SAN DIEGO - While annuities have become more widely accepted as a vital part of a retirement strategy, there are millions of Americans who still aren't opting for them.
Industry experts on Tuesday discussed a number of research studies that explored why consumers may not be buying annuity products, and then offered some tips for advisors on how to get their clients to reconsider, at the Insured Retirement Institute's annual meeting being held this week in San Diego.
According to a survey released Monday by the IRI and Cambridge, Mass.-based Cogent Research, 49% of non-annuity owners said they were concerned that annuity providers could not meet their guaranteed obligations.
"That is the number one barrier - they wondered whether the benefit would be there when they needed it," Antonio Ferreira, Cogent's managing director, wealth management practice told conference attendees.
However, the survey also showed that only 5% of the respondents were very knowledgeable about annuities, Ferreira said.
Advisors responding to the survey listed a number of ways annuity providers could help them overcoming these obstacles: produce additional educational materials about annuities for advisors to give to their clients; reconsider product design by lowering contract mortality and expense fees or unbundling annuities from other products; and develop "do-it-yourself" platforms that would allow consumers to purchase annuities directly.
When recommending annuities to clients, Ferreira says advisors should focus more on the benefits of a guaranteed income stream, versus trying to sell more on fear.
"Don't just to warn them that they could outlive their savings - address it in a way that you're not going to scare them away," he says.
Indeed, advisors should frame discussions around annuities as a matter of consumption, and not solely as an investment strategy, said Jason Fichtner, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center, George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
"Research has shown that when consumers view annuities as consumption to smooth and guarantee spending, they view annuities as insurance," Fichtner sais. "But when they view it as an investment, they evaluate annuities based on risk and return."
Indeed, studies have shown that when viewed as consumption, 72% of consumers chose an annuity product, but only 21% of consumers who viewed it as an investment opted for annuities, he said.
Advisors would also fare better if they utilized online retirement planning calculators that incorporated withdrawal rates, to show clients exactly how much they would need in the future to keep up with their spending habits - and unexpected expenses such as longterm care in a nursing home, Fichtner said. That way, a guaranteed income stream would look even more attractive.
Catherine J. Weatherford, IRI's president and chief executive officer, pointed to research by the trade group that showed many consumers were worried about market volatility as well as the uncertainty about Congress raising taxes to prevent "falling off the fiscal cliff" with the pending triggers.
Advisors can recommend the advantages of tax-deferral annuities products to clients who might be worried about these issues, Weatherford said.
Advisors should also get more involved in lobbying their Congressional delegation not to reduce or eliminate the tax advantages in lawmakers' quest to reduce the budget deficit, she added.
"It really doesn't matter who is elected, we still have a bull's eye on our backs," Weatherford says. "They need to hear from the industry how many people we insure and why the tax deferrals are a good incentive for people to save."
The survey by IRI and Cogent also showed that 29% of respondents who did not own an annuity product said that the public media has had a negative impact on their impression of annuities.
As such, everyone within the annuity industry should engage in positive conversations with media representatives, Ferreira said.
"We should not undersell the importance of the media - it's amazing how on that creates an echo chamber on how things are marketed," Fichtner added.
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