Annuity products have long been the domain of annuity agents who earn substantial commissions, while the adoption of annuity products by fiduciary RIAs has been sluggish at best, ostensibly due to some combination of a dislike of available annuity products, and the lack of any commissions to incentivize their use. Yet now with the DoL fiduciary rule, there are new pressures coming that may compress annuity commissions… raising the question of whether annuity products will even survive in the long run without commission compensation to support them.
In this week’s #OfficeHours with @MichaelKitces, my Tuesday 1PM EST broadcast via Periscope, we look at how the DoL fiduciary rule may impact annuity companies and annuity product design in the coming years, and whether it’s really the beginning of the end of annuity products.
Yet a deeper look reveals that the changing incentives for annuity companies may not kill annuity products at all, and in fact may actually drive annuity products to get better in the future. After all, when an annuity company can’t pay a hefty commission to incentivize agents to sell it, their own remaining choice is to actually design a good product, and then market and educate advisors on how to use it appropriate – in a manner that meets their own fiduciary requirements. In addition, annuity companies will also face new pressures to be more transparent and less “gimmicky” with their product design, as anything less will drive away fiduciary advisors who will fear they can’t do sufficient due diligence to manage their own liability exposure.
Of course, the biggest caveat is that the new DoL fiduciary rules only apply to retirement accounts, which means non-qualified annuities won’t face any of these pressures. Yet given that the concentration of retirement dollars that would buy annuities are held in retirement accounts, the opportunity for annuity companies is to figure out how to step up and create fiduciary-ready products… which in turn may only further increase the regulatory pressure on the SEC, FINRA, and state insurance regulators to improve the standards for non-qualified annuities to match the new fiduciary world for IRAs!