Tag Archives: Fiduciary Rule

DOL Fiduciary Rule: What It Means

In April 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released a regulatory package that established a new standard for fiduciary investment advice. Under the Fiduciary Rule, investment recommendation given to an employee benefit plan or an individual retirement account (IRA) is considered fiduciary investment advice and therefore must be in the “best interest” of the investor.

As a result, financial advisers who provide investment advice under the new standard now face limits on receiving commission-based compensation. Considering that 50% of U.S. financial assets is held in retirement accounts, the impact of the rule is significantly affecting insurers, broker dealers and investment managers.

The DOL has long been concerned that people rolling over assets from an employer-sponsored pension plan to an IRA are not being well-advised and, as a result, are investing in products that are not most suitable for their needs or are unnecessarily expensive. Central to the DOL concern is what it perceives to be a lack of transparency around the standard under which an adviser is providing advice and how he/she is compensated. This is not surprising because advisers operate under multiple standards, with a majority of asset flows falling under a “suitability” rather than fiduciary standard.

To address these concerns, the DOL expanded the definition of the term “investment advice” under ERISA, thereby imposing fiduciary status under both ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code on firms and advisers who provide investment advice under this expanded standard. A fiduciary is subject to the duties of prudence and loyalty and is prohibited from acting for his/her own interests or in a manner adverse to those of the ERISA plan or IRA. Accordingly, fiduciary status will have a fundamental impact on adviser compensation, as advisers who are fiduciaries may not use their authority to affect or increase their own compensation in connection with transactions involving an ERISA plan or IRA.

See also: Does DOL Ruling Require a Plan C?  

A catalyst of widespread organizational change

The DOL Rule is causing significant changes to the insurance industry that go well beyond compliance. While the industry needs to be prepared for the June 2017 applicability date, delayed from the original April date, the rule (even if delayed again) is also a catalyst for more meaningful change for both insurance manufacturers and distributors. In many cases, these changes have been contemplated for some time.

Compensation For starters, to mitigate any conflicts of interest resulting from distribution compensation, insurers should inventory current compensation and understand the impact of changing models to various distribution channels. The industry has been focusing on the issue of compensation for some time, anyway (e.g., moving to commissions for annuities), and the DOL rule provides further impetus for change. This change will not be easy, not least because the industry has a variety of products and uses different distribution models. To facilitate the transition to the new environment, carriers and distributors will need to understand the current hierarchy and how it might change.

  1. What is the distribution channel? Is the distributor a fiduciary? If so, what exception or exemption is the distributor using?
  2. How will changing the hierarchy affect agents’ livelihood?
  3. Do you risk losing agents to a carrier that will pay “conflicted” compensation?
  4. How do you factor in outside compensation (e.g., marketing fees and allowances, 12-B1 fees)?
  5. Depending on the product shelf, there will be different types of conflicts.
  6. Determine which transactions are prohibited. Determining “red” and “green” transactions should be relatively easy, but determining “yellow” ones will be much more difficult, especially because the rule is fairly ambiguous in this regard.
  7. Understand each other’s point of view. Distributors will create rules for types of compensation they will allow in their systems. Although they are currently uncertain about how they will have to adapt, carriers will have to change their compensation structures and communicate them to distributors.

Carriers and distributors will also need to safeguard against personal and organizational conflicts of interest.

  1. How do we pay our workforce and others?
  2. What is non-cash compensation?
  3. How do we provide incentives to agents to sell products and sell certain product classes over others?
  4. What is the difference between suitability and fiduciary?
  5. Inventory products and create a tool to identify potential conflicts. This will be a complex undertaking, but it will enable carriers to determine who and how much carriers pay and why, as well as if conflicts are permissible or need to be disclosed.
  6. Perform a compensation impact analysis; assess the performance of distribution compensation as it currently exists and what seems likely in the future. This should include an assessment of the future model’s effect on revenue, profitability, market position, channel attractiveness and overall company performance.
  7. As part of a change management strategy, ensure that there is regular, clear and informative communication – both internally and externally – on impending change.

Changes in agent training

Once the fiduciary rule is in effect, agents will need to be advisers first and sellers second. Even though many insurers, especially ones with captive sales forces, have already tightened sales practices in recent years, this does represent a genuine cultural shift and a novel convergence between compliance and sales and distribution. As a result, agents will need more training on their fiduciary role – all the way down to call center scripts – and, with rationalized product lines, most likely less product training than in the past.

Some carriers are experiencing impacts they didn’t foresee. Because of their increasing need to respond to fiduciaries’ requests, they’re having to adopt their distributors’ policies and procedures (including access data requests) and change their product portfolios, share classes and fee structures. If they don’t do this, they risk losing shelf space to insurers that do.

Product rationalization – The DOL rule is intensifying carriers’ and distributors’ focus on product rationalization. Smaller product portfolios and resulting streamlined distribution models will facilitate carrier understanding of its product suite and compliance risks when providing “best interest” advice to consumers, reduce training required for agents and help the industry reduce costs and increase scale. For example, with annuities:

  • There are many providers offering many similar products, and oftentimes riders emulate characteristics of other carriers’ products that companies can’t build themselves. The rule provides the industry further incentives to address the inherent inefficiency in this state of affairs.
  • When determining which products to sell, financial strength is going to be a key product rationalization consideration for distributors because compensation will be more normalized with fewer products. When product portfolios shrink, lower-rated carriers’ products aren’t going to receive shelf space, especially if distributors can’t clearly demonstrate their benefits to customers. As a result of portfolio rationalization and likely decreases in commissions, both carrier and distributor consolidation is likely to increase.
  • Moreover, this isn’t just a business decision but also a compliance one; distributors will have monitoring policy procedures to confirm adherence to this policy. Accordingly, distributors will have to establish a product selection methodology for each segment that accounts for appropriateness and applicability.

However, regardless of product, the challenges of rationalization also represent an opportunity for insurers to have more profitable product portfolios because they can focus on what they’re best at. They also should be able to create products that are less capital-intensive and, with a level fee/different fee structure, potentially profitable in earlier years. In addition, rationalization can help solve the challenge of a shrinking captive and independent agent workforce; fewer and more transparent products should reduce the need to replace many of the agents who are at or near retirement age. Because of the ability to inexpensively manage small accounts and automatically comply with fiduciary standards, as well as the potential to increase scale as needed, robo-advisers should become an even more popular way for insurers to sell products.

Data and technologyMoreover, the DOL rule makes capturing and maintaining new types of data a high priority for carriers and distributors. Agents will need to track, from the time contact is made with a client, how they acted in his/her best interest, and this record – which should be readily available to customers – will demonstrate that agents are being compliant (i.e., defensibility), as well as facilitate monitoring. Automating data capture, which should be especially effective via the robo-adviser channel, is the easiest way to ensure data is repeatable and transparent (again, defensible). This requires automating certain process to maintain compliance and be competitive in the future. Most of the industry has been aware of the need for technological changes, namely process automation, for some time – and many have been making them – but the DOL rule serves as yet another catalyst, especially for those companies that have been slow to act.

See also: Stepping Over Dollars to Pick Up Pennies  

Facilitating effective compliance

Distribution traditionally has had little to no involvement in regulatory compliance, and the DOL rule represents a new challenge for most organizations. We recommend that compliance should:

  1. Oversee distribution;
  2. Provide quarterly “health checks” to the board of directors in to review compliance on a quarterly basis;
  3. Maintain a traceability matrix that outlines key strategic and operational decisions related to rule requirements and thereby provides the company defensible documentation to minimize and mitigate losses.

Implications: Far beyond compliance

As a result:

  • The industry is likely to increase its already growing investments in and use of digital and online channels, including robo-advice.
  • Some insurers are divesting their broker-dealers; as a result, we expect to see consolidation among smaller insurance broker-dealers, independent broker-dealers and regional brokerages over the next three years.
  • The DOL’s move to increase transparency and eliminate conflicts of interest is helping drive convergence of regulation toward a broad fiduciary standard. Whether or not the SEC proposes to cover non-retirement accounts given the mandate for a federal uniform fiduciary standard under the Dodd-Frank Act, some fiduciary agents have already started to consider extending the DOL standard to an increased scope of accounts to avoid potentially awkward double standards for investors who hold both retirement and non-retirement accounts.

Regardless of political developments, we believe the rule’s core framework will remain intact. The industry has already made significant progress toward complying with it, and there is general recognition of the importance of removing conflicts of interest between financial advisers and retirement investors. As a result, financial advisers and firms should continue their work to meet the rule’s requirements.

M&A: the Outlook for Insurers

Mergers and acquisitions in the insurance sector continued to be very active in 2016 on the heels of record activity in 2015. There were 482 announced transactions in the sector for a total disclosed deal value of $25.5 billion. Deal activity was driven by Asian buyers eager to diversify and enter the U.S. market, by divestitures and by insurance companies looking to expand into technology, asset management and ancillary businesses.

We expect the strong M&A interest to continue, driven primarily by inbound investment.

With the election of a new president and the transition of power in January 2017 comes tax and regulatory uncertainty, which may temporarily decelerate the pace of deal activity. President Trump is expected to prioritize the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, tax reform and changes to U.S. trade policy, all of which have unique and potentially significant impact on the insurance sector. Further, the latest Chinese inbound deals have drawn regulatory scrutiny, with skepticism from the stock market regarding their ability to obtain regulatory approval.

Bond yields have spiked over the last few months and are widely expected to continue to increase. The increase in yields should improve insurance company earnings, which is likely to encourage sales of legacy and closed blocks.

Highlights of 2016 deal activity

Insurance activity remains high

Insurance deal activity has steadily increased since the financial crisis, reaching records in 2015 both in terms of deal volume and announced deal value. While M&A declined in 2016, activity remained high, with announced deals and deal values exceeding the levels seen in 2014. In 2015, deal value was driven by the Ace-Chubb merger, valued at $29.4 billion, which accounted for 41% of deal value.

See also: A Closer Look at the Future of Insurance  

Significant transactions

Key themes in 2016 include:

  • Continued consolidation of Bermuda insurers, with the acquisitions of Allied World, Endurance and Ironshore. Drivers of consolidation include the difficult growth and premium environment.
  • Interest by Asian insurers in continuing to expand their U.S. footprint — accounting for two of the top-10 transactions.
  • Expansion in specialty lines of business as core businesses have become more competitive. This is evidenced by (i) Arch’s acquisition of mortgage insurer United Guaranty as a third major business after P&C reinsurance and P&C insurance; (ii) Allstate’s acquisition of consumer electronics and appliance protection plan provider SquareTrade to build out its consumer-focused strategy; and (iii) the agreement by National Indemnity (subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway) to acquire the largest New York medical professional liability provider, Medical Liability Mutual Insurance, a deal expected to close in 2017.
  • More activity in insurance brokerage, which accounts for two of the top-10 deals.
  • Focus on scaling up to generate synergies, as evidenced by the acquisitions done by Assured Guaranty and National General Holdings.
  • Continued growth in asset management capabilities, as exemplified by New York Life Investment Management’s expanding its alternative offerings by announcing a majority stake in Credit Value Partners LP in January 2017 and MassMutual’s acquiring ACRE Capital Holdings, a specialty finance company engaged in mortgage banking.

Key trends and insights

Sub-sectors highlights

Life & Annuity – The sector has been affected by factors such as Asian buyers diversifying their revenue base, regulations such as the fiduciary rule by the Department of Labor and the SIFI designation, divestitures and disposing of underperforming legacy blocks, specifically variable annuity and long term care businesses.

P&C – The sector has been experiencing a challenging pricing cycle, which has driven insurers to 1) focus on specialty lines and specialized niche areas for growth and 2) consolidate. We have seen large insurance carriers enter the specialty space. Furthermore, with an abundance of capacity and capital, the dynamics of the reinsurance market have changed. Reinsurers are trying to adjust to the new reality by turning to M&A and innovation in products and markets.

Insurance Brokers – The insurance brokerage space has seen a wave of consolidation given the current low-interest-rate environment, which translates into cheap debt. The next consolidation wave is likely in managing general agents, as they are built on flexible and innovative foundations that set them apart from traditional underwriting businesses.

See also: Key Findings on the Insurance Industry  

Insurtech has grown exponentially since 2011. According to PwC’s 2016 Global FinTech Survey, 21% of insurance business is at risk of being lost to standalone fintech companies within five years. As such, insurers have set up their own venture capital arms, typically investing at the seed stage, in efforts to keep up with the pace of technology and innovation and find ways to enhance their core business. Investments by insurers and their corporate venture arms are on pace to rise nearly 20x from 2013 to 2016 at the current run rate.

Conclusion and outlook

The insurance industry will be affected by the proposed policies of the Trump administration, especially on tax and regulatory issues. Increasing bond yields and the Fed’s latest signal about a quick pace of rate increases in 2017 are expected to improve portfolio income for insurers.

  • Macroeconomic environment: U.S. equity markets have been rallying since the election, with optimism supported by President Trump’s policies to boost growth and relieve regulatory pressures. However, the rally may be short-lived if policies fail to meet investor expectations. While the Fed is widely expected to raise rates in 2017, other central banks around the world are easing, and uncertainty in Europe has spread, with the possibility that countries will leave the euro zone or the currency union will break apart.
  • Regulatory environment: The direction of regulatory and tax policy is likely to change materially, as the president has campaigned for deregulation and reducing taxes. Uncertainty around the DOL fiduciary rule has been mounting even though President Trump has not spoken out on the rule; some of his advisers have said they intend to roll it back. His proposed changes to Obamacare will affect life insurers, but at this juncture it is hard to estimate the extent of the impact given the lack of specifics shared by the new administration.
  • Sale of legacy blocks: Continued focus on exiting legacy risks such as A&E, long-term care and VA by way of sale or reinsurance. In 2017, already, there have been two significant announced transactions, AIG paying $10 billion to Berkshire for long-tail liability exposure and Hartford paying National Indemnity $650 million for adverse development cover for A&E losses.
  • Expansion of products: Insurers will focus on expanding into niche areas such as cyber insurance (expected to be the fastest-growing insurance product fueled by a slate of recent corporate and government hacking). Further, life insurers are focusing on direct-issue term products.
  • Technology: Emerging technologies including automation, robo-advisers, data analysis and blockchain are expected to transform the insurance industry. Incumbents have been responding by direct investment in startups or forming joint ventures to stay competitive and will continue to do so.
  • Foreign entrants: Chinese and Japanese insurers have keen interest in expanding due to weak domestic economies, intent to diversify products and risk and hope to expand capabilities.
  • Private equity/hedge funds/family offices: Non-traditional firms have a strong interest in expanding beyond the brokers and annuities business to include other sectors within insurance, such as MGAs.

10 Insurance Questions for 2017

Love it or hate it, 2016 was a year that brought many surprises. And 2017 is looking like another year of unexpected outcomes. The saying goes, “May you live in interesting times.” And we are definitely living in interesting times, including in the insurance industry.

Here are 10 insurance questions for 2017:

1. Will this be the year that the U.S. insurance industry makes a definitive move toward level commissions or fee-based products across all product lines?

Most other professional service providers are paid on an hourly or fee basis, including accountants, attorneys, physicians, trust officers and the majority of financial planners. The Department of Labor fiduciary rule is driving some insurance companies to offer fee-based annuities for retirement plans rather than traditional commission-based annuities. See my take on this: The Fiduciary Rule: A Call To Arms for the Insurance Bill of Rights: Aligning the Insurance Industry With Consumers. The U.K. already has a commission ban, yet life insurance sales are now trending up. While, there are differences in the U.S. and U.K. markets, the core principles are the same. To learn more, visit the Nerd’s Eye View Blog for Bob Veres’ in-depth look. Commissions are not necessarily the bottom-line issue; it’s the premiums that really make the difference.

2. Will the Affordable Care Act stay in effect? 

While no one knows for sure, it is unlikely that the ACA will be completely repealed any time soon. President-elect Trump, along with leaders in Congress, have vowed to repeal and replace, but doing so will be challenging given the lack of votes in the Senate. And while there are significant issues with the ACA, consumers do benefit. Also, healthcare organizations and insurance companies having spent millions of dollars to adjust to it. What is likely is that changes will occur on a gradual basis. The bottom line is that one of the most important benefits to U.S. citizens is the ability to purchase health insurance if you have any existing (or past) health issues. Prior to the ACA, it was challenging to get an individual health insurance policy, which created a bigger issue for individuals and for our overall society. Yes, premiums are increasing, and there are fewer insurers participating. At the same time, it is estimated that there are more than 20 million people with insurance under the ACA. Change will happen, just gradually. If the ACA is replaced, there remains the questions of how to fund it, if the current mandates (taxes and penalties) are stripped out. The funding is one of the core issues and does need to be revised. Insurance companies have also left the federal and state exchanges in a number of states, and they will need to be given incentives to return to the marketplaces.

See also: Top 10 Insurtech Trends for 2017  

3. What will happen with long-term care insurance (LTCI)?

The need for long-term care insurance is not going away; people are living longer, and healthcare costs are rising. Medicaid coverage is minimal and does not apply to most long-term-care expenses. Older LTCI policies have experienced significant premium increases for many reasons, but since the passage of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Rate Stabilization Model Act, there have been fewer increases on newer policies (Read more: “What’s ahead for long term care insurance” ). Currently, hybrid long-term-care/life insurance policies are experiencing growth, but these complex policies are not a solution, as they are a step away from providing a direct protection against the specific risk being insured, which means they are more expensive than a stand-alone LTC policy. A new issue coming up is that some states have “filial responsibility” laws that obligate adult children to financially support their parents and are starting to be used by some nursing homes.  Read about it here.

4. Will insurance agents go extinct?

No, insurance agents will not be going away. However, the way that insurance agents currently do business and have historically done business will be going away. With greater access to information and technology, insurance agents will become true advisers to their clients rather than simply transacting product sales. Professional insurance agents provide value to consumers when they help them understand how insurance policies work and when they assist consumers in making wise choices. The insurance agents who survive will be the ones who recognize that they need to align their interests with those of consumers and work in their best interests by recommending insurance coverage that consistently meets the needs of their clients. Insurance agents will need to follow the concepts outlined in The Insurance Bill of Rights. Mark Twain said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” and this certainly applies to insurance agents.

5. Will consumers finally discover the value of disability insurance? 

Disability insurance is the most overlooked financial tool. Disability insurance is a necessity for anyone who depends on their income. If we are discussing a mandatory insurance coverage, disability insurance should be at the top of the list. Three in 10 workers entering the workforce today will become disabled for some period before they retire (Social Security Administration, Fact Sheet, January 31, 2017). This point was brought home by the fact that Colin Kaepernick did not play this year for the San Francisco 49ers until they purchased a disability insurance policy for him. Read more here.

6. Has the annuity marketplace hit its turning point? 

The current annuity marketplace is filled with complex annuity options that are increasingly challenging for an insurance agent to understand, let alone being understandable for consumers, especially seniors, who are heavily marketed to. The annuity industry continues to face significant market conduct issues in terms of suitability and disclosures (Read about the investigation by the New York Department of Financial Services). Annuity companies that think outside the box and provide low-cost, easy-to-understand solutions will gain popularity. A number of leaders in the financial planning area are already discussing the value of single-premium immediate annuities in investment portfolios to help offset longevity risk (living too long). This will only happen with low-cost annuities and where agents can really provide value by recognizing and solving challenges that can only be addressed with annuities that serve the consumer by getting back to the core function of annuities.

7. Have we reached the tipping point for when the impact of the prolonged low-interest-rate environment will fully emerge on interest-sensitive life insurance policies? 

The majority of universal life policies issued are facing the hidden danger of terminating long before they are expected to. This is due to lower-than-projected credited interest rates, which has led to reduced cash values. If a life insurance policy reaches a cash value of zero, it will terminate unless it has a no-lapse guarantee. The only way to keep the policies in force is to increase the premium, however, life insurance companies, for the most part, are not advising policy owners that they need to increase the premium and specifying the amount by which the premium needs to be increased. This situation has been exacerbated by the fact that a number of life insurance companies have had to increase their mortality costs (cost of insurance charges) to maintain profitability. Continuing to ignore this issue is going to have significant long-term ramifications for the stability and trust in life insurance companies and life insurance agents. This is affecting all types of life insurance that are not guaranteed products, just not as directly. Read more: Will Your Life Insurance Terminate Before You Do?

See also: 10 Predictions for Insurtech in 2017  

8. Is there truly an insurtech company that can add core value to the insurance process?

The insurance industry needs evolution, and not revolution. The majority of insurtech companies are really bringing us more of the same; they are really just “dressed up” insurance brokerages and insurance insurance companies. And while some do make use of technological breakthroughs, they are not making insurance breakthroughs, which is an important distinction. The real breakthroughs will come from when consumers can more easily understand insurance products and pricing and companies can use data to provide truly customized insurance product pricing, streamline underwriting, simplify products and riders and provide insurance products that people need, thereby eliminating those that don’t have a useful purpose.

9. Is it time for insurance policies to finally be used primarily for insurance purposes?

The insurance industry will recognize that it must get back to its core function, which is protecting against potential risks. When this happens, it will lead to better-optimized insurance products for consumers and longer-term business for insurance companies. This will especially be true in the areas of life insurance and annuities when the trend becomes using insurance to address non-insurance issues. Insurance is just insurance.

10. Will the insurance industry discover excellent customer service?

Quality policy owner service is not something that the insurance industry as a whole is known for. Companies that provide top-notch customer experiences thrive, are well-known for doing so and can be easily named (think: Nordstrom, Disney and Apple). Other companies are known for poor customer service, while most remain in the middle. FedEx, which used to be known for top service, now delivers packages at any time and leaves them all over the place. The point is that a quality policy owner experience will revolutionize the insurance process. If the insurance industry can learn to “delight” consumers at every step along the way from the policy selection process, policy application and underwriting process, policy monitoring and claims service, then the insurance industry will really move forward.

The Bottom Line

Greater insurance literacy will benefit consumers and members of the insurance industry. Following the guidelines of The Insurance Bill of Rights is what will move the insurance industry forward. Ask your agent and insurance company if they’ve taken The Insurance Bill of Rights Pledge and look for the Insurance Bill of Rights Seal on their website. If they haven’t taken it, ask them why not or what they have to hide about fairness and disclosure — and join The Insurance Bill of Rights Movement by signing the petition to support The Insurance Bill of Rights (click here).

If you have any feedback or your own questions for 2017, please let me know. Thanks for reading.

What Will Trump Mean for State Regulation?

Insurance is regulated by states, and the states’ laws are implemented and administered by state insurance commissioners. This was affirmed in 1945 by the McCarran-Ferguson Act. Under that act, states regulate the business of insurance unless the U.S. Congress decides otherwise. In the past six years, the federal government has with regularity encroached on areas previously controlled solely by state insurance commissioners, such as through the following federal actions:

  • The creation by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank) of the Federal Insurance Office (FIO)
  • Dodd-Frank’s creation of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC)
  • The Affordable Care Act (ACA)
  • The Department of Labor (DOL) fiduciary rule issued April 8, 2016

These federal encroachments have led to regulatory confusion. Although state insurance commissioners are the predominant regulator of licensed insurance carriers and producers, insurance companies that are deemed systemically important non-bank financial institutions are supervised both by the Federal Reserve and by their domestic state insurance regulators. This creates significant duplication and regulatory burden; the cost of that burden – as well as some of the confusion — is ultimately passed on to consumers. Under the ACA, for instance, state insurance regulators routinely must react to hundreds of pages of regulations that are published by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Licensed insurance producers and carriers must overhaul their operations and distribution to comply with the 1,023-page DOL fiduciary rule.

See also: What Trump Means for Business  

As I see it, state legislatures have given state insurance regulators dual mandates: (1) to protect consumers from the moment of purchase through filing a claim and ultimately the payment or denial of that claim; and (2) to ensure companies are solvent and can meet their financial obligations to consumers. While insurance regulators at the state level can always improve, I do believe that collectively we do a commendable job. Insurance company failures are rare, and most states respond to consumer complaints in a very timely fashion.

Under a President Trump, I believe the role of state insurance regulators will grow as some federal regulations are eliminated. If Dodd-Frank is reviewed, the role of the FIO and even the FSOC could change. State regulators have argued tirelessly that the FIO is not a regulator and needs to stay in its lane as authorized under Dodd-Frank. State regulators are debating with the FIO the need for a covered agreement on reinsurance collateral and are worried about state law being preempted. I think that, under a Trump administration, state regulators may be listened to much more in this debate. State commissioners and the FSOC representatives with insurance experience have also worked to ensure that the FSOC recognize that insurance is not banking and that traditional insurance is not systemic to the global financial system. A Trump administration may agree with state insurance regulators on these issues and many more. Only time will tell, of course.

State insurance commissioners need to demonstrate through the execution of states’ dual mandates that we deserve the responsibility of supervising the insurance markets in our respective states and that we do it better than it could be done from the federal level. I believe the time for state insurance commissioners to shine is now, and I hope we all continue to deliver results as our roles as the regulators of insurance carriers and producers and as the protectors of consumers become increasingly important.

See also: What Trump Means for Workplace Wellness  

Why We Need a Consumer Bill of Rights

As common as insurance is, most people do not understand this complex financial instrument.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey (2014), insurance is a consumer’s fifth highest monthly expenditure behind housing, transport, food and pensions. For many Americans, if you add up all types of insurance (auto, health, etc.), monthly total premiums can surpass housing costs.

But the insurance industry has its fair share of participants (companies, agents, wholesalers) who thrive on complexity and make sales that do not fit the client’s need. There has been a tendency — especially with annuities, life insurance and long-term-care insurance — to introduce insurance products with more options. And each time an option is added, it becomes more challenging to understand that product.

Often, this complexity is not a matter of intent; it is simply that even those within the industry or those who participate in the insurance procurement and review process (third party advisers such as financial planners, CPAs, etc.) do not understand insurance. The majority of people and companies do a good job, but there is a significant gap in insurance literacy in this country.

See also: Best Insurance? A Leadership Pipeline

The Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights was created to provide simple, easy-to-understand guidelines for everyone involved in the insurance ecosystem, including consumers, insurance agents, wholesaler, insurance companies and financial advisers.

The Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights is based on the simple premise that insurance agents, wholesalers and companies should place the consumer’s interests first, to the best of their abilities. The Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights provides simple, clear and reasonable guidelines to accomplish this goal. It is a standard of excellence for all in the insurance industry.

The importance of this movement is that, for many years, insurance has been a black box, something people know they need, although they have no real, unbiased information about it. And most people do not have the right coverage to fit their needs.

In my 30-year career, starting as an agent before making the transition to a fee-based insurance consultant/litigation consultant/author/consumer advocate, I have seen that the situation behind the scenes is often not pretty. However, the majority of these situations could be avoided if all members of the insurance industry followed the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights.

Insurance consumers should have the right to receive any information that they request in a timely fashion. They should also be provided with all relevant information needed to make a decision in an easy-to-understand fashion. The goal is to not flood the consumer with something like a mutual fund prospectus; rather, it is to provide them with useful information.

It is always a win-win situation when all parties come out ahead and are on the same side of the table. Truth always has a way of coming out, and, to get ahead in this digital world where there are fewer secrets and more information and choices, those who strive to provide the highest-quality service and information will thrive.

See also: Fast and Slow: the Changing Landscape

For many years, consumers have ended up with insurance they don’t need, with premiums they either cannot afford or really see no value in paying. It is time to change the conversation so that consumers end up with coverage that fits their needs, with premiums they can afford into the future.

The Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights is a playbook for consumers, agents and companies to follow that puts everyone on the same page.

Monitoring an insurance policy and making adjustments to an insurance portfolio is something that is almost always overlooked. Insurance needs change. Sometimes, the change is as simple as getting a new car, while other times it can be more complex and overlooked, like having a new child who is not added as a beneficiary to an existing life insurance policy.

This is where the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights matters. Making these adjustments, just like having regular maintenance done on your car, is what will ensure that a consumer has the right coverage in place at the time of making a claim. If the right coverage is not in place at claim time, what is the point of having insurance?

While it is not a panacea, and there still would be bad actors and inappropriate sales, the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights is a call to action and gives guidance to consumers on what to look for, what to expect and what they have the right to.

Knowledge is power, and the power should be in the hands of the customer. Having and knowing your rights will protect and benefit consumers, along with calling the insurance community to task when needed and helping consumers and agents optimize insurance coverage and minimize premiums. Join the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights movement!

The Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights movement is gathering momentum, and I want to thank all of its supporters. Recently, the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights has received numerous mentions in the press:

  • Featured Article: It’s Time for An Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights — a reflection on how the Department of Labor Fiduciary Rule is a pre-cursor to the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights.
  • As part of a joint effort with Chris Huntley’s Whole Life Rebellion that called for signing the petition, Forbes.com’s Barbara Marquand stated: “Sign the ‘Insurance Bill of Rights,’ a petition created by Tony Steuer from InsuranceLiteracy.org. Among other things, the bill says agents should act in consumers’ best interest and recommend affordable and appropriate coverage. (Click here to view the article.)
  • In an article on PTmoney.com titled “The Truth About Whole Life Insurance — Ethical Obligations and the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights), it states, “Doctors take the Hippocratic oath and financial advisers the fiduciary oath. These are ethical codes professionals swear to live by in the execution of their duties. As of today, the life insurance industry has no such code, which is a travesty. Tony Steuer (InsuranceLiteracy.org) has created the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights on Change.org, which seeks to implement a similar code of conduct in the insurance industry requiring all agents to act in the consumers’ best interest. The desired result would be agents targeting consumers’ specific needs to provide them with the most affordable and appropriate life insurance for their unique circumstances. Insurance agents should be held accountable for the advice they offer.” (Click here to read the article.)

And that is just some of the talk. So, what’s the next step? Please continue to share the campaign via email and on social media. And you can now contribute to the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights movement through the petition page on Change.org, or you can support the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights movement on Indiegogo.