Life settlements are fast growing into a staple of the insurance and financial planning world. Most financial professionals have heard of life settlements, which is the sale of a life insurance policy of a senior (age 65 and over) for a lump sum which is greater than the policy’s cash surrender value but less than its death benefit i9life. Policies which are viable for a life settlement are generally those beyond the contestability period wherein the insured has a life expectancy of between 2 and 15 years. Today life settlements are dominated by institutional funders and pension funds.
Despite the continued growth in the life settlements market, the number of insurance or financial professionals that have actually completed a life settlement is surprisingly low. This can be attributed mainly to a lack of in-depth knowledge of life settlements on the part of these professionals. Considering that life settlements are a relatively new option for policy owners, many financial professionals, although having heard of life settlements, have still not had the opportunity to delve into the subject on a deeper level.
Many policy holders come to a juncture wherein they continue to pay life insurance premiums on an unwanted policy in hopes of a gain at maturation, or to recoup some of the investment by trading the policy for its cash surrender value. Corporate policyholders often face additional dilemmas when dealing with departing executives with key-man or split-dollar policies, or insurance purchased as part of a buy-sell agreement.
With a life settlement, the policyholder realizes an amount much greater than the cash surrender value in exchange for the policy’s ownership. Term life insurance policies are also applicable when converted into permanent insurance. Life settlement transactions involving key-man or buy-sell policies can provide businesses with increased cash flow to solve immediate financial problems, while transactions concerning split-dollar policies typically involve retirement planning and charitable giving issues.
In short, life settlements offer policyholders of all kinds an array of options previously unavailable to them.
In a recent advisor survey, nearly half of the respondents had clients who had surrendered a life insurance policy, many of whom might have qualified for a life settlement transaction and subsequent lump sum cash payment.
In this article I will discuss in depth the underwriting process related to life settlements, which is of paramount importance in the process, just as it is in life insurance itself, although there is a great deal of difference in the process for each respectively.
Settlement amounts are determined by a multitude of factors that arrive at a Net Present Value, which is the present value of future benefits from the death benefit minus the present value of future payments associated with sustaining the policy until maturation. These expenses include premium payments, cost of capital and administrative costs. This calculation enables the purchaser to factor in the desired profit from the investment and propose an offer to the seller of the policy. Due to the fact that the investor will be sustaining the policy premiums until maturation, the life expectancy of the insured becomes critical in assessing the value or sale price of the policy. If the assessment of an insured’s life expectancy is too short, the purchaser will have paid too much and risks a financial loss. By contrast, should the assessment of an insured’s life expectancy be longer than his or her actual life span, the offer to the seller would have been less than it could have been, thus resulting in an undervalued sale for the policy owner. Institutional investors in life settlements generally obtain life expectancy reports from two or more independent LE (life expectancy) providers. Many of the larger institutions investing in life settlements have proprietary underwriting personnel on staff. LE reports can vary significantly based on interpretations, medical data on the insured, and/or the actuarial tables used.
DIFFERENCES IN UNDERWRITING METHODOLOGY – Companies which provide LE reports use actuarial and medical experts who apply probability theory, actuarial methodology and medical analysis in calculating the probable mortality of an insured. Many LE providers employ the services of experienced life insurance underwriters who work in tandem with the actuarial and medical experts. There are a number of companies which provide LE reports. Among those most commonly accepted by institutional investors are: AVS, Fasano, 21st Services, ISC Services and EMSI. These companies specialize in underwriting the senior segment (insureds above the age of 65) and have developed specified methods, underwriting manuals, and mortality tables. The insurance industry customarily employs Reinsurance underwriting manuals as the basis of its ratings for insurability. However, Reinsurance manuals are gauged primarily for insurance applicants up to the age of 65 with insurable impairments up to 500%. These standards reflect the traditional demographic for life insurance. Conversely, life settlement underwriting is geared toward those above the age of 65 and can have impairment ratings much higher than 500%.