Find planning for retirement a little daunting — and perhaps frustrating? To help boil things down, we are bringing experts from all corners of the retirement and insurance spaces to give you high-level insights for your financial confidence and security. In this SafeMoney.com Spotlight Series interview, Kim O’Brien, Chief Executive Officer of the Federation of Americans for Consumer Choice (FACC), joins us to talk about retirement trends, annuities, life insurance, long-term care, and evolving regulations affecting insurance products.
This is a wide-ranging interview talking about all of the choices available to you, past and upcoming innovations in the annuity and insurance markets, how satisfied that annuity and insurance customers truly are with their policies, how you can build a truly well-diversified plan to handle today’s hard-to-predict risks, and much more!
- The basics of how annuities, life insurance, and various long-term care products work
- How current regulation works for insurance customers for annuities, life insurance, and other insurance products — and how new regs such as the “best interest model” gives more protection
- 34 states adopted best interest model at time of interview, now 39 states with adoption as of June 2023
- The general purposes for annuities, life insurance, and long-term care insurance in a comprehensive financial plan
- How satisfied are people really with their annuities and life insurance policies?
- What sort of innovations have we seen from life insurance companies — and what could future innovations look like?
- How often have insurance companies gone under? Can “bank runs” on an annuity or life insurance company happen?
- Many trends, headwinds & tailwinds, and opportunities for retirement now and in years ahead
[Editor’s Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and statement conciseness. Please contact us if you have any questions about anything. Thanks for tuning in!]
Ian Myers, SafeMoney.com: Well, good afternoon, everyone. My name is Ian Myers from SafeMoney.com, and this is our Spotlight Series at SafeMoney.com. We appreciate you joining us today, and we have today with us a wonderful guest, Kim O’Brien. She’s been a good friend of ours for a long time here at Safe Money. Kim is also the Chief Executive Officer of the Federation of Americans for Consumer Choice.
Many of us in the industry refer to it as FACC for short, so FACC itself. What is they, what do they do? FACC, just in a quick nutshell, they’re a group that advocates for guaranteed products protecting the financial security of millions of American families and retirees.
So, Kim, good to have you with us today.
Kim O’Brien, FACC: Thank you, Ian. It’s a pleasure to be here.
SafeMoney.com: Well, thank you very much for joining us, Kim. So, ladies and gentlemen, before we get into the content a little bit further, I just want you to understand a little bit more about our great guest today, the wonderful insights and experience she brings.
Kim has truly been a top leader in our industry on many fronts. She’s made many different contributions. To give a little bit of an idea for that, she’s helped insurance companies go and design annuity and life insurance products promoting an efficient and competitive marketplace for those sorts of products so Americans ultimately have more choices for secure retirement.
And her work right now. She’s also been working with many different federal and state policy makers, regulators, other stakeholders as well, to help keep those kinds of choices in place. Kim, thank you so much. Do you have any opening comments for us here?
Kim O’Brien: No, I couldn’t have said it better than you just did, Ian. That is exactly what we believe in and what we do every day.
SafeMoney.com: Perfect, Kim. So, you know, like I said, that’s a little bit of a background, but can you tell us a little bit more about what you’re doing currently? Just some specifics, maybe a little bit about your past experiences in general.
Kim O’Brien: You bet. I really grew up in independent distribution with carriers. I was usually heading up product development, the marketing aspects of new products, and also the innovation and working with the actuaries and the lawyers on all the aspects of, of building a product that consumers can use, that they can buy, and that will protect them.
Whether it’s their longevity risk with which is in life insurance, their income in retirement, which is annuities and a little dabbling in the long-term care arena. But I’m a little bit of a novice over there. And then once I had my fill of corporate duties, I took over a job at NAFA, the National Association for Fixed Annuities, and I was the CEO over there for about a dozen years.
And what launched FACC is that we just felt one independent distribution, like Safe Money. Access to agents, people who are knowledgeable about insurance products and insurance solutions weren’t getting the attention that they needed so that they could have the tools in their toolbox, if you will, for consumers.
And so, we started FACC and what we’re working on currently is making sure that the best interest model that we worked to develop with other folks in the industry that was adopted by the NAIC, which is the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. So, all consumers live in a state and they have an insurance commissioner, and the NAIC does a model law, and then all the other states adopt it.
We’re up at 34 states now that have adopted it (Editor’s note: as of June 26, 2023 we now have 39 states that have adopted this best interest model). It is called the Best Interest Amendment, so that agents will always serve in the best interest of their clients and put their clients’ interest ahead of their own. And our challenge has been to make sure every state adopts it as it was designed to be adopted and doesn’t tweak it and do odd things to it.
One, for consistency, because we’re a much more mobile nation these days and we live in multiple places sometimes. And also, for, again, consumer choice so that they have an abundancy of financial professionals that they can seek out to help them with both their insurance planning as well as their investment planning.
My firm, FACC, is suing the Department of Labor. We just finished the first phase, which is the brief phase where each side gets to swap briefs on their arguments, and we’re entering [the phase] where we’re waiting for the judge, the magistrate’s decision on that. The judges, you know, do a very amount of work, due diligence on these cases.
We were joined in that brief with an amicus by the Hispanic Leadership Fund, who represents underserved minorities. Also, another trade that really represents insurance companies. So we’re very hopeful, cautiously hopeful, I should say about that.
We also feel very strongly that if we don’t represent the independent financial professionals, and we tend to call them insurance professionals because they know insurance, and we feel so strongly about that, that we think if, if they’re hindered or restricted or strong armed into not being able to offer their clients the widest breadth of products, the widest information and expertise that only they can offer, that consumers are harmed.
And so that’s pretty much where we’re at today. We’re working on a couple of things over on the life side. There’s a new initiative in Colorado that is wanting to restrict underwriting, to ensure that underwriting is done, treats all diverse groups fairly, and we’re a hundred percent behind that. But we also want to make sure that the business of insurance, which is risk management, right, is maintained and so that the products can still be competitive and available to all.
SafeMoney.com: Beautiful. So, you’re really talking about choice a lot there. Access to retirement products, some say retirement advice in general, as you’re talking about with some of the co-parties on the lawsuit or the amicus brief moreso.
Kim O’Brien: Okay. Mm-hmm.
SafeMoney.com: Very good. So, just kind of talking about this a little bit, we commented on it a little bit, Kim.
What do you really think our audience should know about the current regulatory framework for fixed annuities, life insurance, and perhaps some other fixed insurance products and maybe how that serves them really well in its current state?
Kim O’Brien: Sure. Well, I think everything should be used for a different purpose in your financial plan. Like I said, annuities are really guaranteed income or guaranteed legacy. You wanna be sure that what you put aside for your heir is there. Or the money for your favorite charity is there when it’s needed in the future.
Life insurance is again about longevity risk, but it’s also about income risk. Should a loved one be taken from you – I hate to say die – but if a loved one is taken from you, you want to make sure your lifestyle and everything that the kids are doing and everything that you are doing as an individual can be maintained and not suffer hardship because that income was lost.
And then of course the long-term care, which is the protection against long-term care and health expenses that can get quite hefty in the older years. From a regulatory perspective, I’m very happy about where the annuity world is going. Annuities have always been very well regulated and the carriers that offer them and the agents that sell them are very heavily regulated already.
What typically happens at this level is the carriers will just institute it nationwide, even if a state hasn’t adopted it. But what’s exciting about the annuity regulatory space is the amount of protection that the consumer has from that regulatory oversight.
We like the 50 state model because it’s closer to home. You know, I was, I worked for a very brief time as an interim insurance commissioner in the state of Wisconsin.
And we had consumers in there all the time. And that was located in Madison, obviously, but we had ’em from the highest northern places of my state.
So, it’s a closer regulator and a regulator that really understands the population in their state. And, this new best interest model makes sure that the agent has to follow four obligations of care and help the consumer find the product that works best for their financial plan and their needs at the time.
On the life side, I am concerned about this underwriting. Colorado has the first regulation. There are another eight that are considering it. They’re kind of waiting for Colorado to see how that plays out. The regulation that I’m concerned about is, of course, we want everybody to have every American have access to life product.
Kim O’Brien: We don’t want them hammered because of any ethnicity or equity issue, but of course we are an insurance world. We’re an insurance marketplace, and insurance is all risk based. The pricing for insurance is all based on pooling risks, right? And pooling of risk is very beneficial to the consumer because it really lowers the product price and increases the benefits the product can offer.
And so, we want to just make sure that’s equalized, you know, the concern and consideration of access, and also the competitiveness and the cost effectiveness of the pricing model.
SafeMoney.com: That makes sense. Absolutely.
Kim O’Brien: On the long-term care front, this is kind of fun and I feel like I’m talking a little too long.
SafeMoney.com: No, Kim. Great insights for sure on each one.
Kim O’Brien: Okay. The last one I would throw in is the long-term care marketplace and what’s going on there. Washington was the first state. And we have California is, is teeing up something similar. So is Pennsylvania, and another eight states are considering it.
But what they’re doing there is imposing a payroll tax if you don’t have long-term care insurance. And so, the employer would charge you another tax. You got FICA, you got Medicare, you know, you’ve seen your paycheck, right? And, and they want to impose another tax if you don’t have long-term care insurance.
What we want to do, we can’t really change the taxation element of a state. But what we want to do is there’s all, there’s three different types of long-term care insurance. It’s a policy that promises certain things and guarantees payment, and that’s called LTC with a little I (LTCi), long-term care insurance.
Then there are products both that are on a life and annuity chassis as what we say. It’s like a Ford chassis, but they have these bells and whistles called long-term care benefits. And on the life chassis. So, you have both the life insurance protection on a life product and you have long-term care protection should you need it earlier than death.
On the annuity side, there’s also something similar, but the annuity is based on a long-term care benefit that you would receive before you would actually want or need the income. You need the expense covered of the long-term care first.
So, these are called hybrids.
SafeMoney.com: Hmm. [Not a great name.]
Kim O’Brien: I know, I didn’t name them, right?
But they’re called hybrids and they’re, like I said, both on a life chassis and an annuity chassis. We want to make sure that that policy that’s put in place on taxation, that it would exempt people who have these other types of products and why that’s important. And we also, as you know, on the third type of product, that’s the hybrid, we have the LTCi, long-term care insurance.
And then the third type is what’s called a rider, a terminal illness. Or access to home care payments from your annuity so you can have care at home. And those are the three different and why they’re all important and why, if you have any one of them that should exempt you from having a taxation if you’re taxed.
This is an additional tax to your already reducing your pay, you know, your paycheck, right? If this is another tax, we just think it’s going to break the back of so many consumers and people that are working two jobs, right? And you know that. And then if you don’t have long-term care insurance, then you must take the employer’s chosen long-term care.
So, choice is eliminated there, you know, right. Because employers are picking your insurance. So, what we want to do is make sure that the taxing authorities in these states recognize all these types of products because not everybody can afford long-term care insurance. Not everybody would qualify because of health issues for long-term care insurance.
So, these other products that don’t have the same limits on healthiness of the customer can be used by those folks or are more a better leverage for their financial situation than purchasing a long-term care insurance product. So, we want to expand again the choice so people aren’t stuck in one thing.
SafeMoney.com: Fantastic, Kim. That’s some very good in-depth information, to say the least. So, kind of talking more about these insurance products in general, what have you observed in terms of customers’ happiness and satisfaction with them?
Kim O’Brien: Oh, well, we have to do this all the time when we talk with regulators because of course, the regulator only sees the complaint.
You know, but so I’m looking at one complaint in front of me on my insurance commissioner desk and, and then they don’t see all these happy people that are just running around living their lives that have these products and are very happy with it. We have the annuity and life insurance marketplace.
Compared to all the financial service marketplaces, mutual funds, stocks, bonds, the investments, we have the lowest complaint ratio per dollar of premium of any other financial industry. And we’re very proud of that fact.
The regulators, what they see, because we’re so heavily regulated, the training requirements to maintain your license are very high. The new best interest model has added new training requirements to the agent. We have very good training requirements for the agent.
We have very good oversight and we have an easy, accessible way to complain about something. Versus have you ever tried to complain to a federal regulator?
SafeMoney.com: It’s a painful process.
Kim O’Brien: Yep. It’s a painful process. So, I think it’s a very highly regulated, but also a highly exemplified group of agents and IMOs and educational resources like Safe Money are out there.
We have a, let’s call it a chain, a very good chain from the customer all the way up.
SafeMoney.com: Absolutely. So, Kim, we’re talking of course, to our general consumer audience today. And I know sometimes we’ll talk about terms like IMO, things like that. Can you explain briefly, how that looks for distribution, and maybe a little bit more about the independent agent, the value they bring?
Kim O’Brien: Okay, that is a great question. So, this is how the chain looks. Well, it’s not really a chain, but you think of one on one side, you have the insurance company, and then on the other side you have the regulator. And the regulator is regulating the company and then everybody down the chain.
So, the insurance company contracts with, well, a word we use now in the regulation field is intermediary. Somebody between the carrier and the agent. And that’s an IMO, an insurance marketing organization. There’s sometimes they’re called FMOs, field marketing organizations, because they’re out and about everywhere in different [areas], in every state, and there are multiple intermediaries in every state, right?
But the carriers do this, and there’s more carriers that utilize this intermediary, what we call the intermediary channel, or the intermediary between the carrier and the agent is because it’s more cost effective for them.
There are over 200,000 life and annuity agents in the United States.
Kim O’Brien: And so, you can imagine if carriers had to deal with each and every one of those agents… I don’t know if they would be able to get through a day without phone calls. So, these intermediaries are very helpful.
One, to help the agent understand the different products that are available, and they can show them multiple products from multiple carriers. They’re not limited, and they can also help train the agents. And help them understand how different benefits work within a specific product, or how to better solve an insurance need with a different solution.
Because the IMO intermediary sees a broader scope of product, product choices, and product utilization. So that’s their function and it’s a very efficient model, again, for the customer price points. And then you have the agent and the insurance agent.
And we have all types of insurance agents, some that have both their life and their health license. Some that specialize in just life, some that specialize just in annuities. Everybody’s different, but they’re independent and they are very diverse in terms of what carriers they decide to choose to work with.
From their knowledge base, from the service that carrier has provided their current clients, they make the choice. And we know agents are licensed and appointed with up to a dozen different companies. Absolutely, that’s about 200 to 300 different products. You know, in an annuity line it’s probably, you know, 150 in a lifeline.
That’s a broad base of product choice that an agent has access to once he’s heard the client’s story and their profile and what they’re looking for in their insurance on the security side, and there’s no criticism here, but it’s built differently. The investment advisors are limited by their broker/dealer or by their financial institution with whom they work.
The laws require that they limit their choice to one or two or three prior approved companies, and even within those companies, only maybe one or two products that are approved. And that is an oversight that the Securities and Exchange Commission wants in place over there because of the investment and the risk of losing money.
Our insurance channel, because of the guarantees and the fixed insurance channel, and there is a variable where you do have that market risk and that exposure to market losses. We don’t have that on our side because they’re insurance products first and they’re insured, and you have guarantees, and those guarantees are locked in a contract between you and the insurance company.
It’s the customer and the insurance company that has the contract. And the promise of those guarantees. The agent and the intermediary, they’re conduits.
SafeMoney.com: So, Kim, you’ve talked a lot about guarantees and annuities. We hear from multiple kind of industry sources, very respected retirement researchers, Dr. Wade Pfau, Dr. Moishe Milevsky, many other different authorities running around just how annuities are kind of top of the food chain for guaranteed lifetime income.
So, kind of speaking to that a little bit more, like you said, insurance products have these unique guarantees though. Basically, insurance companies are giving you this contractual, these are what we’re gonna abide by contractually. We’re also going to go and pool the risk from your individual policy or contract with tens of thousands or sometimes hundreds of thousands of other customers who are also within that pool of risk.
That’s kind a lot of industry lingo, though. But just in your experience, if someone were looking at these products that just kind of, maybe they’re exploring it right? Maybe their agent told them about it. Maybe something, you know, maybe they have a financial advisor with an insurance license. So they’re discussing some of those things.
What do you think consumers should really know about these products besides what we’ve talked about and what should they really be keeping in mind as they’re kind of shopping around for different options?
Kim O’Brien: Good, good question too. Okay, so first of all, and it’s kind of a timely question because we’ve had the recent bank situation.
Kim O’Brien: And you know, that was very scary. You know, especially for the folks that had money in the bank and typically the whole of funds and the payback of those funds is a very time-taking process that is not true with an annuity. You know, your guarantees are locked in. You’re told when you can get your money; how frequently you can get your money.
The difference that I see, and the other thing is that, back to the state regulation, is the insolvency of an insurance company is very, very much regulated and there are multiple steps before there’s an insolvency.
So, there’s, you know, the regulator sees certain things. There’s step one, I won’t go through the boring names because they’re technical, but if there’s a first sign of a problem in a market conduct exam, which is what the insurance regulators call their frequent visits to the companies, and they’ll be in there for six or seven weeks auditing the company’s first signal.
They step in with step one, then they step in with step two, and then the fourth signal is insolvency, and we have had very few… I can only name two in this last half of, 1990 till now. I can only remember two carriers, um, that were deemed insolvent. And what happened in those two cases is they, this is an important point.
They were bought by another insurance company who took all the promissory contracts and then adhered to them. What’s different about our industry and what we saw recently in the banking is you can’t do a run on an insurance company. You can’t have like, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ where everybody goes up to George and wants their money.
Right now, you can’t do that with an insurance company. It’s a contract and the insurance company is holding the contract and they can let the money go. You can ask, you know, to pay a surrender fine if it’s before the end of your surrender period and get your money. You can. There’s a lot of other liquidity features that you can utilize, but you can’t do a run on an insurance company and so there’s a lot of protection there.
Wade Pfau, [whom you mentioned], so [that’s interesting]. There’s almost a kind of a renaissance with many investment advisors who are seeing the benefit of the insurance guarantee. And the insurance income guarantee in particular because we are living longer. Longevity has been a risk for us now for about the last quarter century.
But it’s always been a concern. But now there’s this renaissance and I think what’s driving it, I don’t know this, but I believe what’s driving it is we have a number of pension funds in the US that are operated by a government entity or by a private company. Most of them left are the governments; the state governments, the local governments.
They have a pension fund for the fire people or the teachers or you know, whatever. What we’re seeing amongst those folks, and there’s a huge industry now in our industry, is they’re coming to insurance companies and saying, will you take over? Use an annuity for this pension fund and your insurance guarantees to pay the promised pension.
And a little other tidbit, I think I shared this with you once again, but the FDIC, which ensures the banks, and it’s a federal deposit insurance corporation. And the FDIC was having trouble with its reserving mechanisms. It’s reserving policy and guidelines, and it’s required to report to the Senate every year.
And tell them what’s going on, you know, what’s all the ins-and-outs of their finances? And they were finally directed to look at the insurance model for an answer to their fund, you know, their underfunded liabilities. And so, they, the FDIC did adopt how the insurance world works in terms of its reserving and how the insurance model funds their liabilities, which are the claims and what they promise, the guarantees are their liabilities.
And so I think when you have another insurance, a very solid insurance entity like the FDIC being instructed to look to insurance for relief and help with their reserving underfunding is a very good statement about our industry.
SafeMoney.com: Absolutely. So, can you comment a little bit more about the insurance companies and what their reserve requirements and what that looks like on an insurer by insurer basis?
Kim O’Brien: I’ll tell you one general counsel, put it this way. This is not a mathematical or a technical answer, but. We have eight times the reserving requirements that banks do by the federal, by the state regulator.
Kim O’Brien: And she was showing me a statement that they were working on, in order to file it with the regulator.
And she said, you see that number? And I said, yes. And she said, that is eight times more than banks have to reserve.
SafeMoney.com: Fantastic. So, Kim, I know we’ve seen just, back in 2022, like you said, it’s kind of a renaissance, if you will. And some information for our audience really fast.
Back in 2022, people put $184 billion into fixed deferred annuities alone. So fixed of course. As we were talking about, these are non-variable products for annuities and life insurance within that marketplace. Deferred simply refers to a period where you have to go and wait for a certain period. Or you’re waiting for a certain period anyway before you turn on a benefit, usually a guaranteed income stream from that contract.
But again, $184 billion was put into those kinds of contracts alone in 2022. Millions and millions of people are accounting upon life insurance companies to go make good on their annuity and their life insurance promises.
Some of the other insurance product promises we’re talking about. They really have a great history of doing that. So, Kim, you kind of talked about it a little bit a second ago with, and I know you said the word insolvency, so can you expand upon what you mean by insolvency?
So, our audience clearly understands that, but also, just the kinds of measures that insurance companies take to maintain these guarantees.
What operationally, what do they do? If you can give some comments on that. And historically, do you have any more context to add to what you mentioned since the nineties or so with insurance company insolvencies?
Kim O’Brien: So, that’s a lot to unpack.
SafeMoney.com: Yep, it’s a lot.
Kim O’Brien: But I’ll take it. And I’m not an actuary, nor am I a chief financial officer, so I want to say that right away.
But insolvency is not a good word that our insurance world uses. So, we have what’s called a guarantee fund, and every state has its own, again, state-operated and state-run. And you can go to your insurance department website and Google it and look at your own guarantee fund in your own state. And the guarantee fund is the backstop.
For an insolvency. Now, insolvency in most of our brains means no more money, dear. Right there. It’s done. And that’s not what it is at all. It just got to a level of reserves. And reserves are what the insurance companies have to put away and cannot use and cannot, you know, put at risk. They have to reserve it to pay those guarantees.
But if the reserve level gets too low from a regulated level, they are called insolvent, and that’s when your state guarantee fund kicks in and your state guarantee fund will either honor the contracts through their fund or they’ll find a buyer for those contracts that will honor them. And usually the latter is what happens.
And they, every insolvency I’ve seen, and I’ve never seen anything at the big level of what we saw recently in terms of the size of the bank. I’ve seen a few of the state insurance companies, you know, the small, locally run insurance company, and I have not seen one. And Jack Marion did a great study.
The last study Jack did, which was in 2021, [talked about this]. Every penny of any insolvency since the 1920s, I think in the nineteen-twenties, Ian. I can drag it up. But anyway, every insolvency, and they were not a lot like the banks, the numbers are in the thousands for the banks and they’re in the hundreds for the insurance companies, since, you know, over a century.
And every penny was paid back to the customer, to the policyholder, which is what we used for the annuity and life insurance contract. Every penny, they didn’t lose one penny of their money. And that’s because we have so many backstops. We have the regulator overseeing you and the insurance company. We have regulators overseeing the finances of the insurance company.
We have the guarantee fund. And most of these insurance companies also have one or two reinsurers, so they have their own backstops. So, there’s so many built in, some regulated, some just chosen for risk management by the carrier to protect that money.
SafeMoney.com: Fantastic. Great explanation, Kim. Again, I know we’re kind of speaking a little colloquially, but it’s a great perspective you bring. We were kind of touching a little bit earlier upon investments, and this is the business of guarantees and financial protection. In some of your public presentations such as at the United Nations, you’ve talked about how annuities and investments aren’t really an ‘either-or’ thing.
Despite that being the case, you know, with some of this conversation again that you’ve talked about some other proponents in our space, there are some pundits in the investment space or, just kind of like I said, pundits, commentators, and other stakeholders there. They say that investment products are enough, and we probably really shouldn’t be considering annuities or other insurance products in the mix as part of a financial plan for someone.
Do you have any comments on that and what sorts of roles that guaranteed insurance products can play in a diversified financial plan?
Kim O’Brien: You bet. I think, you know, even the investment advisors, and I did have to take the exams just so I could learn. I don’t practice at all. But even investment advisors say you should have a portion of your money in a fixed income stream that is an annuity.
Now, they’re also risk-based products that have fixed income, but they’re not guaranteed. And they’re not backed up by an insurance company. What almost all, I think you still remember this, Ian, all financial advisors, whether they’re investment advisors or insurance advisors recommend is what’s called the rule of a hundred, right?
And all you do. I’ve simplified it. They like to make it a little more complicated, but all you do is how old are you? What’s your age?
SafeMoney.com: Well, Kim, you know…. [laughing]
Kim O’Brien: I was gonna say, you don’t have to tell me, Ian!
But say that your age is 65. What they say is you should have 65% of your money in a guaranteed not-at-risk product.
Right? And then the remaining 35, if you’re 40. You should have 40% of it in there, 60% should be in at-risk, but growth-oriented, accumulated-oriented investments, and that they still say that the problem, if you don’t have any money in a guaranteed stream of income, it’s all at risk. Even if it’s a fixed, very conservative fixed income account, a bond, for example.
There’s no guarantee that you won’t outlive that bond. That guarantee could run out on you. The difference with insurance is, and this goes back to that pool that they’re counting, you are guaranteed that guarantee lasts as long as you do. So, if the heavens are with you and you live to 120, that guaranteed payout is paid out.
The way the pool works is they also have folks that don’t live that long, or, you know, lose their life at 70. And so, it’s really just a pooling of that risk or a balancing out of the ones that are good enough and happy enough to live longer. So that’s the key difference, and it’s a critical one, and, but it’s always a choice for the customer.
If you want just assurity, sleep at night, and you don’t have to want to worry about this one thing, this one risk in your world, whether it’s long-term care expenses or whether it’s not being there to bring the paycheck home for your family, or whether it’s a guaranteed income in risk retirement or guaranteed legacy for someone you love or a charity you love.
If you want that guarantee, you have to do it in insurance because there’s no other way to get it.
SafeMoney.com: Fantastic. And safe money. Right?
Kim O’Brien: That’s a great way to say. And safe money!
Safe money. Go back to the point.
SafeMoney.com: That’s been good stuff. So, Kim, we talked about this a little bit too, and there’s a growing acceptance, I think, of annuities by the public, different parts of the financial advisor community. But there still is a little bit of hesitation that we see out there in different facets, in different ways.
Why do you think that is and how do you think, what can we be doing to go and change that perception?
Kim O’Brien: Well, there’s a lot of misinformation I think, Ian, out there and, and we’re all used to misinformation.
The three biggest no’s that we hear are all based on misinformation. Fees are too hot. Okay. That’s misinformation because fixed indexed and fixed deferred annuities and fixed immediate annuities do not have fees. They are not fee based. The commission is paid by the insurance company to the agent and 100% of your premium, the money you want to go into the annuity goes into the annuity.
Now, if you choose a benefit on the annuity, that does have a charge to it. You’ll be told [what] you are [being charged, per the regulators]. Your summary of what that is, and your policy will tell you that very specifically. But we don’t have money management fees and we don’t have fees that are paid to the broker dealer.
It’s called asset under management fees, AUM. We don’t have any of that. So that’s one piece, a hundred percent of your premium unless you choose to buy a benefit, that you want, that the annuity offers. You are not charged fees on an annual basis. You’re not charged any fee. A hundred percent of your premium is in your account value with your annuity.
The surrender charges. So, when you buy your annuity contract, and this is true on a life contract too. You buy it, you say, this is a long term protection for me, I’m buying this for the long haul. I want to make sure I have income in retirement. I could be in retirement for 30 years.
I’m buying it for the long haul. So how we price that at the insurance company is we put on a surrender charge, and it’s usually at seven years. If you buy a certain type of annuity, it could be only five. Um, there’s also three-year annuities out there.
Kim O’Brien: And if you don’t want a long-haul annuity and you just want to park it for a bit until your market settles down or something, or your son goes to college or whatever, you can buy these shorter-term annuities too.
But the product could be priced with that. They could be priced with fees coming out to until a certain period when they wouldn’t come out anymore. They could also be charged with what they call an upfront asset charge, where your premium going in is a hundred thousand. They’re going to charge you X percent, but annuities are all surrender charge driven.
And why I think that’s best for the customer is the only person that’s affected by the charge is the person who leaves early. So, it’s not the entire group of folks who bought this annuity that’s getting these other types of charges. What else did you ask me?
SafeMoney.com: I was going to say that did a pretty good job of covering that ground, that’s for sure. It’s been very good. I love the feedback. So, we’re going to change gears a little bit now. Okay. We’ve talked about things at a little bit of a microcosmic level.
We talked about some product information and about the attractiveness of these products to people for different reasons.
You know what, there was one question there! So, we were talking about misinformation a little bit and different components of these products that other kinds of financial services or products don’t have, like AUM, just the differences between those, but just kind of that negative bias against annuities and life insurance and other types of fixed type insurance products.
How can we change that perception or further change the way that the public sees annuities to be more accepting and they see the benefit more?
Kim O’Brien: Well, we have a number of initiatives both at FACC and in other areas that is trying to help with that. I just think better education. One thing that really changed things, Ian, was the SECURE Act 2.0.
And the Secure Act gave employers protection to start offering annuities before, because of the duty of the employer. They didn’t have the protection of that offering. And now they put in place a nice bandage, you know, a very secure bandage around the employer and what they can and can’t do.
So, now as an employee, you’re going to have more access to an annuity. And I think for Safe Money and your customers, that the real way to look at an annuity is to look at it as your privately owned pension plan. It’s your pension, your money. You get to direct it how you want it in terms of the payments and the payout.
And it’s your personal private pension. And think of it that way because annuity is such an odd word. You know it. Life insurance, easy to figure that one out, right? Long-term care. Mm-hmm.
But annuity, it comes back with Greek, an annuity, which is, you know, a payment. Right. Greek word.
But you know, a kind of income protection, income insurance, I don’t know, payment insurance. But annuity is one of the problems, I think one issue is the name itself. It sounds complicated, doesn’t it?
SafeMoney.com: Yes, very much so.
Kim O’Brien: You know, and so I and the industry are working to do that.
SafeMoney.com: Fantastic, Kim. And of course, we’re doing that here at SafeMoney.com. We’ve had many households knock on the door for information like that. So, kind of changing gears a little bit, we jumped ahead a little prematurely there, but from your perspective, how have you seen the industry change over the past 10 years?
Also, what are some of the innovations you’ve seen come about from it and, I know it’s always hard to forecast the future, right? Especially when we’re in the kind of the business of guarantees here. Where do you think the industry might also be headed in the next 10?
Kim O’Brien: I think the last 10 years have been very interesting because we’ve had this low interest market. Yes, insurance companies can offer the guarantees they offer because they do have to put their, the premiums that you pay them. They have to put them in longer-term investment, but they also have to put them in very conservative [investments].
That’s a part of the regulation. Very conservative bonds, you know, mortgages that are guaranteed. They have to put them in very conservative investments because of the reserving requirements. So, because of this challenging interest rate market, we have seen a boon in innovation in our industry because they have to figure out how to build the car better with less money to build it.
And so, we’ve seen that this whole long-term care market has been a big part of that innovation where they’re adding long-term care benefits to life and to annuities and the long-term care itself. We’ve seen more of that home care activity because so many people want to stay at home when they’re receiving care, as long as they can stay at home.
We’re seeing a lot of what I would call taking an old chassis, putting a whole lot of new bells and whistles on them that’ll benefit customers for anything they would need financially.
I think people, I think the impression of insurance, and I don’t think it’s a hundred percent wrong, is that insurance is boring, it’s staid.
And that’s because most people buy it, tuck their policy in a drawer and hope they never need it.
Kim O’Brien: What is the inside secret is we’re one of the most innovative industries ever, and these last 10 years, because of how the interest rate market has really drawn so many more types of products out there.
We’ve also expanded those troops and that insurance professional that has been a big part just like the rest of the nation. Our troops are aging, so… But we’re getting a whole lot of new and diverse people entering the insurance business. That’s a big innovation. I think more people out there to help people know what’s available and understand those options that they have.
I don’t see that changing in 10 years. I do see, I hope we get through this interest rate pressure, because we can, even if we get a little more loosening of that, then our innovations will just skyrocket in terms of product choice and product design. We’re also seeing new companies come into the marketplace with new innovative products.
I think that’s a big plus. The more competition, the more choice.
SafeMoney.com: Right, right.
Kim O’Brien: And I think we’ll see more of that in the next 10 years or so. I think we’ll see more of this blending of products. So, I’m concerned about long-term care expenses, but I also am concerned about income in retirement and maybe at my life.
My paycheck protection, which is a life piece, isn’t as important now in retirement as it is when the family’s young, but I think we’re going to see a lot more blending of products, and these products aren’t going to be in these silos of life, annuity, long-term care.
They’re going to be much more, more blended in what they’re calling hybrids, but it’s going to be less of a hybrid and more of a blended portfolio of protection.
And I think that’s what we’ll see.
SafeMoney.com: Fantastic. Kim, what about from the carrier level or just the insurance companies in general? Technology.
You know, you talked a little bit about the insurance professional and how new people are coming into the ranks. Do you have any comments, just because I know a lot of people are thinking maybe insurance advice might change at the technology level. The carriers, you said they’re innovating, but are there any other things that you’ve seen change or perhaps might be in the future?
Kim O’Brien: Well, you mentioned a very good thing, that I was very negligent in not mentioning myself, is the technology. The technology right now.
When I was building a product and launching it, it took 18 months. And most of that was developed, you know, internalizing the, the product into the system, so on.
And that is being done so much faster these days. You know, I’ve seen products developed and launched in 60 days.
SafeMoney.com: Um, wow.
Kim O’Brien: And I know some of Safe Money, you know, the tools you use to help your agents, it helps the technology for the agent in terms of understanding, knowing. Seeing all the products that are available to him or her that he or she can match this client’s specific profile and needs and come down to three or four products that match those needs.
And that’s all through that technology. And the last thing I would say on the customer side. From the customer’s perspective, there’s a lot more options for checking the information, double-checking what you’re hearing, and making sure that what you’re hearing matches with what you’re asking for.
And I think that’s been very helpful to the consumer, not only seeing, understanding the product better, but also understanding the choices they do have out there and knowing what to ask their agent.
So, I think that is a big part of the future as well.
SafeMoney.com: Fantastic. And then, we see more insurance companies coming into the space with some very innovative products. I know that’s been something we’ve been watching with insurance over the past three or four years.
Especially also too, we also kind of have some growing audiences too, right? So, it’s not just people coming near the point of retirement or in retirement, and they want those guarantees. Sometimes we have children of aging parents, they’re looking at these products for, you know, long-term care concerns.
Maybe they’re making some decisions for their parents or helping them make those decisions or become educated so, retirement income guarantees, things like that. Do you have any commentary on those really fast?
Kim O’Brien: Yeah, I think we have to. Those are all good points and you don’t buy one house and live in it forever anymore or one car and drive it forever anymore.
So those conversations, you should always be talking to your insurance expert and insurance professional about, okay, here’s the policy I have now. We’re here at this point in our life cycle. Is there another product that would work better now for mom and dad, to your example. Don’t just buy it and put it in a drawer.
Do a review with your insurance professional. Talk about anything that’s changed or any new worry you have and there might be another product out there that’ll be a better fit, serve you better, and serve your financial future better.
SafeMoney.com: Fantastic. Thank you, Kim. Perfect. So, we’ve covered a lot of ground today.
Do you have any final thoughts as we close out here, or do you want to add anything to our discussion so far with this?
Kim O’Brien: No, because I could keep talking forever, Ian, but I just, I do so love this industry and the people that if you spent your life knowing the people that really care about helping their clients and giving them all the opportunities to protect and have their money safe.
I get a little choked up when I think about it because it’s a really great industry filled with really intelligent and caring individuals.
SafeMoney.com: Well, Kim, thanks again so much for joining us. To our audience, thank you for joining us in this Spotlight Series.
You have any questions about anything that we’ve covered today? Contact our team. Thank y’all so much.
Kim O’Brien: Thank you.