Ruark Consulting Releases Variable Annuity Mortality Study Results

Mortality rates fall 3%, driven by mortality improvement and business mix

Ruark Consulting, LLC today released the results of its 2018 study of variable annuity (VA) industry mortality. The study was based on experience from 13.3 million policyholders spanning the period January, 2008 through December, 2017. Twenty-four variable annuity writers participated in the study, comprising $880 billion in account value as of December, 2017.

“We have 60% more data than our last VA mortality study, allowing for high credibility even when splitting results by multiple factors of influence,” said Timothy Paris, Ruark’s CEO. “We’ve also added much more detailed analysis of mortality results by living benefit and death benefit types, partial withdrawal and income behavior, contract size, tax status, interactions, and changes through time. These studies provide new and important insights into VA mortality, particularly with the seasoning of living benefit blocks beyond the end of surrender charge and bonus periods.”

The company’s previous VA mortality study was released in 2015.

Paris highlighted study enhancements in response to recent regulatory proposals. “It’s not often that life and annuity actuaries need to address new mortality and projection bases for reserves and capital,” he noted, “but now is indeed the time for that. So we’ve included analyses of industry mortality results relative to the 2012 IAM Basic Table with projection scale G2, our proprietary Ruark VA mortality table, and other tabular bases to make the study results as meaningful and actionable as possible for our client companies and their actuaries.”

Study highlights include:

  • Aggregate variable annuity mortality has declined 3% since 2015. The decline is largely attributable to two factors: mortality improvement and changes in the business mix. Contracts with living benefits exhibit lower mortality than average, and these contracts make up an increasing proportion of overall exposure. Whereas 44% of 2008 account value was on contracts with no living benefit, and 43% on contracts with guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefit (GLWB) or guaranteed minimum income benefit (GMIB) riders, by 2014 the proportions were 25% and 69%, respectively. The proportion of exposure has remained roughly the same in subsequent years.

  • In this study for the first time, Ruark benchmarked VA mortality against the 2012 Individual Annuity Mortality (IAM) Basic table with projection scale G2. The 2012 IAM Basic with G2 projection is under consideration as the standard for calculating insurers’ reserve and capital requirements for variable annuities. Ruark also benchmarked VA mortality against its proprietary 2015 Ruark Variable Annuity Mortality (RVAM) table, which was developed from the results of the prior study. Standard industry mortality tables systematically overstate or understate various age-sex cohorts, even when they closely approximate aggregate mortality. In contrast to the 2012 IAM table, which departs as much as 18% from experience at central ages and over 45% for younger female cohorts, the 2015 Ruark VAM table diverges by less than half those amounts.

  • Variable annuity mortality continues to evolve through time. Changes in the business mix, and mortality improvement since the prior study, have led to changes across age-sex cohorts as well as a decline in the absolute level of VA mortality.
  • A distinct hierarchy in mortality across living benefit types is apparent. Lowest mortality is found on GLWB and GMIB riders. Guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefit (GMWB) and guaranteed minimum accumulation benefit (GMAB) riders fall in a middle group, with average mortality. Those contracts without living benefits exhibit above-average mortality. This hierarchy is consistent with a pattern of policyholder selection on the basis of longevity benefits. A GLWB rider allows the policyholder to make regular withdrawals, up to a specified amount, until death – even after exhausting their account value. This benefit is most valuable to policyholders with an expectation of favorable longevity. Above-average mortality on contracts without living benefits is consistent with the intuition that less-healthy VA buyers would rationally forego a financial transaction that features such benefits — and instead purchase a product whose main feature is a death benefit. Analysis by contract duration indicates that the selection effects wear off over time, similar to traditional life insurance products.

  • The extent to which mortality differs by living benefit type suggests that utilization of living benefits might reveal selective pressures as well, and Ruark observes that withdrawal benefit mortality differs considerably by withdrawal history. GLWB contracts that have taken no withdrawals have low mortality; those that have taken regular income withdrawals have intermediate mortality; and those that have taken excess withdrawals exhibit above-average mortality. Ruark’s conjecture is that these differences reflect policyholders’ different income and liquidity needs in response to conditions that correlate with higher mortality.

  • The effects of policy size are apparent only when results are segregated by living benefit type. Among more generous living benefit types, mortality declines with increased account value, with a difference of 7 percentage points between the smallest and largest contracts. Among older living benefit forms (GMWB and GMAB), the relationship is flat. And among contracts with no living benefits, mortality increases with account value, by 15 percentage points from the smallest to the largest contract size groups. Ruark believes that more affluent policyholders are generally more financially savvy and have greater access to expert financial advice, which translates to more savvy purchase and benefit retention behavior.

Detailed study results, including company-level analytics and customized behavioral assumption models calibrated to the study data, are available for purchase by participating companies.

For further information on results, to purchase the study, or if you have any other inquiries, click here or email Timothy Paris (