care account” as long as the contribution was made “during the 30-day period beginning on the date of such sale or assignment.”

Currently, in a life insurance policy sale, the policy owner is taxed on the amount above the cost basis – typically the premium paid. This new law would allow a policy sale to occur tax-free, and then allow the policyholder to place the proceeds into a newly created long-term care account that would be “exempt from taxation” as long as the account was used for paying for long-term care.

Tax-free distributions could be made from the accounts to pay for “qualified long-term care services” as well as “premiums for a qualified long-term care insurance contract,” for both the beneficiary and the beneficiary’s spouse, and after the death of the account beneficiary, the account would revert to the spouse.   

The accounts created would be held in trust by a bank, an insurance company, or “another person who demonstrates to the satisfaction of the secretary that the manner in which such person will administer the trust will be consistent with the requirements of this section.”

Any amount distributed from the account that was not used exclusively for long-term care would be includable in the gross income of the beneficiary and subject to a 20% surcharge, except in cases where the beneficiary dies or becomes terminally or chronically ill under current law. 

The proposed law greatly expands the tax advantages of selling an unneeded life insurance policy in the secondary market, and if passed, would provide the policyholder with another reason to explore the life settlement market.

We will report back on the progress of the bill as it moves through the legislative process.

Trust Owned Life Insurance (TOLI) Year End Review for 2018

First, we want to thank all ITM TwentyFirst clients for another remarkable year of growth. Without the support of our partners at banks, trust companies, family offices, and law firms across the country, we could not sustain the growth that has made us the largest manager of in-force life insurance in the country.  So, thank you for that.

One reason for our growth over the years has been the quality of our team. From the beginning, we have focused on internal education to provide our staff with an edge in the market, and over the years we have also trained peers and regulators through our outreach programs.  In 2018, we released a free PDF entitled the TOLI Handbook, the culmination of over a decade of real-world insight translated into a guide for the management and administration of TOLI trusts. The PDF is available for free at TOLIHandbook.com.

We at ITM TwentyFirst have always listened to our clients.  We started by creating a software program that TOLI trustees could use to manage policies. When clients asked if we could do more, we created the Managed Solution, total outsourcing of TOLI trust administration and policy tracking and remediation.  In the last few years, we heard from clients looking to offload a portion or all of their ILITs to a firm that would not compete with them in other areas and in 2018 we started the Trust Owned Life Insurance Company (https://lifeinsurancetrustco.com/) the only trust company in the US focused on life insurance trusts.  Our initial year has been very promising, and we look forward to helping trustees deal with this challenging asset. 

The biggest news in the TOLI industry this year? It had to be the changes in the estate tax laws brought about by the signing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act by President Trump. The law raised the federal estate tax exemption from $5.49 million to $11.18 million and dramatically lowered the number of estates subject to the federal estate tax. It is estimated that with the higher exemption amount less than one of every 1,000 estates will subject to the tax. (1)

This will mean more work for a TOLI trustee who, besides managing a policy, may now have to justify its value to a grantor.  A savvy trustee will explain to the client that the estate tax law changes made the policy in the trust more – not less – valuable.  If the grantor no longer needs the policy to pay estate taxes, that just means that more of the benefit is going to the beneficiaries – and wasn’t that the goal in the first place? 

Some grantors will still want to make changes – perhaps lower the death benefit or limit the gifting that must occur going forward.  This will mean more remediation services will be required for a TOLI portfolio and we have found this is the weakness in many TOLI trustee service platforms.  Having a life insurance expert on staff will be a necessity going forward unless you outsource that job.  Remember that even if the grantor no longer thinks they need as much death benefit – or any death benefit – your job, actually your responsibility as a trustee, will still be to maximize the asset in the trust.

Another area we have seen trustees slip is policy replacement analysis.  Some agents are using the changes in the estate tax as a marketing tool to engage grantors and recommend a change to the policy in their trust.  The sale of permanent life insurance in the estate planning market has dropped. LIMRA, an industry organization, reported that the total number of policies sold market wide dropped by 3% in the 1st quarter of 2018.  The biggest drop was in guaranteed universal life (24%), a policy often used in estate planning.  Variable and index universal life policies saw gains, but only because the industry has shifted its marketing from death benefit sales to income retirement sales and these policies are being touted as excellent vehicles for that use. (2)  Agents that have focused on the estate planning market are simply not selling the volume of new policies they have in the past and have redirected efforts to replace existing policies.  Throughout this year – in blogs and education programs – we have pointed out “bad” replacement efforts we have caught.  For one brought to us by a prospect for review two years after the fact, we could do nothing, and he wound up writing a high five-figure check to make the client whole.  The prospect is now a client of our Managed Solution.      

One hopeful sign – the clamor among the states and associations for a Best Interest Standard.  New York has led the charge with a regulation that would require agents to provide “the product that best reflects the customer’s interest,” not “what is most profitable to the seller.” The Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Board already has standards in place that all CFP designees act with “honesty” and “integrity,” always “in the client’s best interest,” placing the interests of the client above the interests of the CFP. (3)

One area we have seen increased activities this year is the life settlement market.  The sales of life insurance in the secondary market has been trending up in the last few years, and though 2018 statistics are not in the conversations we have had with those in that market lead us to believe that sales will be up again.  The changes in the estate tax have had a positive effect on sales and a change in the taxation of a policy for a seller has also helped.  In the past, a seller of a policy would pay taxes on the difference between the cost basis and the sales price – but there was a twist.  Since 2009, tax laws made the seller subtract the cumulative cost of insurance charges assessed against the policy from the cost basis creating a higher tax bill.  The new tax law did away with that, reducing the tax burden on those who sell their policy.    

Cost of insurance (COI) increases continued in 2018 with well-known carriers like John Hancock and Lincoln National raising costs on legacy policies.  We reported on several court cases filed against carriers that had raised their costs and in each case the carrier had to “give back” some of the extra charges, though whether it was enough to keep others from raising costs remains to be seen.

We at ITM TwentyFirst are grateful for a challenging, but eventful year, one that has seen the company grow dramatically.  We now have locations in four cities and cover the country from coast to coast. Our product line is expanding, and our company has grown to over 150 team members while still keeping in place the high service level standards we are known for.

We are grateful for the opportunities ahead of us and again thank you for your trust and your business. 

  1. Only 1,700 Estates Would Owe Estate Tax in 2018 Under the TCJA, Howard Gleckman, Tax Policy Center, December 6, 2017, https://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxvox/only-1700-estates-would-owe-estate-tax-2018-under-tcja
  2. LIMRA: U.S. Individual Life Insurance Sales Decline in First Quarter 2018, insurancenewsnet.com, June 4, 2018
  3. New York State Proposes “Best Interest” Standard in Sale of Life Insurance and Annuities, ITM TwentyFirst Blog, February 9, 2018

The Big Four Carriers Announce Their Dividends for 2019

For the last few years, we have tracked the dividends paid by four large mutual carriers whose main product offering is whole life.  These carriers are owned by their policyholders, not stockholders and operate with a long-term business view. Unlike most life insurance carriers, they sell their products through a career agency system – a dying breed.  Their dividend rate and payments are a major marketing tool for their agents and dropping dividends is never a major selling point.  But in the last decade, even they succumbed to the historic low-interest rate environment and dividends trended downward.  

The big four carriers we have tracked – Northwestern Mutual, Mass Mutual, Guardian Life, and New York Life expect higher dividend payouts for 2019. 

  • Northwestern Mutual: Will pay out $5.6 billion, up from $5.3 billion in 2018
  • Mass Mutual: Will pay out $1.72 billion, up from $1.6 billion in 2018
  • Guardian Life: Will pay out $978 million, up from $911 million in 2018
  • New York Life: $1.8 billion, up from $1.78 billion in 2018

All four carriers appear to have held or raised dividend investment rates (DIR), with none dropping, a good sign.  The DIR drives the actual dividend amount paid.  

  • Northwestern Mutual: At 5%, up from 4.9% in 2018
  • Mass Mutual: Stays at 6.4%, as in 2018
  • Guardian Life: Stays at 5.85% where it has been since 2017
  • New York Life: Although they have not released yet, it appears to stay at 6.2%, where it has been since 2015

Overall, the dividend direction is positive.  We will not be seeing the 8% plus dividends of the 90s or early 2000s, but the worst seems to be over with dividend interest rates heading up, not down.  And that is a reassuring sign for those of us who manage whole life policies. 

In a future blog, we will review the components that makeup and drive the dividend calculation.

The TOLI Handbook – Chapter 15: Understanding Life Expectancy Reports

In our last blog, we wrote about remediation and the challenges that TOLI trustees have when managing a policy.  Remediation is not just developing the best options for an under performing policy, increasingly it means maximizing the value of a policy that a grantor believes is no longer needed, or one whose expected funding has stopped. These decisions must be well-thought-out and every data point that can be gathered should be utilized in a process that prudently steers the choices made. Often the decisions made are not black and white, they are grey and while the outcome may not be controlled, the process can.

One tool that TOLI trustees need to become aware of is a life expectancy (LE) report.  It grew out of the life settlement market where investors needed to gauge the expected lifespan of an insured and the premium costs until a benefit will be paid to calculate a fair purchase price for a policy that would enable them to make a profit on the investment.

It also provides a great tool for TOLI trustees attempting to make decisions about the management of a policy. The underwriters at ITM TwentyFirst determine the life expectancy calculation based on age, gender, lifestyle, smoking status, family history and medical condition (underwriting factors) to create the LE report. The life expectancy report typically includes the life expectancy estimate and can include the probability of mortality each year based on the insured’s specific underwriting factors.  The best way to show the value of an LE report is through an example.

A trustee of a portfolio of three current assumption universal life (CAUL) policies totaling $10 million in death benefit has been informed by the grantor, a male, age 85, that no more gifting would occur to the trust. The trustee contacted the beneficiaries who informed the trustee they too were not interested in providing additional funding. The trustee was concerned about the possibility of policy lapses but wished to uphold his responsibility to maximize the benefit of the trust to the beneficiaries.

In force illustrations were obtained on all three policies assuming no further premium was going to be paid into the policies. In addition, a life expectancy report was obtained on the insured/grantor and the percentage chance the insured would be alive was plotted.  The information was summarized in the spreadsheet below.

ChartforBlog-8-15-2018

As seen in the spreadsheet, it was projected no premium would have to be paid on any of the policies until the 8th year when Policy #2, the $2 million policy would have to be funded. All the policies would be nominally funded, allowing policy cash value to run to near zero before funding the policies with a minimal amount to keep the policies in force. The last column shows an approximation of the percentage chance the insured would still be alive. The LE report obtained showed that the insured was expected to have passed away by the end of the 9th year. While the LE report is not precise, it can provide guidance, and in this situation, it gave the trustee comfort that, at least for now, nothing should be done to any of the policies in the trust.

Using an LE report adds a data point to a prudent process. The key to mitigating liability is in the process, not the outcome.  A great example of that is shown on page 127 of the TOLI Handbook, a 155-page guide for TOLI trustees and anyone dealing with life insurance.

To download your FREE PDF copy of the TOLI Handbook, go to www.TOLIHandbook.com.

TOLI Trustee Work Load and Liability Climbing as Use of ILITs Diminish

As the federal estate tax laws changed in the last year, the use of new irrevocable life insurance trusts (ILITs) diminished, but the work required to administer existing ILITs went up along with the potential liability attached to the asset class.  There are several reasons for this.

  • As a country, we are aging and the population of the average TOLI portfolio is aging too. For example, 25% of the insureds in policies we manage for TOLI trustees are above age 80, 6% are above age 90.  These demographic realities create decision-making dilemmas with policies, especially those that might be underfunded. Life insurance costs rise with age and problems also increase with age.  Longevity combined with poor policy performance makes policy management decisions more complex and the wrong decision can render a policy funded for a lifetime worthless or near worthless.  For example, there are 72,000 Americans over the age of 100 (1) when most older policies mature.  Unfortunately, the outcome at maturity is often not what you (and your clients) may expect. Many older policies mature for the cash value only, creating two issues.  If the policy contract matures with significant cash value, the proceeds could be subject to taxation. Or worse – the policy matures with minimal cash value leaving the trust with little value. There is an adage with life insurance, “I want to die with a dollar of cash value in my policy.”  Unfortunately, for some who live to maturity, a dollar is about all their beneficiaries get. Try explaining that to a beneficiary that has forgone thousands of dollars over the years by waiving their Crummey rights.
  • Products have not lived up to projections over the years and the problem is growing worse. The use of whole life, with its guarantees, has dropped while the use of universal life (UL) chassis products has increased.  Some UL policies have death benefit guarantees, but most are cash value dependent policies driven by policy performance, which has lagged.  And in the last few years, many carriers have raised the cost of insurance (COI) on policies, exacerbating the performance problem.  Policies with well-known carriers like Transamerica, Lincoln National, AXA, Banner, Genworth and John Hancock, and others, have had carrying costs raised by 200 percent and more, quickly dissipating policy cash value and placing trustees in a precarious situation as policies deteriorate.
  • Even those UL policies with guarantees can have issues. According to an industry expert, (2), a major guaranteed UL carrier performed an audit of policies issued in the 4 years since it started selling the product and found that, in that short timeframe, 31% of the policies already had compromised death benefit guarantees with the major culprit being early payments. Yes, paying early actually damaged policy guarantees putting trustees at risk.
  • The greatest increase in liability and workload for TOLI trustees will accelerate in the coming years as grantors decide they no longer need their policy because of changes in the estate tax law or wish to alter the asset in the trust. The process behind analyzing options besides simply surrendering or lapsing a policy is beyond the capabilities of many trustees and we have come across trustees who have surrendered multi-million-dollar assets with no analysis – a recipe for legal disaster.
  • Policy replacements are flourishing and the number of bad replacements coming into ITM TwentyFirst has increased in the last year. One bad replacement (see Case Study #6, page 146 in the TOLI Handbook) would have robbed the TOLI trust of $900,000 leaving the trustee liable if we had not intervened. Another bad replacement caused a prospect of ours (now a client) to write a 5-figure check to make the client whole because the new policy was inferior to the one it replaced.

It’s a dangerous time out there for TOLI trustees.  And it will not be improving but growing worse.  In the coming weeks, we will be providing some guidance to TOLI trustees.  In the meantime, for guidance now, you can download the free TOLI Handbook, a guide for trustees, regulators and fiduciaries dealing with TOLI policies.  It is available at www.TOLIHandbook.com.

 

  1. Worlds Centenarian Population Expected To Grow Eightfold By 2050, Renee Stepler, Pew Research Center, April 21, 2016, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/04/21/worlds-centenarian-population-projected-to-grow-eightfold-by-2050/
  2. Bobby Samuelson, The Life Product Review, https://lifeproductreview.com