Many in the industry believe interest among advisors and investors in variable annuities will decline as a result of the rule, which forces retirement brokers to put clients’ interests first and goes into effect in April. Because variable annuities pay an average of 8% in broker commissions, they may expose advisors to potential conflicts of interest and regulator scrutiny. Surveys support that thinking: LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute projects sales in variable annuities to fall 15% to 20% this year and 25% to 30% in 2017 once the rule gets implemented, according to Financial Advisor magazine.
An August survey by Fidelity Institutional cited by the publication found that 39% of advisors plan to recommend variable annuities less often, compared to 28% who said they would in a January survey. A Fidelity spokeswoman tells the magazine that its advisors plan to “narrow” the types of products they offer, including annuities. The company is revamping its annuities-trading platform to ensure that advisors only sell products that aren’t prohibited by the rule and streamline their ability to use the best interest contract exemption, which allows brokers to sell commission-based products after signing an agreement with the client, the publication writes.
Vanguard, meanwhile — which has $14 billion in client assets in its variable annuity — thinks the DOL rule may actually lead to more sales of the product, according to Financial Advisor magazine.
That’s because the firm carries no loads and pays no commissions while remaining one of the lowest-priced options (with an average expense ratio of 0.54%, compared to the industry average of 2.24%, according to Morningstar data cited by the magazine). And clients aren’t encouraged to buy them, Phil Korenman, head of specialized retail programs at Vanguard, tells the publication.
But with Republican Donald Trump winning the presidential race, it’s unclear if the DOL rule will actually go forward. Some industry experts believe Trump’s administration may be too late to do anything to stop it or may not even want to. But since the GOP remained in control of both chambers of Congress, other experts anticipate the Republicans will pass legislation to kill the rule in January.