We wrote a week or so ago about fixed index annuities and lax insurance regulation in Pennsylvania (as overseen by Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller, who hasn't yet given us an interview).
The commonwealth is about one of the easiest places in the nation to get a license to sell insurance — especially if you've got a criminal record. Pennsylvania has a waiver program under which convicted felons – even those who have committed white-collar financial crimes such as forgery and identity theft — can get a license. Many do.
For hair-raising reading, check the Insurance Department's website (www.insurance.pa.gov ) to find out whether your agent got a waiver. (Look under the tab "Regulations," then "Regulatory Actions," then "Archived Actions.") Those agents with convictions apply for and receive what is known as a 1033 waiver, and voila, they're in business.
How could Pennsylvania's Insurance Department better protect consumers? Three ways:
• Adopt New York state's rule requiring that insurance agents disclose their commissions on annuities and other products. It would offer more transparency immediately.
• Switch to Florida's rule on annuity cash-outs. In Pennsylvania now, if a senior citizen buys a fixed index annuity and cashes out early, the withdrawal may be subject to steep surrender charges. Florida law says annuity contracts for people 65 or older cannot charge surrender fees exceeding 10 percent of the amount withdrawn. In addition, the surrender charge must be reduced so that none exists after the end of the 10th policy year.
• Get rid of or limit the waiver program. Selling insurance shouldn't be as easy as slinging hash. Convicted felons need jobs, but should someone who has committed forgery and identity theft be allowed to handle the savings and assets of our elderly parents and relatives?
"If I had a magic wand, I would treat fixed index annuities as securities, like variable annuities, where the salesperson needs a Series 7 securities license to sell," said Todd Erkis, a visiting professor at St. Joseph's University. He worked as chief actuary at Radnor-based Lincoln Financial from 2003 to 2007 and has just written a book, What Insurance Companies Don't Want You to Know.
"Insurance agents love fixed index annuities, because any agent can sell them and get huge commissions. State insurance departments should be more active in this area — especially around suitability," Erkis said.
A new UBS study notes that women in couples don't take as active a role in investing. Surprisingly, this holds true for women of all ages, too: Fewer than one in five millennial (15 percent) and Gen X (18 percent) women make investment decisions, leaving them to their partners. Come on, ladies, we can do better!
If you want to learn more on the topic, hit up a local community college or the Women's Opportunity Resource Center. But don't delay in starting to invest for retirement. That's the message from Sallie Krawcheck, who founded Ellevest, an investment platform and robo-adviser for women. Krawcheck, former president of global wealth and investment management at Bank of America, noted that women live longer by at least five years yet retire with two-thirds of the assets men have at retirement.
Plus, 86 percent of financial advisers are male. The "gender-neutral" investment industry defaults to men's salaries, career paths, preferences, and life spans. Ellevest seeks to correct all that.
"Women direct 80 percent of consumer spending and have $5 trillion in investable assets. That's power," Krawcheck said.
To wit: She's boycotting Uber for its controversy surrounding female engineers who allege harassment at the company. "I don't want to spend my money on a company that treats women that way," Krawcheck said.
No more waiting, she said. "We think we need more education. We don't. While we're waiting, we're not investing. That's a real issue. Guys need education, but they do it anyway."
Ellevest charges 0.50 percent of assets annually. "Our goal is for you to get to 90 percent of your preretirement take-home pay. We'll start you in a riskier portfolio and over time, glide-path you to a less risky portfolio," she said. The underlying investments are ETFs (exchange-traded funds), which have their own fees of 0.10 percent to 0.15 percent.
The Social Security Administration will host two days of preretirement sessions on April 4 and 11 in Media. Three sessions are planned per day, at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m., at the Rose Tree Corporate Center, Building 2, first floor, 1400 N. Providence Rd., Media, Pa., 19063.
Topics will include: how benefits are calculated; creating your online account; when to take benefits; rules for collecting benefits while working; family benefits; and enrolling in Medicare.
Registration is required: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 866-398-3469, ext. 29305.