L-Share/ Short Surrender Annuities: Not Impressed

“There are soUS Kayla Mc Maroney poses with her silver medal on the podium of the women's vault final of the artistic gymnastics event of the London Olympic Games on August 5, 2012 at the 02 North Greenwich Arena in London. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX (Photo credit should read THOMAS COEX/AFP/GettyImages)me scumbags in this business and they deserve to be prosecuted out.”  – Joseph Jordan, former advisor and current consultant

Mr. Jordan’s comments couldn’t be more relevant — or true – than they are right now.

Some insurance companies in their never-ending quest to find new victims (I mean, clients) often resort to very clever deceptive practices that often go undetected by the client.  Not everyone can do an expose a la John Oliver whereby he eviscerated John Hancock’s convoluted 401k proposal.

A big drawback to selling an annuity is the surrender period. This means purchasers of these products often have to pay between 8-10% of their principal if they decide to withdraw more than 10% of their contract in the first seven years.

This is a sliding scale. As the years pass, the penalty decreases. Unscrupulous salespeople often gloss over this interesting tidbit in their eagerness to close a sale and collect their generous commissions. Wham bam, thank you, Ma’am! So sorry we forgot to mention this minor detail.

Being penalized to access your funds should an emergency arise is not exactly a fringe benefit for a client.

Don’t worry, the guys with the pocket protectors have come up with an ingenious solution. They created a new product with a much more tolerable three-year surrender period. Perfect!

Now a client can get those same protected benefits with the addition of potential high stock market returns.  Introducing the L-share/Short Surrender Annuity, this is the new and improved version of their logic-defying model.

What can go wrong here? Plenty!  The first warning sign is these products pay salespeople higher commissions than the seven-year surrender fee versions. This is always a bad sign. High payouts are needed to sell bad products. This iron law of finance never fails.

In addition, the annual mortality, expense, and administration (MEA) fee is about 40% higher in the L-shares than the standard seven- year product! This means this product is deceptively sold on its liquidity benefits. The exorbitant price of this new feature is often not fully disclosed.

This increased annual expense more than offsets the possible loss of an extra four years of possible surrender fees for the insurer.  Here is an example of this from AnnuityFYI:

With an L-share Annuity, You Will Pay a Higher Mortality, Expense and Administration (MEA) Fee & Likely Get a Lower Return

Let’s take a hypothetical, but typical, scenario:

  • $100,000 investment
  • Assumed growth rate of 10% over 10 years, after sub-account fees (but not including MEA fees)
  • You have the choice of:
    • Variable Annuity ABC Standard — a seven-year surrender product with a 1.15% MEA fee. This is the MEA fee for the typical seven-year surrender variable annuity recommended through Annuity FYI (without a bonus). Typical surrender schedule: 7%,7%, 6%, 5%, 4%, 3%, 2%, 0%
    •  Variable Annuity ABC L-share — the exact same product with a three-year surrender and a 1.65% MEA (this is the average industry MEA fee on an L-share at the time of this writing). You are paying a premium in terms of MEA fees for the privilege of having a surrender period that is 3-4 years less than the less expensive, standard product. Typical surrender schedule: 8%, 7%, 6%, 5%, 0%.
    •  With the seven-year product, after 10 years your account value will be $233,499 (10% growth, less 1.15% MEA fees). With the three-year product, after 10 years your account value will be $222,992 (10% growth less 1.65% MEA fees). Because of the higher MEA fees on the L-share, your account value would be $10,507 less (4.50% less) than the seven-year surrender product, which is otherwise exactly the same!

Stuff like this is starting to get more of FINRA’s attention. Met Life was recently fined $25 million for their annuity shenanigans. In the words of James Day, FINRA Associate Vice President, “Annuities are at the sweet spot of complex products marketed to retirees and people about to retire.”

L-shares fall right into this category. The situation is a criminal investigation waiting to happen. On top of the above-stated math, there is another disturbing issue concerning this product. Why is the salesperson marketing an equity-based product to a client who expresses a concern that they might need their funds in 3-4 years?

Any competent advisor knows that, at a bare minimum, an investment of five years is required if capital is to be exposed to the volatility of the equity markets. Investors with time frames less than that should not have the money invested at all.

The only good thing about most annuity products are they will keep many individuals employed at both FINRA and the SEC for years to come. This is a small solace to the numerous victims of annuity malfeasance.

To sum up things in the words of T.V. host Suzie Orman:

Imaginary Caller: “Should I take $100,000 from my IRA and buy an L-share/Short Surrender Annuity to take advantage of the lower surrender fees?

Orman: “Permission Denied!!”



This content, which contains security-related opinions and/or information, is provided for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in any manner as professional advice, or an endorsement of any practices, products or services. There can be no guarantees or assurances that the views expressed here will be applicable for any particular facts or circumstances, and should not be relied upon in any manner. You should consult your own advisers as to legal, business, tax, and other related matters concerning any investment.

The commentary in this “post” (including any related blog, podcasts, videos, and social media) reflects the personal opinions, viewpoints, and analyses of the Ritholtz Wealth Management employees providing such comments, and should not be regarded the views of Ritholtz Wealth Management LLC. or its respective affiliates or as a description of advisory services provided by Ritholtz Wealth Management or performance returns of any Ritholtz Wealth Management Investments client.

References to any securities or digital assets, or performance data, are for illustrative purposes only and do not constitute an investment recommendation or offer to provide investment advisory services. Charts and graphs provided within are for informational purposes solely and should not be relied upon when making any investment decision. Past performance is not indicative of future results. The content speaks only as of the date indicated. Any projections, estimates, forecasts, targets, prospects, and/or opinions expressed in these materials are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to opinions expressed by others.

Please see disclosures here.

What's been said:

Discussions found on the web
  1. Have You No Decency? commented on Nov 11

    […] most misused and oversold financial products. A “new” VA has hit the market call the L-share. This annuity charges much higher fees in exchange for a lower ransom, I mean surrender […]