The free lunch may be over. That’s the thinking by insurers offering variable annuities. They’ve gotten pretty fat at the trough during the secular decline in interest rates. Now, with profits harder to come by, they’re scaling back sales of variable annuities.
Industry-wide variable annuity sales were off by 7% in the first quarter compared to a year ago. But don’t worry—insurers will be just fine. As the president of the Americas for MetLife recently said, “We will manage this business prudently, but I think you can understand why we have no interest in exiting the variable annuities business.” He’s referring to the 375,000 variable annuity contracts sold by MetLife over the past three years. Only 250 of those contracts have a living benefit that is “in the money” as of the end of March.
The company’s chairman said, “We have identified significant opportunities for us to continue our growth in a way that is disciplined, meets consumer needs and will position us to achieve return on equity expansion.” The language he’s using may make shareholders giddy but doesn’t give retirees the warm fuzzy feeling they expect from the people they’re relying on in old age.