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The Sensitivity of Indexed Universal Life – Part 3

April 28th, 2021 No comments

The importance of conservative assumptions.

In two prior articles, I discussed the sensitivity indexed universal life (IUL) insurance. Now, I’ll turn to the practical aspects of what I covered previously.

Related: The Sensitivity of Indexed Universal Life – Part 1; The Sensitivity of Indexed Universal Life – Part 2


Funding Issues

In “Decision Tree,” is a simple visual of a decision-making process that many have found useful and cuts to the chase.  Often, I don’t find a problem with the product but the funding of the transaction is suspect.  As with many financial decisions in life, we have choices regarding how to fund transactions. Theoretically we get what we pay for, and it often involves a risk and reward tradeoff.

The long-term consequences of decisions regarding retirement planning or life insurance purchases can be significant and maybe even life altering.  In these financial transactions, we have funding decisions to make in addition to the particular investment or product being procured.  A given life insurance policy might be funded with either a $20,000 or a $25,000 annual premium, just to make up some numbers.  All things being equal, $25,000 of funding will be more conservative just as it would be in funding a retirement plan.  More money often equates to a greater balance down the road or the ability to better handle worse than expected performance.


At a lower funding level, the life insurance works if market factors perform as expected, and it fails if they don’t.  With higher funding, the life insurance has a better chance of working out if the market doesn’t perform as expected but does better if it does.  One transaction is precariously positioned with a thin margin for market performance error (win/lose), while the other more well-funded position may be able to withstand unexpected market performance issues more aptly (win/winnier).

Mind you, most policy owners making these decisions have the money for funding at the higher level, but they’re generally presented with the more competitive and attractive purchase price option.  Oftentimes, the owner is never presented with the results of different funding parameters and they are never informed of the potential consequences.  In the cases I’m talking about, this isn’t about a higher level of funding to counter the negative effects of a scenario with a very low chance of occurrence.  I’m talking about the effects of everyday market behavior in which interest rates and market returns and inflation and borrowing rates and more is constantly in flux, and you’re willing to look past the end of your nose.

Aggressive Assumptions

There’s now been decades of experience with this since old fashioned guaranteed life has largely gone by the wayside.  We’ve seen the effects that market changes have on policies, and these things didn’t blindside us.  Selling IUL at double digit crediting rates during an era of hyperinflation was irresponsible, and consumers suffered for it.  Assuming sky high crediting for securities based variable life policies in the late nineties was irresponsible, and consumers suffered for it.  Selling whole life current dividend rates in an era of interest rate free fall with the knowledge that mutual whole life policy rates were going to fall with the lowering bond yields was irresponsible, and consumer suffered for it.  These were all conscious efforts on the part of carriers and agents to make things look more attractive than they really were so they’d be easier to sell.

In 40 years, the market hasn’t learned a lesson.  The very same thing has been happening in the IUL market, and consumers are suffering for it.  These policies are being designed and sold with more aggressive assumptions than policy owners, and even too many agents, understand.


One of the most traditional explanatory visuals in life insurance is the bucket with the faucet and spigot.  The faucet represents premiums coming in and cash value earning interest.  Premium goes in by opening the faucet and filling the bucket with water.  Expenses come out as represented by the spigot on the bucket draining the water.  The water remaining in the bucket represents the cash value.  As long as there’s water in the bucket, the cash value is funding the ongoing expenses of the policy.



Stick with me while I paint this picture as it’ll be helpful later.  For a life insurance policy to work out over time, water has to be coming in faster than it’s leaking out.  What’s important to understand is that, as a policy owner, you don’t have total control over the faucet filling the bucket or the spigot emptying it.  You have a good degree of control over the premium aspect but not as much over the crediting.  You can control some of the expenses but not all of them.  Unfortunately, many policy owners were never told they could open or close the faucet or the spigot.  What’s the point of having some control if you have no idea you have it?  Often, the carrier and agent have set the inflow and outflow at the point of sale based on variable assumptions that are certain to change over time.  Not likely to change; certain.  If the carrier and agent walk away, and the policy owner doesn’t know she can step up to the controls, what should we expect to happen?  Well, we should expect what’s been happening for years to continue to happen, and I’ll assure you it is.

This control can also be visualized as maintenance.  If the drain gasket starts wearing out, the rate of the leak grows to the point where the leakage exceeds the ability of the faucet to fill the bucket.  Whether you replace the gasket or patch a hole that’s formed, if you’re keeping your eye on things, you can stop or slow down the leak and then put more water in the bucket.  If you don’t, the water might leak out faster than you can fill the bucket.  In the worst cases, the entire bottom of the bucket rots or rusts out and there’s nothing you can do.  Maintenance has been neglected, and it’s impossible to open the faucet enough to fill a bucket with no bottom.

Again, most policy owners don’t have any idea of the levers that can be pulled either at the point of constructing and issuing a policy or managing it over the years.  Management over time is critically important to success, and this aspect of the transaction is often misunderstood and neglected.  We know there aren’t many things in life with variable assumptions you set and forget.  I’m often referred to policy owners who’ve been on the wrong trajectory for years and had no idea until the consequences were in their faces.  The bucket didn’t have a bottom any more.  Had they understood, it would never have deteriorated in the first place, and if someone had been paying attention, we could have repaired it years ago and stopped the leaking.

The Power of Conservative Assumptions

As we discussed in Part 2, with retirement planning, when we go with lower assumptions, there’s more room for error.  If it turns out things went swimmingly, and we didn’t need the higher funding required by lower assumptions, your retirement plan has more in it, and you can enjoy a better standard of living.  Is that so terrible?  “But I could have bought that boat I always wanted.”  Maybe, but what’s worse, not having the boat or scraping by on social security in your retirement years?  If you did buy the boat and things didn’t pan out as expected, you wouldn’t have money to put gas in it anyway.  Alternately, if the funding process goes well and the reserves are greater than the product expenses, you could have reduced your funding in later years once you saw you were ahead of the curve and bought the boat with the extra cash flow.

Using lower assumptions for retirement planning is the same as using lower assumptions for life insurance planning.  Let’s use the life insurance transaction from Part 1 that was a premium financed deal.  It’s a $20 million death benefit with $1,048,508 premium a year for 15 years sold at the 5.92% maximum allowable crediting.  We saw that there’s a point where slight changes in crediting result in monumental differences in outcome.  While 5.8% crediting projects may work out well, 5.75% may end in disaster.

Let’s assume that for 27 years, the policy performs at the unrealistic assumptions of the 5.8% sales ledger but at age 90 and 91, the market is down so the crediting is 0% then goes back up to 5.8% for the duration of the policy.  What happens?  The policy crashes at age 99.  It’s gone and all your premium, cash value and death benefit with it.  Why so sensitive?  One year of 0% crediting at age 90 is reflected in a decrease of $1,767,000 of cash value and $3.830 million of cash value over two years.  In turn, this increases the spread between the cash value and the death benefit, or the amount at risk, by $4.7 million at age 92, which increases expenses by $625,000 in just that year. It commences a death spiral the policy can’t recover from.  By age 95, the reduction in earnings and the increase in expenses results in over $2.2 million in reduced crediting that year alone and a reduction of almost $10 million in cash value over just five years, past the point of no return.  The policy lapses at age 99 when the projection without the zeros at 90 and 91, the unrealistic level return, projected $31.8 million.

This is a sterile example, but it illustrates the sensitivity of these products.  We haven’t even discussed the multitude or reasons the projected crediting rates are unrealistic in the first place.  If you were part of an honest discussion about that, you’d likely be asking to see models incorporating more conservative assumptions.  Does that make a conservatively built policy more expensive?  I’ll say no because the goal is to have a policy that works as intended and is available when needed.  The price is greater but who cares about price?  You need to focus on cost, which is very different.  Re-roofing your house with all of the cardboard Amazon boxes in your garage would certainly result in a lower price than using asphalt shingles, metal roofing or tiles but I’ll bet the ultimate cost would be greater.

To be continued…


Bill Boersma is a CLU, AEP and LIC. More information can be found at,,,,, or email at

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Group & Association Term vs. Individual Term Insurance

February 18th, 2021 No comments

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The Sensitivity of Indexed Universal Life – Part 2

February 3rd, 2021 No comments

The following table is something I reference when talking with anyone about the time value of money.  When I was in my 20s, I had the conversation with my siblings as well as with my wife’s siblings and their spouses.  More recently I had the conversation with my own kids.

This isn’t going to be a revelation to anyone familiar with finance but a lot of people are surprised by it.  At a glance, it shows numbers that are almost unbelievable and, to an extent, defy logic for those unfamiliar with it.  For example, how can accumulating at 12% over 10 years be only 57% greater than at 4% when at the 60-year duration it’s 3,381% greater?  Or that from Year 10 to Year 60, 4% grows 20 fold when at 12% it grows more than 400 fold?  I mean, 12% is three times 4%, but over 10 years it only grows the pot by a fifth of that but at 60 years it grows the pot by over ten times the three times.  This is pretty cool stuff.

Einstein may or may not have actually said that compounding interest is the eighth wonder of the world, and Benjamin Franklin may or may not have said that money makes money and the money that money makes, makes money, but this has to be understood to thoroughly understand any financial transaction, including life insurance.  And as we’ll revisit later, the wonders of compounding work the same going uphill or down.

In my last piece (link to Part 1), I focused on the sensitivity of indexed universal life (IUL) and promised to expand on it in this piece.  How does a minuscule spread in return over time take a hypothetical insurance projection from tremendous success to utter failure?

Permanent life insurance is by definition a long-term financial transaction in most cases, and the success of a non-guaranteed insurance policy is dictated by funding and the level of return.  What should be evident by looking at the table above is the massive difference in ultimate values based on relatively small changes at the higher returns and longer durations.

An Example

Let’s take a 40-year-old healthy woman.  Her actuarial life expectancy is about of 50 years, and we’ll assume she’s accumulating the money for her heirs or charity.  If her portfolio returns 6% rather than 8%, she’ll end up with half the money she otherwise would ($1,538,000 vs. $3,098,000).  That’s a big spread in raw dollars and by percentage. What if she lived to age 100?  The spread grows from $1,560,000 to $3,942,000.  The increase in the portfolio balance alone from 6% to 8% is greater than the total portfolio at 6%!  The further out we go, the bigger the spread in dollars and percentage.  Note that at the 10-year mark, the 6% growth rate offers 90% of the 8% growth rate but at 60 years 6% only grows the pot to 41% of what it would grow to at 8%.  In essence, the time value of money is all about the value of money over time.

The Effect of Expenses

We also have to take into account expenses.  After the high expenses in the early years of almost any life insurance contract, the greatest expense is the cost of insurance (COI).  As would seem obvious, the COI per dollar grows as the insured individual ages.  The way life insurance works is that the COI is on the spread between cash value and death benefit.  This is also known as the “amount at risk.”  You’re basically self-insuring the cash value portion of the life insurance policy so the insurance company doesn’t charge you for that.  If your $1 million life insurance policy has a $300,000 cash value, you pay the COI on the $700,000 spread.  The older you get and the more the COI is per dollar of insurance, the less amount at risk you want. Otherwise, you’ll be paying enormous COIs if you’re lucky (or unlucky) enough to live beyond life expectancy.

The bottom line is that we want there to be as much cash value as possible to minimize expenses (exactly the opposite of what too many insurance consumers think, which causes the untimely demise of their policies).  If you earn 6% over time rather than 8% (or 5.75% rather than 5.8%) then the cash value will be lower, the amount at risk will be higher and the COI will be greater.  This is a drag on the growth of the cash value, which in turn causes the spread to be greater yet, which increases the relative COIs, and the circle goes on over and over.  If the growth of the cash value ends up not being able to keep up with the growing COIs, then the cash value growth starts slowing down, levels out, starts backtracking and then sinks into a death spiral that gains momentum before taking a header off a cliff where it’s dashed to oblivion on the rocks below.

Here’s the graph of cash values for the policy discussed on Part 1 assuming only a five basis point reduction in crediting rate.


A Retirement Analogy

Because retirement planning is generally more understandable let’s look at a hypothetical example.  John is 65 years old when he retires and has an individual retirement account with $1 million.  We’ll assume he passes away at 95 years old and he wants to live on $60,000/year.  We’ll also assume his expenses are fixed and level over the years.

If John earns 6% annually and pulls out $60,000/year, his IRA principal will have shrunk to $715,000 but still provided all of his expected income.  If his investment grew at 8%, the principal will have grown to $2,722,000 at death or he could have increased his retirement standard of living.  If it grew at 4%, he would have run out of money before he died if he didn’t find somewhere to cut expenses.

One reason this example is unrealistic is that we’re assuming John’s expenses are level, and we know they won’t be.  They will likely increase over time.  How does this affect things?

Let’s assume a 3% inflation factor so John’s withdrawals must increase by 3% a year to maintain his standard of living.  When we run these numbers, we see that the $1 million is no longer enough to support a $60,000 income stream growing at 3% and last to age 95.  He’ll have to either reduce his retirement income or have put more money away.  Given these assumptions, John needs an additional $250,000 in his IRA at age 65.  Of course, if inflation is 4% he’ll need even more.  If he can manage to get a 7%, then the $1.25 million is enough to handle the 4% inflation but he’ll be incurring more risk.  For every action there will be a reaction.

Conservative vs. Aggressive

Let’s go a step further and look at the sensitivity of a more aggressive investing strategy relative to a more conservative investing strategy.  If John assumed a 10% rate of return and 3% inflation, he’d only have to have about $800,000 in his IRA for everything to work out.  If he assumed a much lower 4% rate of return and the same 3% inflation, he’d need about $1.6 million. In the aggressive scenario in which he planned on 10%, let’s assume he actually earned 9%.  He’d run out of money five years earlier than planned.  What change would it require in the conservative scenario to come up that short?  The return would have to be reduced from 4% to 2% to experience the same 5-year shortfall.  This means that in the conservative portfolio, a 50% reduction in earnings rate (in an already less volatile portfolio) would be required to equal the effects of just a 10% reduction in earnings rate in the aggressive portfolio.  That’s an astounding difference and shows how much more tentative planning is at the more aggressive levels.

If the 10% portfolio return fell to 9% and the 3% inflation increased to 4% (akin to increased expenses), then the 4% portfolio with the same increased inflation would have to decrease to 1% (a 75% reduction) to experience the same shortfall.  More conservative assumptions result in much more room for error because small changes just don’t have as much of an effect.  This is readily apparent in the following graph.  Moving up the time line, we see that higher return assumptions have a much more dramatic effect over shorter periods and at lower returns they don’t matter as much.


The difference is exacerbated with life insurance, as discussed in Part 1, because a reduction in earnings is reflected in a much greater increase in expenses through higher COIs.

What we see is that at the higher return assumptions and the long durations, a tiny change results in a huge difference, much more so than at shorter durations and lower returns.  When you incorporate the policy expenses, it becomes even more extreme.  This is why the example in Part 1 is so sensitive when the change in return is tiny at the upper ends of the return assumptions and the change is a non-issue lower down the return chart even though the spread in returns in our insurance example is very narrow relative to the spread of returns in our investment example.

This may make sense when thinking about the difference between 4% and 10%, but why the huge variations in a much narrower band of typical IUL returns, in our example between the 5% and 6% range?

The Effect of Expenses

It’s not just about the return.  It’s about the return and about how the return inversely affects expenses.    Let’s focus on the 5.8% and 5.75% projections where the five basis point reduction results in the policy going from being a high flyer to being a gutter rat.  At age 90, the 5.8% projection has interest credited that year at $1,767,000 with a COI of $1,123,000.  At 5.75%, these numbers were $1,709,000 and $1,202,000 respectively.  Not much of a difference, is there?  Five years later at age 95, the 5.8% projection is at $1,956,000 of interest crediting and $1,458,000 of COIs with the 5.75% at $1,808,000 and $ 1,910,000 respectively.  Now we see the gap opening.  Remember how small changes mean big differences and how they compound over time?  Five more years down the road at age 100, the 5.8% projection is at $2,118,000 of earnings and $1,620,000 of expenses with the 5.75% projection at $1,462,000 of earnings and $5,586,000 of expenses.  Say what?!  This is because in the 5.8% scenario, the amount at risk between the death benefit and the cash value is $3,359,000, and in the 5.75% scenario, it’s $17,343,000.  How much do you think it costs to insure a 100 year old for that $14 million spread?

    *  Coverage terminates at age 102 at 5.75%


But we’re not done yet.  You remember how the 5.75% deal fell apart at age 102?  The COI that year that drove the nail into the coffin was $ 11,413,000 (yes, double the COI from two years earlier and almost 700% of the COI at 5.8%).  In the 5.8% deal the COI is actually decreasing because the cash value is closing in on the death benefit as allowed under the Section 7702 rules.

So while the crediting is in the 5% to 6% corridor, the return isn’t.  The internal rate of return (IRR) on the cash value from age 100 to 101 on the 5.8% projection is 1.79% net of expenses, while the IRR from age 100 to 101 on the 5.75% projection is a negative 38.1% net of expenses.  The actual crediting of the existing cash value is the same percentage on the two scenarios but the expenses are vastly different so the total return is different.  We know the bigger the return number, the more sensitive the values are but it doesn’t matter if it’s positive or negative, it’s just about the magnitude of the number.  The effect of the expenses on the contract pushes the apparent modest return of five point something percent, which shouldn’t be terribly sensitive, into the stratospheric range of returns making the transaction tremendously sensitive.

The dramatic increase in the negative return is making a larger difference in a shorter period of time, which is why the policy falls off a cliff and is dashed on the aforementioned rocks.

Couple this with all of the other unrealized and misunderstood aspects of how IUL really works and you’ll understand why I predict there will be a great wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding IUL policies in the coming years.

Bill Boersma is a CLU, AEP and LIC. More information can be found at,,,,, or email at

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Today’s Life Settlement Market

January 18th, 2021 No comments

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The Sensitivity of Indexed Universal Life – Part 1

January 13th, 2021 No comments

Build it right or you’ll be walking on eggshells.

In the course of reviewing so many premium financing proposals and transactions, I have the opportunity to dive deep into many indexed universal life (IUL) contracts.  While premium financing has many complexities that go unrealized by consumers, even fewer understand the complexities of the life insurance product the already complex transaction is built on.

I’ll focus on a recent case in which my services were procured through the estate-planning attorney for a potential premium financed policy owner.  I’m not going to muddy the waters by naming the insurance company or the product because it really doesn’t matter.  I’ve seen the same thing over and over through the years and have written about it before.

In the course of review, one of multiple focuses is generally on the assumed crediting rate of the proposed policy and the crediting rate sensitivity to policy success.  To set the stage, in today’s market, a typical crediting rate is in the 6% range based on specific policy features and AG49A rules.  In the specific contract I was reviewing, the assumed rate was 5.92%. For full post, click here…

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Life Insurance Appraisal Brings Confidence to Planning

December 8th, 2020 No comments
Paying for a policy appraisal can have a great return on investment.

Recently, the attorney for a family office asked for my help with a situation. The family wanted to transfer/sell two $10 million survivor life policies to another trust for planning purposes. The policy owner went to the two insurance carriers to ask for the 712 values or Interpolated Terminal Reserve (ITR). Though the two policies had the same death benefit on the same couple issued at the same time for the same kind of policy, the numbers came back very different from the two insurance carriers, each of which is one of the top rated and recognized carriers in the market.

A Difference of Opinion

The cash value of each policy was roughly $1.5 million, and one carrier came back with a number exactly the same as the cash value and even stated on its communication “Please note that ABC Life uses the Net Cash Value as a proxy for the ITR.” The other carrier came back with $3 million.. For full post, click here…

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Success Stories: Policy Appraisal Brings Confidence to Planning

November 24th, 2020 No comments

Recently I was brought a situation by a family office through their attorney.  The family wants to transfer/sell two $10,000,000 survivor life policies to another trust for planning purposes.  The policy owner went to the two insurance carriers to ask for the 712 values or Interpolated Terminal Reserve (ITR).  Though the two policies w

ere the same death benefit on the same couple issued at the same time for the same kind of policy, the numbers came back very, very different from the two insurance carriers, each of which is one of the top rated and recognized carriers in the market.

The cash value of each policy was roughly $1,500,000 and one carrier came back with a number exactly the same as the cash value and even stated on their communication “Please note that ABC Life uses the Net Cash Value as a proxy for the ITR.”  However, the other carrier came back with a $3,000,000 number. For full post, click here…

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Comparing Term Life Insurance Policies

November 18th, 2020 No comments

Though the following piece I wrote on term insurance with Professor Gregg Dimkoff may seem very basic, sometimes it’s the basics that bear reviewing so we don’t miss something while focusing on the “high end” stuff.  In numerous recent situations clients have suffered significant harm because the basics weren’t a focus.  Also, the market is changing and we can’t take for granted our old assumptions are still accurate.  Enjoy.

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The Worst Life Insurance Deal Ever – Annual Renewable Term

October 27th, 2020 No comments

Why your client should never buy annual renewable term.

I’ve written about how expensive association term and group term is, how poor the policy features are and the tremendous amount of money that can be saved by going with a better underwritten product. But there’s another term insurance situation that’s even more insidious in my estimation. Annual renewable term (ART) or yearly renewable term (YRT) can take the cake.

Creeping Up Premiums

This was brought back to me vividly during a recent client conversation. An attorney had a $750,000 ART term policy, and his wife had one for $550,000. The premiums were only about $500 and $300, respectively, which isn’t much money for a couple making the income they do. However, let’s look forward a bit.

They’re in the seventh year of their policies, which already tells me a lot. By the second or third year, most ART policies already exceed the premium of a 10-year level term product. In 10 years the premiums on his and hers, respectively, are $1,200 and $700. In 20 years, they’re $2,900 and $1,700. In 30 years, the numbers are $6,800 and $3,400. Of course, almost no one plans on keeping an ART in force for many years, but plans don’t always pan out. What I see too often is that ART that was so cheap in the early years, like association term, has a premium that slowly creeps up without anyone noticing. It’s like the proverbial frog in the water on the stove. 

I’ve seen cases in which the ART had been in force for over 20 years. Even this one at seven years is a travesty. For this couple, a new 20-year level policy with a high-quality, well-respected insurance carrier issuing policies with very good contractual features would cost less every year for the next 20 years than the existing ART will cost this year. Ten years from now, the 20-year level term premium will be less than half the ART premium, and in 20 years, it will be less than 20% of the ART premium. The savings are ridiculous.

For full post, click here…
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Beware… of Inforce Illustrations and Loans

October 22nd, 2020 No comments

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