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Independent Broker-Dealers Score Big With Variable Annuities

While distribution channels like wirehouses and large national brokerage houses experienced slumps in variable annuity sales, independent broker-dealers saw big growth, according to a recent article from Investment News. Experts are crediting more attractive product features, the growing popularity of structured or buffer annuities and the disappearance of the fiduciary rule for the boost.

In 2018, independent broker-dealers (IBDs) sold $39.4 billion of variable annuities, up $3.7 billion according to the LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute. 39% of variable annuities sales last year actually came from IBDs. On the contrary, sales among full-service national broker-dealers, like wirehouses and firms, remained steady at $12.2 billion.

Todd Giesing, director of annuity research at LIMRA believes that these sales reflect the uptake of structured annuities by independent broker-dealers’. These products are considered variable annuities although they are more of a cross between variable and indexed products. Wirehouses haven’t taken to the products as readily, said Mr. Giesing, since their brokers have alternative products such as structured notes available to them.

Additionally, last year saw consistent interest rate increases which led many insurers to make certain product features more attractive, such as annual withdrawal rates offered on riders offering guaranteed living benefits. The regulatory environment also worked in their favor as the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule.

“The cloud over the DOL thing was put to rest, so everybody went back to saying, ‘I can recommend these again’- not because it was bad to do it before, but becuase so many people didn’t know what rules they were playing under,” said Scott Stolz, senior vice president of private client group investment products and wealth solutions at Raymond James & Associates Inc.

This also holds true for other types of annuities, like indexed annuities.  IBDs experienced a jump in indexed annuity sales of 43% to $10.6 billion in 2018.

“Go back five to six years and indexed annuities didn’t have the best reputation,” Stolz said. “There were a lot of high-commission, high-surrender-charge products. You can’t really approve those for your platform.”

Written by Rachel Summit

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