I never pitch products in my training programs or keynotes because I believe that advanced skills are product neutral. It’s up to each advisor to decide what’s best for the client.
But I am seeing a confluence of market and demographic forces right now that is causing me to line up enthusiastically behind one particular product strategy.
I think we have entered the Age of the Annuity!
If you’ve never done one before, it’s time to take a hard look at them. And if you’re already using them…you might want to double your efforts for the next couple of decades.
DOL & the “F-Word!”The Department of Labor “fiduciary rule” is currently stuck in the mud of Washington confusion at the moment. No one can say today if this thing is going to survive or what form it might take after all the bureaucratic sputtering is finished. [as of 6/2018 the industry managed to kill the rule]
But even if DOL disappears completely…The F-word will not. “FIDUCIARY” is here to stay!
Acting in our clients’ best interests is what we do every day. So this is not a major shift in anyone’s business philosophy. But it is a big shift in perception.
The public is being told by regulators and the media to ask advisors right up front, “Are you a fiduciary?”
Few clients understand the implications of that word, but they’re certain a “No” answer, or any hesitation, is bad news. And it’s likely to become a major differentiation.
The choice to become a fiduciary is a big one and there are several sides to this issue. But being a fiduciary means a lot more than simply avoiding high fee products. In fact, when you identify the greatest threat to financial survival that most Americans are facing, fees and commissions are a minor concern.
By far the biggest danger ahead is the very real risk of outliving our money and not having a reliable income in retirement.
The second biggest danger is in trying to navigate retirement without some kind of professional help. Sadly, that’s what the DOL rule may mean for millions of Americans.
Combined…these two risks mean that if you DON’T show the client an annuity option, you may be in for a seriously expensive lawsuit down the road.
There’s a classic episode of Seinfeld where Frank Costanza (George’s father) tried to reduce his stress by shouting “Serenity now!” My annuity mantra may be a slight modification, but the idea is the same.
To effectively reduce the stress and fear that millions of retiring Boomers are about to face, an annuity in some form may be the best, if not the only answer.
And you have a wide range of options to accommodate nearly every need including immediate, fixed, indexed, variable and investment only…so there really are no excuses anymore. There may be a slight learning curve, but the effort will be richly rewarded.
Bottom line: If annuities are not part of your product mix in a major way…you need to re-think your approach fast.
From Hater to Fan
As a former wirehouse stock-jockey, I used to pitch against annuities. I was never a fan. But times have changed.
John Maynard Keynes famously said, “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”
I believe today that annuities are the only reliable way to guarantee a steady stream of income in retirement. And before you say “Bonds do that too.” I hasten to point out that the 33-year falling interest rate cycle is over. Very few advisors today know the pain of destroying client wealth in a bond portfolio.
The reality is that most people are living far longer than their money will last. Given that fact, annuities might be the only salvation for tens of millions of Americans.
Plenty of advisors are already on board with annuities, but far too many are not yet. Add to that the fact that the whole DOL debacle feels like a direct assault on the annuity industry just at the time Americans need these programs most. The irony there is painfully sad.
Best Interests! Really?
So go back to the whole “fiduciary” thing for a minute. What is truly in the client’s best interests? (Allowing for different needs and objectives of course.)
Is it better to show a client an annuity with some kind of commission charge…
Or should you try to build a portfolio of super low-fee, passive ETFs or mutual funds and craft a lifetime income stream from that?
If you said “Both” that’s fine! But at least put a portion of the portfolio into something that’s protected forever. Why would anyone disagree with that?
And if costs are your concern…what if the annuity itself was also low fee?
Annuity firms right now are bringing new programs to market that look better than anything we’ve ever seen with lower fees, great investment choices, fantastic liquidity, and more income flexibility.
They might never get as cheap as an index fund, but let’s say for the sake of argument that the incremental fee for an annuity was around 100 basis points per year. How would you ever go to a client who had depleted their assets by age 80 and say, “Gee Bob, I’m really sorry. I had a chance to guarantee a portion of your retirement income…but I was really worried about charging you 1% more in annual fees!”
That is not a conversation you want to have. Your Monte Carlo simulation and low-fee argument won’t stand up in court. And folks, there’s no doubt that as many retirees start running out of money, some attorney will dig into their portfolio to find where an advisor failed to recommend some kind of safety and a guaranteed income. We haven’t seen the panic yet, but just look at the demographics…it’s coming like a freight train!
In really good or bad times…prepare clients for the opposite!
The markets have been strong and I’m not predicting a downturn here. But none of us needs a massive loss to convince us to protect some of our client’s retirement savings. It’s just common sense.
An annuity puts client assets into the hands of very large, very solvent and historically conservative companies who are much more tightly controlled than any bank. There is no better way to stabilize the retirement ship in a stormy sea and to take some of that longevity risk off the table!
“The AGE of the Annuity!”
So the new era is upon us. I wrote about “The Year of the Annuity” in early 2016, but I think we are going to be in this protection business for the next 30 years. And whatever happens with the DOL rule, the F-word will likely be with us forever. Truly acting in a client’s best interests transcends the trivia of commissions and fees.
- It demands that we protect them from the greatest threat to their future…outliving their money.
- It mandates that we instill and insure some kind of guarantee and peace of mind in what will be for most a long retirement.
- It says that if you haven’t done so already, it’s time to open your mind to new financial instruments that help people safely DOWN the mountain…not up.
- It puts annuities front and center, standing tall in the line-up of solutions we offer.
In the end we will all be judged on how well we got our people through to their goals.
Annuities used to be one simple product choice among many…but not anymore.
They are now a core fiduciary responsibility!