Tag Archives: LTCI

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While no one knows for sure, it is unlikely that the ACA will be completely repealed any time soon.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.

Time for a ‘Nudge’ on Long-Term Care

For years, the go-to approach with clients for discussing long-term care insurance (LTCi) solutions has been from an educational perspective. The idea was that if we could just get a prospective customer to lower his guard long enough to understand the strong statistical rationale or risk in favor of LTCi, the decision would become clear to him, and coverage would be purchased.

As logical as all that sounds, maybe our logic is flawed? The reality we’re facing in the LTCi industry is that this approach is likely not the most effective way to lead Americans into action on LTCi. What we’ve experienced is that, despite our best efforts and compelling factual arguments in favor of LTCi, adoption rates have consistently hovered around 8%, which corresponds with the percentage of the population that is predisposed to long-term planning by nature.

So why isn’t the traditional approach to planning for LTCi working for the other 92%? The answer, it turns out, might be found in some fascinating recent research into “behavioral economics,” which considers economic decision making from a psychological perspective. Best-selling books such as Nudge (Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein) and Thinking Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman) have explored the ramifications of this fascinating topic.

The idea is that people really don’t act rationally, as classical economics assumes. Instead, people are motivated to act based on their emotions and impulses. Moreover, the choices we make are very dependent on how options are presented to us.

See also: Can Long-Term Care Insurance Survive?

Companies and governments have recently used the findings of behavioral economics to try and “nudge” people to take actions. For example, more companies now auto-enroll employees in 401(k) plans and make them opt-out if they don’t want to join. The result has been a big increase in 401(k) participation. Another finding—that too many choices lead to inaction—has led to a narrowing of investment options. Similarly, “default” choices, such as target date funds, are now part of many 401(k) plans.

Here are six ways in which the findings of behavioral economics can help improve your closing rate when doing LTCi planning with clients:

  1. Keeping choices as simple as possible. As an adviser, you may think your job is to give a possible buyer multiple options for planning for care, such as spread sheeting several insurance carriers or comparing standalone and linked products. However, the reality is that consumers don’t want this—they want a recommendation with just a few choices. Share your due diligence, but limit the information to what you consider the best options for them to consider.
  2. Focus on the possible gain LTC will provide instead of the possible loss. Research has shown that, just like gamblers, we all want to win, and we don’t like to think about losing. People who are considering LTCi don’t want to think about loss when planning for care, such as how their retirement savings may be depleted. Instead, focus on the fact that a small LTCi premium gives the policyholder the possibility of a big payoff in benefits. For example, a $2,000 annual premium could result in $300,000 to pay for high-quality care at home.
  3. Use stories, not statistics! Statistics are important for discovering trends and insights, but they are awful when used for discussing LTC planning. People are way too optimistic about their future and think they will be on the winning side of a statistic. Focusing on stories and experience that motivate prospects is much better than using statistics that can destroy empathy when talking about planning for LTC.
  4. Focus on “now” benefits, not the future.  It’s incredibly difficult for people to imagine aging and needing help. Instead, focus on the “now” benefits of LTCi.  The now benefits are more difficult to quantify, but they can include peace of mind, good health underwriting and locking into a lower premium before a birthday.
  5. Help guide heuristics (rules of thumb). For analytical advisers, it’s tempting to use tools such as cost-of-care surveys that project the cost of care 40 years in the future when designing plans. A better approach is to “follow the crowd” and recommend benefits similar to what policyholders are actually buying. You may think people want customized solutions, but most would feel more comfortable picking options similar to other buyers. Recommend they do what most people are doing.
  6. “Nudge” a choice.  When people have to make a decision, such as actively signing off on the fact they have been offered LTCi but declined, they will be more likely to buy. LTC planning is easy to delay, and people need motivations to keep them from delaying the decision forever.

See also: Long Term Care Insurance: Group plan vs Individual

Behavioral economics is a controversial topic, but we think it offers an important critique of the way we have traditionally approached LTCi planning with prospective clients. Employing some of its findings might move us beyond the 8% threshold of highly motivated long-term planners to help the remaining 92% of the population engage in meaningful consideration of their long-term care needs.

An Open Letter to Federal Regulators

I welcome and applaud the federal government’s interest in the regulation of our nation’s insurance industries and markets. In response to the Federal Insurance Office’s request for comments on the “gaps” in state regulation, I appreciate this opportunity to present my views. Indeed, your request, Director McRaith, for comments upon such “gaps” seems to reveal what a keen, yet heretofore unpublicized, good sense of humor you must have.

To very briefly introduce myself, I am an economist, a CFA and a life insurance agent of more than 20 years who has worked with scores of life insurers. My views have been published by the Journal of Insurance Regulation, the American Council on Consumer Interests and various other industry trade publications. My positions are based on my extensive experiences with our nation’s profoundly problematic state-based insurance regulatory system, problems that those who have not been intimately involved with in the marketplace might find inconceivable.

State insurance regulators have never required the proper disclosure of cash value life insurance policies. Markets do not work properly without adequately informed consumers. While life insurance is, conceptually, a simple product, without the proper conceptual understanding of and the necessary relevant information, consumers cannot effectively search for good value. “The Life Insurance Buyer’s Guide,” published by regulators and mandatorily distributed with policies by insurers and their agents, is not just a little deficient—it is misleading, seriously incomplete and defective. And, it, in all of its various state editions, has been that way for almost 40 years.

Professor Joseph Belth has written about this national problem for more than 40 years. In 1979, the Federal Trade Commission issued a scathing report on the life insurance industry’s cash value products. Cash value policies are composed of insurance and savings components, and consumers need appropriate information about both. This specifically requires appropriate disclosure of these policies’ annual compounding rates on consumers’ savings element as well as annual costs regarding their insurance element. Both Professor Belth and I have separately developed very similar disclosure approaches. (More information about my approach and its comparative conceptual and marketplace tested-advantages is available on my website or upon request.)

The exceptional nature of this regulatory failure can be grasped by specifically contrasting the states’ regulatory track record on cash value policy disclosures with those of other financial regulators’ actions. Investment product disclosures have been mandated since the 1930s. Truth in Lending was enacted in 1969. And yet, while a consumer’s potential risks in making a poor life insurance purchase can arguably be shown to be greater than those in purchasing a poor investment or obtaining an unattractive loan, Truth in Insurance or Truth in Life Insurance legislation has never been promulgated by any state.

A second insightful perspective, and one with much more tangible consequences on its harmful impacts on consumers, can be grasped by reviewing a few basic facts about the current life insurance marketplace.

Three Facts

Fact No. 1: The life insurance marketplace is awash with misinformation; this should hardly be surprising. Life insurers actually run misleading advertisements and conduct training in deceptive sales practices. Evidence of such has been repeatedly submitted to state regulators. Moreover, given the industry’s commission-driven sales practices (commissions that can make those of mortgage brokers, now notorious for their own misrepresentations, look tiny), sales misconduct is pervasive. The harmful consequences of such agent misrepresentations are manifested every day, both directly and indirectly, in unwise purchases or other costly life insurance mistakes by American families. These misrepresentations go unrecognized because of consumers’ inadequate financial grasp of a product’s true conceptual framework, and these go unpunished because, as a past president of the national largest agent organization has written in widely quoted published articles, state laws prohibiting deceptive life insurance sales practices have virtually never been enforced.

Fact No. 2: Cash value life insurance policies that are sold to be lifelong products have extraordinary high lapse rates. Data shows that over an eight-year period, approximately 40% of all the cash value policies of many life insurers are discontinued. It is true there are many possible causes for consumers to discontinue coverage, but age-old evidence of consumer dissatisfaction has been a virtual five-alarm that state regulators have ignored for more than 40 years. Such lapses are especially financially painful to consumers, as the typically sold cash value policy has huge front-end sales loads (sales loads regarding which agents are trained to make misrepresentations).

It is very important that all readers fully understand that, contrary to pervasive misconceptions and misrepresentations, cash value policies do not avoid the increasing costs of annual mortality charges as a policyholder ages. The fundamental advantages of cash value life insurance products come from the product’s tax privileges. Tax privileges, however, are essentially a free, non-proprietary input. In a competitive marketplace, firms cannot charge consumers or extract value for a free, non-proprietary input. No one pays thousands of dollars in sales costs to set up an IRA. Cost disclosure will enable consumers to evaluate cash value policies by the policies’ price competitiveness and, as such, will drive the excessive sales loads out of cash value policies.

The heart of the battle over disclosure is that disclosure threatens to—and, in fact, will—undermine the industry’s traditional sales compensation practices. For example, over the past five years, Northwestern Mutual, the nation’s largest insurer, with $1.2 trillion of individual coverage in force, paid $4.5 billion in agent life insurance commissions and other agent compensation, while its mortality costs for its death claims were only $3.5 billion. (Northwestern paid more than $12 billion to policyholders surrendering their coverage during the same five years.)

Agents, naturally, do not like the idea of reduced compensation, but their arguments are not compelling. Insurers believe little life insurance would be sold without such agent compensation; that is, that the large and undisclosed agent compensation cash value policies typically provide is, 1) necessary to compensate agents for their sales efforts and yet, 2) could not be obtained from an informed consumer.

My position is that good disclosure on life insurance will drive the excessive and unjustified sales loads out of cash value policies, making them price competitive with pure-term policies, thereby enabling consumers to truly benefit from the product’s tax privileges. Also, product cost disclosure is an essential component of any fair business transaction (and, as all readers properly educated about life insurance know, a cash value policy’s premium and annual cost are different.)

Fact No. 3: It is undeniable that the sales approaches used today are not effective. Unbiased experts have, for decades, demonstrated that Americans have insufficient life insurance. In August 2010, the Wall Street Journal’s Leslie Scism reported that levels of coverage have plummeted to all-time lows. Contrast that with data showing consumers’ ever-increasing voluntary purchases of additional coverage via their employers’ group life insurance plans. Marketing research shows that fear making a mistake is the primary reason consumers avoid or postpone purchases and financial decisions. Inadequate disclosure on life insurance policies not only prevents consumers from being appropriately informed; it is also a main factor in their avoidance of the very product they so often need.

I predict publicity of appropriate disclosure will lead to: unprecedented sales growth, policyholder persistency, different levels of coverage, positive impacts on all other measurements of satisfaction regarding consumers’ future life insurance purchases and life insurance agents becoming trusted and esteemed professionals. Admittedly, appropriate disclosure could lead to litigation over agents’ and insurers’ prior misrepresentations.

As I think you may now understand, inadequate life insurance policy disclosure is a regulatory “gap” that is virtually the size and age of an intergalactic asteroid.

Other Gaps

As it is currently marketed, long-term care insurance (LTCI) constitutes another serious problem. While, theoretically, LTCI can make sense, the devil is in the details. Essentially, LTCI is a contingent deferred annuity, yet one where insurers retain an option to increase the premiums for entire “classes of insureds” and where consumers must confront post-purchase price risks without the information necessary to assess alternatives. Furthermore, consumers cannot transfer their coverage to a new insurer without forfeiting the value they’ve previously paid. Defective LTCI policies have let consumers be shot like fish in a barrel; in fact, the policies’ inherent unfairness makes loan sharks envious. Appropriate disclosure on LTCI would bring consumers drastically superior value and understanding.

Regulation of life insurance agent licensing is incredibly deficient. Agents should truly be financial doctors. However, states’ agent licensing requirements fail to make sure consumers are served by financially knowledgeable professionals; licensing exams are a joke. While there are many competent agents, it is quite possible that the overwhelming majority of agents—many of whom are new and inexperienced, as more than four out of five recruits fail in the commission-based environment within the first few years—do not possess the basic knowledge necessary to accurately assess a consumer’s needs or to properly evaluate different companies’ policies.

There is virtually no state regulation of fee-only advisers who charge for providing advice about life insurance industry products. Such individuals can cause harm to consumers in multiple ways: improperly assessing needs and evaluating policies and recommending policy terminations or other actions (beneficiary or ownership changes, inappropriate policy loans, etc.) that lead to policies being mismanaged. To my knowledge, the only state that actually requires licensing for fee-only advisers is New Hampshire. A cursory review of public records, however, reveals shocking omissions in New Hampshire’s enforcement of such rules. One of the state’s former insurance commissioners, who for years has operated a prominent website providing and charging for advice on life insurance, has never been licensed.

Agent continuing education (CE) requirements are problematic. Outdated courses are still deemed acceptable, similar courses can be submitted virtually indefinitely to fulfill bi-annual CE requirements, and many courses are so devoid of meaningful information that they are vacuous. While the potential merits of CE are undeniable, only serious testing and recordings provide the means of monitoring the true effectiveness of instruction and learning.

Another area for improved regulation concerns the insurer-agent relationship. This is not to suggest draconian involvement by the government, rather to recognize the legitimate public interests in properly structuring such relationships—just as is done in relationships between pilots and airlines, construction workers and contractors, nurses and hospitals. The contracts between insurers and agents show unequal bargaining power. Insurers have not only exercised their power unfairly but have—possibly illegally—prohibited certain agent conduct, while requiring other, on matters clearly outside the boundaries of the contract. Attorneys specializing in franchise law have stated that the typical agent’s contract is the most one-sided arrangement they have ever seen.

Over the past 20 years, I have written many articles and submitted extensive documentation of sales and managerial fraud in the life insurance marketplace, yet no one with any marketplace authority or power has ever taken any effective action. Nonetheless, my commitment to reform the life insurance industry and marketplace remains. In fact, while federal regulatory action and any other private assistance would be greatly appreciated, all that is needed for the transformation of the age-old, dysfunctional life insurance industry is the dissemination—the genuine and effective mass market dissemination—of the type of life insurance policy disclosure information that is available on my web site, BreadwinnersInsurance.com. [The full version of this letter is available on the site.]