Cruise alliance is a model for the retirement industry

A few weeks ago, I deviated from my retirement research to focus on another area of interest – the cruise industry. The Cruise Canada New England Alliance held its 2013 Symposium in my city and I was privileged to attend this three-day conference that featured discussions with executives from cruise lines, port authorities, and other industry stakeholders.

As I listened to the presentations, I could not help but think of the applicability to the retirement industry. This was a discouraging exercise.

Let’s backtrack. The Cruise Canada New England Alliance consists of port authorities of five separate regions—New York City, Boston, Maine, Atlantic Canada, and the Saint Lawrence. Between them, they represent nearly 40 ports of call in 3 U.S. states and 5 Canadian provinces. The Alliance was established in 1988.

All of the members share the goal of maximizing passenger traffic to their ports. After all, an influx of tourists can have notable financial benefits for a locale. For example, the Historic Charlottetown Seaport in Prince Edward Island estimates that cruise ship calls during 2012 generated $13.4 million for the province. Therefore, it might be reasonable to draw the conclusion that these port authorities are competing for passengers.

Yet, that is not the case. Before you can get cruise ships to commit to regular visits to your port, you must first convince the cruise lines that the region itself is worth considering. And, that is the goal of the Cruise Canada New England Alliance.

And, that also exemplifies a key difference between the two industries I follow. In the retirement industry, financial services companies have a number of products worthy of consideration for a retirement portfolio, and many can fit together as neatly as a cruising itinerary. However, there is a strong tendency to point out the disadvantages of competitors’ offerings rather than join forces to explain how to address the retirement issue in the first place.

Not every product is right for every investor who is saving for retirement. And, any product recommendation should not be considered by itself—that is, it needs to be considered for its role in the overall journey. In that area, the retirement industry has a lot to learn. In the meantime, I am continuing to weigh my options for my next Canada New England cruise.

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Want guaranteed income for life? Then opt in…again.

An article in today’s issue of InvestmentNews describes how one insurer’s plan to save a retirement income benefit could ultimately result in the loss of the benefit for some customers.

The Hartford Life and Annuity Company (The Hartford) will, as of October 4, require long-time variable annuity (VA) policyholders who elected the Lifetime Income Builder guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefit (GLWB) to reallocate their underlying fund investments according to a prescribed formula. Those who do not will forfeit future guaranteed lifetime benefits.

This is a frightening prospect for a number of reasons.

The GLWB has been a key selling point for the annuity industry since the time of its introduction in the mid-2000s. According to the LIMRA report VA GLB Election Rates (2012, 4th Quarter), the GLWB election rate was 62% in fourth quarter 2012, easily eclipsing the 18% election rate of the second-most popular guaranteed living benefit.

Additionally, a large part of the growth of the GLWB in the industry involved so-called product development wars, in which insurers continuously one-upped each other to offer the most generous benefits to investors. Insurers even one-upped themselves to retain market share. And, when the economy faltered and hedging became extremely difficult, a reduction of benefits by one company opened the floodgates for the rest to follow.

Finally, advisors must now contact affected clients, some of whom were not theirs to begin with due to the passage of time and M&A activity in the years since the policies were sold. Inevitably, some will be unable to locate.

In all fairness, insurers have little choice when managing the risk inherent in these benefits. The implementation of investment option guidelines in concert with living benefit selection has been commonplace for years—whether in the form of asset allocation models or formulas that place limits on the percentage of funds allocated to specific asset classes.

Enacting such changes years after policy issue is permissible as the standard language in the contract between the insurer and policyholder included clauses that covered the insurer for a variety of contingencies. Even so, it was believed by many in the industry at the time that it would be unlikely for these to go into effect, other than fee increases.

Yet, this is my concern—given the copycatting that goes on in the VA industry, will it be long until other insurers terminate benefits unless customers take specific actions to keep them active? Discuss below.