COVID-19 and annuity policyholder behavior: Looking back, looking ahead

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Executive Summary
We review 2020 annuity policyholder behavior, comparing actual experience to our March 2020 forecasts. The effects of COVID-19 – both expected and unexpected – suggest important lessons for future modeling and assumption-setting.Read more


Ruark Consulting Releases 2021 Variable Annuity Studies

COVID-related factors dampened 2020 policyholder activity in key sectors

Ruark Consulting, LLC today released the results of its 2021 industry studies of variable annuity (VA) policyholder behavior, which include surrenders, income utilization and partial withdrawals, and annuitizations.

“We saw clear dampening effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on VA policyholder behavior. But while many people like to say ‘everything changed’ in 2020, that’s not exactly true,” said Timothy Paris, Ruark’s CEO. “With the benefit of full-year 2020 data, we were able to isolate what did change – and what didn’t. Similar to what we observed during and following the Global Financial Crisis in 2007-8, this has significant financial implications for annuity companies’ modeling of future behavior, including product pricing and risk management.”

Ruark’s 2021 study spanned the period from 2008 through 2020, incorporating data from the full calendar year 2020. It thereby captured effects of COVID-19 and related market movements as they developed throughout the year. COVID-related findings include:

  • Pandemic-related factors dampened VA policyholder behavior in 2020. Extreme market activity in the first half of the year, disruption to policyholders’ usual communication patterns with advisors and agents by COVID-related social distancing, and the suspension of required minimum distributions under the CARES Act all served to depress surrender and income commencement behavior; however, the effects were not uniform, instead manifesting in specific market sectors as described below.
  • In the first half of 2020, declines in account values made guarantees relatively more valuable, leading to greater persistency.
  • As annuity sales volumes fell in 2020, VA surrender rates fell as well. However, the declines in surrender rates were concentrated among ultimate contract durations, where rates fell 1-2 percentage points independent of rider type or benefit value. Evidence suggests producers focused their attention on contracts at the shock duration (immediately following the expiration of surrender charges), leading to less turnover among the longest-dated contracts. The decline in surrenders is suggestive of a new, unique surrender regime, distinct from the regimes we observe before and after the 2008 financial crisis.

  • Tax-qualified contracts over age 70 ½ commenced GLWB utilization at sharply reduced rates in 2020, even as commencement rates for other age-tax cohorts stayed level or increased.

  • GLWB commencement rates were depressed in 2020 among contracts with the highest propensity to exercise the benefit: in-the-money contracts following the end of the deferral bonus period. Both the level and sensitivity of commencement rates were reduced.
  • GMIB annuitization rates accelerated their downward trend in 2020, but only among “hybrid” forms designed for regular withdrawals during the accumulation period.

Study data comprised 93 million years of exposure and 14.9 million policyholders from 21 participating companies, with $768 billion in account value as of the end of the study period. The study’s in-the-money exposures on GLWB contracts were 31% higher than in Ruark’s 2019 study (completed before the pandemic began) and 64% higher for deep in-the-money contracts. Among contracts issued since 2011, deep in-the-money exposure increased to 12% of total exposure, up from 6% in 2019. The study contained over 900,000 exposure years prior to withdrawal commencement for contract durations 11 and beyond, nearly tripling the comparable exposure in Ruark’s 2019 study.

Other study highlights include:

  • GLWB deferral incentives appear to be effective. Income commencement rates are low overall; less than 15% in the first year and falling to less than half of that in years 2-10. However, commencement rates more than double in year 11 with the expiration of common 10-year bonuses for deferring income, before falling to an ultimate rate. After commencement, GLWB continuation rates are over 85%.
  • Income commencement rates increase when GLWBs are more in-the-money, that is, the benefit base exceeds the account value. This effect is quite pronounced after the expiration of common 10-year deferral incentives, with commencement rates ranging from low single digits to nearly 20% depending on moneyness.

  • Annual withdrawal frequency rates for GLWB and GMIB have continued to increase and have become more efficient with approximately 68% of recent experience at the full guaranteed income amount.
  • Free partial withdrawal amounts increase after the end of the surrender charge period, similar to the familiar “shock” in surrender rates. Excess withdrawal amounts on GLWB and GMIB increase as well.
  • Contracts with GLWB and GMIB have much lower surrender rates, and this effect is even more pronounced for those limiting their partial withdrawals to the guaranteed income amount.
  • Policyholders that take systematic withdrawals on GLWB and GMIB exhibit a select-and-ultimate effect, with very low surrenders in the first systematic withdrawal year and increasing thereafter. In the fourth systematic withdrawal year and beyond, surrender rates are comparable to those of contracts that have not taken any withdrawals.
  • When calculating relative value for GLWBs, use of a “nominal” moneyness basis (account value relative to the GLWB benefit base) can be deceiving, since it fails to reflect important aspects of the product’s economics. Therefore, it may be preferable in many cases to use an actuarial basis that incorporates interest and mortality rates. Surrenders exhibit a dynamic relationship to moneyness, whether measured on a nominal or actuarial basis. On a nominal basis 80% of GLWB exposure is in-the-money, whereas on an actuarial basis only 13% is in-the-money.

  • Surrender rates vary little across distribution channels, once other drivers of surrender behavior are accounted for. The exception is where companies cannot ascertain whether a policyholder has an ongoing relationship; where the distributor-policyholder relationship is weak, surrenders are as much as 34% higher than average and 45% higher than under career agency distribution.
  • Annuitization rates for GMIBs are in the low single digits and continue to decline. “Hybrid” versions that allow partial dollar-for-dollar withdrawals have much lower rates than traditional versions which reduce the guarantee in a pro-rata fashion, especially in the first year of eligibility.
  • Factors influencing annuitization rates include age, duration, last year of eligibility, death benefit type, contract size, and moneyness. The effects of size vary depending on the benefit form and also the distribution channel, with considerably higher annuitization rates where the distributor-policyholder relationship is weak.

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


Ruark Releases 2020 Variable Annuity Study Results

Indications that COVID-related market activity and disruptions affected policyholder behavior

Ruark Consulting, LLC today released the results of its 2020 industry studies of variable annuity (VA) policyholder behavior, which include surrenders, income utilization and partial withdrawals, and annuitizations.

“We expected that 2020 behavior would be different,” said Timothy Paris, Ruark’s CEO. “By looking at industry-level data, we are better able to identify and quantify those differences – especially on current-generation products.”

Ruark’s 2020 study spanned the period from January 2008 through June 2020. The study period was designed to capture early effects of COVID-19 and related market movements. COVID-related findings include:

  • Extreme market activity in the first half of 2020, and disruption to policyholders’ usual communication patterns with advisors and agents by COVID-related social distancing, appear to have affected VA surrender and income commencement behavior
  • Contracts with guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefits (GLWB) persisted at greater rates than expected, as current-generation products exhibited greater sensitivity to 2020 market movements than they did in the past
  • Surrender rates fell uniformly on older product types in 2020; this is suggestive of a new, unique surrender regime, distinct from the regimes observed before and after the 2008 financial crisis
  • GLWB commencement rates were depressed in 2020 among contracts with the highest propensity to exercise the benefit: in-the-money contracts following the end of the deferral bonus period. Both the level and sensitivity of commencement rates were reduced.

Study data comprised 89 million years of exposure and 13.9 million policyholders from 20 participating companies, with $675 billion in account value as of the end of the study period. The study’s in-the-money exposures on GLWB contracts were 23% higher than in Ruark’s 2019 study (and 40% higher for deep in-the-money contracts). Among contracts issued since 2011, deep in-the-money exposure increased to 9% of total exposure, up from 6% in 2019. The study contained over 740,000 exposure years prior to withdrawal commencement for contract durations 11 and beyond, more than doubling the comparable exposure in Ruark’s 2019 study.

Other study highlights include:

  • GLWB deferral incentives appear to be effective. Income commencement rates are low overall; about 13% in the first year and falling to about half of that in years 2-10. However, commencement rates more than double in year 11 with the expiration of common 10-year bonuses for deferring income, before falling to an ultimate rate. After commencement, GLWB continuation rates are over 85%.
  • Income commencement rates increase when GLWBs are more in-the-money, that is, the benefit base exceeds the account value. This effect is quite pronounced after the expiration of common 10-year deferral incentives, with commencement rates ranging from low single digits to nearly 30% depending on moneyness.

  • Annual withdrawal frequency rates for GLWB and GMIB have continued to increase and have become more efficient with approximately 65% of recent experience at the full guaranteed income amount.
  • Free partial withdrawal amounts increase after the end of the surrender charge period, similar to the familiar “shock” in surrender rates. Excess withdrawal amounts on GLWB and GMIB increase as well.
  • Contracts with GLWB and GMIB have much lower surrender rates, and this effect is even more pronounced for those limiting their partial withdrawals to the guaranteed income amount.

  • Policyholders that take systematic withdrawals on GLWB and GMIB exhibit a select-and-ultimate effect, with very low surrenders in the first systematic withdrawal year and increasing thereafter. In the fourth systematic withdrawal year and beyond, surrender rates are comparable to those of contracts that have not taken any withdrawals.
  • When calculating relative value for GLWBs, use of a “nominal” moneyness basis (account value relative to the GLWB benefit base) can be deceiving, since it fails to reflect important aspects of the product’s economics. Therefore, it may be preferable in many cases to use an actuarial basis that incorporates interest and mortality rates. Surrenders exhibit a dynamic relationship to moneyness, whether measured on a nominal or actuarial basis. On a nominal basis 80% of GLWB exposure is in-the-money, whereas on an actuarial basis only 12% is in-the-money.

  • Surrender rates vary little across distribution channels, once other drivers of surrender behavior are accounted for. The exception is where companies cannot ascertain whether a policyholder has an ongoing relationship; where the distributor-policyholder relationship is weak, surrenders are as much as 50% higher.

  • Annuitization rates for GMIBs are in the low single digits and continue to decline. “Hybrid” versions that allow partial dollar-for-dollar withdrawals have much lower rates than traditional versions which reduce the guarantee in a pro-rata fashion, especially in the first year of eligibility. Factors influencing annuitization rates include age, duration, last year of eligibility, death benefit type, contract size, and moneyness.

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


Market turmoil: What does it mean for annuity policyholder behavior?

To download the full report, click here.

Executive Summary

We offer insights on expected annuity policyholder responses to recent financial market turmoil, gleaned from our studies of annuity policyholder behavior since 2007.

Variable annuity writers should expect:

  • Greater persistency overall, but elevated surrenders for at-the-money GLWB
  • Greater income utilization, especially for GLWB after the deferral incentive period and “hybrid” GMIB
  • Greater GMIB annuitization elections, especially on traditional “pro-rata” benefit forms

Fixed indexed annuity writers should expect:

  • Greater persistency for GLIB, and lower persistency without GLIB
  • Greater income utilization for GLIB

COVID-19 impact on mortality:

  • Will likely depend on the level of containment among the general population at retirement ages, with potential differences between those with and without living benefit guarantees

Ruark is uniquely positioned to help as risk management takes center stage:

  • We have the data from past times of crisis –monthly policyholder behavior and mortality data going back to 2007 covering about 70% of the market with over $1 trillion of current account values
  • We have developed predictive analytics techniques that use company- and industry-level data to help our clients improve their annuity pricing, valuation, and risk management models. Our approach is rigorous, transparent, and tailored to each company, allowing for quick implementation and quantification of improvement in financial risk profile from what they can do if limited to their own data.

To download the full report, click here.


Ruark Releases 2019 Variable Annuity Study Results

Increasing data exposure in key areas

Ruark Consulting, LLC today released the results of its 2019 industry studies of variable annuity (VA) policyholder behavior, which include surrenders, income utilization and partial withdrawals, and annuitizations.

“Data exposures in key areas have increased considerably since last year’s studies, allowing for more detailed analysis and higher credibility of results,” said Timothy Paris, Ruark’s CEO.

Among the notable increases in exposure:

  • Nearly double the exposure in years 11 and later, including income commencement behavior after common 10-year deferral incentives for guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefits (GLWB).
  • 12% increase in exposure for in-the-money GLWBs, following equity market declines during the fourth quarter of 2018.
  • 29% increase in exposure for guaranteed minimum income benefits (GMIB) past their waiting period.

Total data comprises 85 million years of exposure and 14 million policyholders from 24 participating companies spanning the 11-year period from 2008-2018, with $795 billion in account value as of the end of the study period.

Highlights include:

  • GLWB deferral incentives appear to be effective. Income commencement rates are low overall; about 12% in the first year and falling to about half of that in years 2-10. However, commencement rates more than double in year 11 with the expiration of common 10-year bonuses for deferring income, before falling to an ultimate rate.  The pattern for GMIB is similar, although somewhat muted. After commencement, continuation rates are over 80%.

  • Annual withdrawal frequency rates for GLWB and GMIB have continued to increase and have become more efficient with approximately 60% of recent experience at the full guaranteed income amount.

  • The effects of "moneyness" (account value relative to the guarantee base) on partial withdrawal behavior differ depending on circumstances. Income commencement rates increase when GLWBs are more in-the-money. This effect is quite pronounced after the expiration of common 10-year deferral incentives, with commencement rates ranging from low single digits to nearly 40% depending on moneyness. At all durations, when guarantees move out-of-the-money, withdrawals in excess of the maximum amount are more common, which is suggestive of policyholders taking investment gains out of the contract.
  • On contracts without GLWB or GMIB, free partial withdrawal amounts increase after the end of the surrender charge period, similar to the familiar “shock” in surrender rates.

  • Surrender rates have not returned to 2008 levels, even as strong equity market performance has boosted account values in recent years. Newer sales include more GLWBs which have strong incentives for persistency. Also, VA writers de-risked their product offerings in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the low interest rate environment has reduced the attractiveness of non-VA investment alternatives.

  • Three surrender regimes are evident during the study period: surrenders at the shock duration were nearly 30% at the onset of the 2008 economic crisis, and in a range of 12-16% subsequently except for 2016 when they reached their nadir below 10%. The 2016 dip is believed to be the result of uncertainty surrounding the DOL’s proposed Fiduciary Rule and other political factors.
  • Contracts with GLWB and GMIB have much lower surrender rates, and this effect is even more pronounced for those limiting their partial withdrawals to the guaranteed income amount.

  • Policyholders that take systematic withdrawals on GLWB and GMIB exhibit a select-and-ultimate effect, with very low surrenders in the first systematic withdrawal year and increasing thereafter. In the fourth systematic withdrawal year and beyond, surrender rates are comparable to those of contracts that have not taken any withdrawals.
  • When calculating relative value for GLWBs, use of a nominal moneyness basis (account value relative to the GLWB benefit base) can be deceiving, since it fails to reflect important aspects of the product’s economics. Therefore, it may be preferable in many cases to use an actuarial basis that incorporates interest and mortality rates. Surrenders exhibit a dynamic relationship to moneyness, whether measured on a nominal or actuarial basis. On a nominal basis 81% of GLWB exposure is in-the-money, whereas on an actuarial basis only 11% is in-the-money.

  • Annuitization rates for GMIBs are in the low single digits and continue to decline. “Hybrid” versions that allow partial dollar-for-dollar withdrawals have much lower rates than traditional versions which reduce the guarantee in a pro-rata fashion, especially in the first year of eligibility. Factors influencing annuitization rates include age, duration, last year of eligibility, death benefit type, contract size, and moneyness.

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


Ruark Releases Fall 2018 Variable Annuity Study Results

Ruark Consulting today released the results of its fall 2018 studies of variable annuity (VA) policyholder behavior. The studies, which examine the factors driving surrender behavior, partial withdrawals, and annuitization, were based on experience from 13.3 million policyholders spanning the period January, 2008 through June, 2018. Twenty-four variable annuity writers participated in the study, comprising $840 billion in account value as of June, 2018.

Study highlights include:

  • Surrender rates have not returned to 2008 levels, even as strong equity market performance has boosted account values in recent years. Newer sales include more lifetime benefit guarantees, which have strong incentives for persistency. Also, VA writers retrenched their product offerings in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, so transfers to competing products would not generally provide richer guarantees. Low market interest rates similarly reduced the attractiveness of non-VA investment alternatives.

  • Ruark sees three surrender regimes in the study window: surrenders at the shock duration (the year following the end of the surrender charge period) were nearly 30% at the onset of the 2008 economic crisis; shock rates below 10% were observed during 2016; and otherwise a post-crisis regime has prevailed, with shock rates in a range of 12-16% from 2009 through mid-2015 and 2017-18. The 2016 dip is believed to be the result of uncertainty surrounding the DOL’s proposed Fiduciary Rule and other political factors.
  • The presence of a living benefit rider has a notable effect on surrender rates; contracts with a lifetime benefit rider have much higher persistency than those with other types of guarantees. Also, a contract’s prior partial withdrawal history influences its persistency. Contracts with a lifetime benefit rider that have taken withdrawals in excess of the rider’s annual maximum have surrender rates three points higher overall than other contracts with those riders.  In contrast, those who have taken withdrawals no more than the rider’s maximum have the lowest surrender rates (three points lower at the shock, for example, compared to contracts who have taken no withdrawals).
  • Policyholders that take systematic withdrawals on lifetime benefit riders exhibit a select-and-ultimate effect, with very low surrenders in the first systematic withdrawal year and increasing thereafter. In the fourth systematic withdrawal year and beyond, surrender rates are comparable to those of contracts that have not taken any withdrawals.

  • When calculating relative value for lifetime withdrawal guarantees, use of a nominal “moneyness” measure -- account value vs. the benefit base -- can be deceiving. A nominal measure fails to reflect important aspects of the product’s economics. Therefore, it may be preferable in many cases to use an actuarial measure of moneyness that incorporates interest and mortality rates. Moneyness exhibits a dynamic relationship to surrenders, whether measured on a nominal or actuarial basis, with out-of-the-money contracts surrendering at rates about triple those of in-the-money contracts. However, when measured on an actuarial basis, we find that most exposure is at-the-money or out-of-the-money: 78% of GLWB exposure is nominally in-the-money, whereas only 11% is in-of-the-money when measured on an actuarial scale.

  • As the market for guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefit (GLWB) riders matures, it is possible to see the effects of long-dated insurer incentives to delay benefit commencement. Commencement rates are 12% in the first policy year, reflecting the popularity of "income now" designs, and approximately half that in years 2-10. However, usage jumps in year 11, with the expiration of ten-year bonuses for deferring withdrawals common on many riders. Commencement frequency thereafter settles in to an ultimate rate. Among contracts that take a withdrawal, over 85% continue withdrawals in subsequent years.
  • Overall living benefit annual withdrawal frequency rates have continued to increase, and utilization has grown more efficient. Withdrawal frequency for guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefit riders is now 25%, up one percentage point over the rate reported in Ruark Consulting’s fall 2017 study and three points over the fall 2016 value. GLWB withdrawal frequencies have increased consistently at normal retirement age and above. Most of the increase is attributable to more efficient utilization of the rider benefit, with over half of withdrawals now at or near the maximum benefit amount.

  • The effects of moneyness (account value relative to the guarantee base) on partial withdrawal behavior differ depending on circumstances. We find that the income commencement frequency on contracts with lifetime withdrawal benefits is sensitive to moneyness, consistent with greater benefit exercise when the benefit is more valuable. The effect is quite pronounced after the expiration of deferral incentives, with commencement rates after duration 10 ranging from 2% to 29% depending on moneyness. At all durations, when contracts move out of the money, withdrawals in excess of the maximum amount are more common. This is suggestive of policyholders taking investment gains out of the contract.

  • Annuitization rates on policies with guaranteed minimum income benefit (GMIB) riders continue to decline. The overall exercise rate for the riders with a 10-year waiting period is below 2% for the full study period. Rates have been falling steadily since 2010, and quarterly observed rates have stayed at or below 2% since 2014. “Hybrid” rider forms that allow partial dollar-for-dollar withdrawals have much lower exercise rates than traditional forms, which reduce the benefit in a pro-rata fashion – less than 1% for hybrid, vs. 5% for pro-rata; the increasing share of exposure in the study from the hybrid type is a partial explanation for the decrease in annuitization rates over time. The difference is magnified by different patterns of benefit utilization following the end of the waiting period: Owners of pro-rata contracts have 9% exercise rates at the first opportunity, and declining utilization thereafter, whereas hybrid contracts exercise at low but consistent rates across all durations.

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 (timothyparis@ruark.co).


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 (timothyparis@ruark.co).


EBIG notes: Structured VAs

At the Society of Actuaries's recent conference on Equity-Based Insurance Guarantees, one of the more interesting sessions (for me) related to structured variable annuities. These are a relatively new product, and fill a market gap between traditional variable annuities (VAs) and fixed indexed annuities (FIAs). They offer the consumer more downside protection than VAs, while offering more upside opportunity than FIAs.

The session was presented by Ari Linder of Munich Re and Simpa Baiye of PwC. As both explained, a structured VA is constructed off of a reference market index. However, client funds are not invested in the index. Rather, the annuity writer creates index exposure through derivatives -- selling an out-of-the-money put option, and using the proceeds to purchase a call spread. The put creates downside protection; the call spread, upside opportunity. Client funds are invested in the annuity writer's general account. Investment income on the funds, along with product fees, is used to cover administrative expenses and profit margins.

I've simplified, of course. There is quite a lot more to the product, including variations in the product offering, operational details, typical sales channels, accounting treatment, and so on. However, what most interested me as a former risk manager is the product's risk profile for the annuity writer.

Similar to an FIA without living benefits, the structured VA writer bears very little market risk at the outset. The payoff to the client is mirrored by the payoff on the derivatives used to construct the product. Basis risk is minimal, because market indices are selected on the basis of derivatives market liquidity. Volatility and interest rate risk are mitigated because the writer can adjust the product parameters (cap, buffer, floor) at each reset -- and higher volatility can reasonably be expected to increase proceeds from the sale of the put as well as the cost of the call spread. That's not to say market risk disappears. As Baiye noted, there may be opportunities for an annuity writer to exploit offsetting payoffs on traditional VA products to offset risk internally and reduce hedging costs; this would require more active market risk management. And as with FIAs, there is a need for the annuity writer to aggregate annuity contracts into cohorts that are large enough to buy derivatives against. Writers will need to bear or hedge some market risk at the margins.

That said, the larger risk in structured VAs is one we know well at Ruark: Policyholder behavior risk. The product contains various disincentives to policyholders surrendering their policies, but there is always some surrender activity on financial products. Circumstances change -- both personal circumstances and market circumstances. So it makes sense for the annuity writer to buy derivatives on less than 100% of the exposure. But how much less? That depends on the annuity writer's assumptions about persistency.

Will policyholder behavior on structured VAs resemble that of FIAs? Or that of VAs? With or without living benefits? A case can be made either way, especially with the confluence of distribution channels for VAs, FIAs, and even structured retail products. Surely today's annuity writers are seeing experience, but how might that experience change in the future? As product sales grow -- they are currently about $8bn per year -- we can expect the question to grow in importance.

Image credits: Simpa Baiye, PwC


Our 2017 plans for behavioral analytics

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Are your assumptions informed by credible industry experience?

 

checkWe provide a powerful combination of industry- and company-level experience studies, predictive modeling, traditional analytical techniques, and expert judgment, based on seriatim monthly data since 2007, covering approximately 70% of the annuity industry.

Is your analytical framework robust as new data emerges?

checkWe work with you to customize and implement our behavioral analytics framework, with transparent linkage from experience data to assumption models, naturally suited to regular updates for inforce and new business.

Are your analytics granular enough to mitigate anti-selection and proactively manage changes in your business mix?

checkWe address the many factors of influence and their changes over time, including product and guarantee type, surrender charge period and duration, moneyness of guarantees on actuarial and nominal bases, contract size, tax status, age, gender, distribution channel and compensation structures, and income utilization and efficiency.

Is speed important to you?

checkIt is to us too. We provide the timely and immediately actionable results you need to efficiently manage your company’s behavioral risks.

 


We aim to be the platform and industry benchmark for principles-based insurance data analytics and risk management.


 

2017 VA and FIA Behavioral Modules

For each of: Options
VA Surrenders       VA Income Utilization       VA GMIB Annuitization       FIA Surrenders       FIA Income Utilization 1 2 3
Experience Studies – industry results in aggregate, along with your company results, in a detailed report with numerical exhibits covering key factors, cohorts, and dynamics
Customized assumption model – initially calibrated to industry results, and tailored to your company based on credibility techniques
Review of your current assumptions, and comparison to the customized model above
Benchmarking of your results relative to peers
Presentation and discussion with our team
Membership on our Behavioral Analytics Advisory Council

 

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Would you like to learn more about implementation and pricing?

Contact: 

Timothy Paris
860.866.7786