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Articles Tagged with Variable annuities

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Money MazeAs part of its continued variable annuity (“VA”) abuse crackdown, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) recently censured and fined member firm Ameritas Investment Corp. (CRD# 14869) (“Ameritas”) $180,000 for alleged lapses in the supervision of VA sales by its financial advisors.  In a letter of acceptance, waiver and consent (“AWC”), FINRA has disclosed that between September 2013 and July 2015, Ameritas sold 4,075 individual VA contracts.  Of these sales, Ameritas sold nearly 700 L-share contracts, totaling about 17% of its overall VA sales, or about $11 million in aggregate VA L-share sales.

FINRA has prioritized VA sales practice misconduct as warranting enhanced regulatory oversight.  Recent enforcement efforts by FINRA with regard to VAs has resulted in numerous fines levied in 2016 concerning allegations of sales abuse by brokers recommending unsuitable VAs and/or recommending the sale of one VA for another in order to generate commissions (a practice akin to churning, and commonly referred to as “switching”).

VAs are very complex financial products that typically charge significant commissions and fees.  When a financial advisor sells a VA, they will usually receive a sizeable commission, ranging anywhere from 3-7%.  Additionally, a VA contract typically carries various fees, such as a mortality expense (in connection with the contract’s death benefit), investment expenses associated with the sub-accounts holding securities, and administrative expenses on the hybrid security / insurance product.  Of significance, L-share contracts usually carry even higher commissions and fees than standard VAs, due to the fact that L-share contracts have shorter surrender periods (after expiration of a surrender period, an investor in a VA can exit their investment without incurring a surrender charge).

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Securities arbitration attorneys are currently investigating claims on behalf of investors who suffered significant losses in AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company Equi-Vest or Accumulator variable annuity contracts — specifically those invested in the managed funds, AXA Tactical Manager Strategy or ATM-managed funds.

Equi-Vest, Accumulator Variable Annuity Investors Could Recover Losses

Reportedly, the New York State Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) launched an investigation in 2011 concerning alleged omissions on the part of AXA Equitable regarding its applications for approval to alter the Equi-Vest and Accumulator variable annuities.  The change would substitute ATM-managed funds for previous managers.  According to DFS’ allegations, AXA Equitable misled DFS regarding the change’s impact and failed to disclose the underperformance of the ATM funds under the previous managers.  Allegedly, these actions resulted in a reduced return for investors, especially for those who paid fees to receive guaranteed minimum benefits and those who wanted to be more aggressive in their investment strategy. In order to settle the investigation, AXA Equitable agreed to pay $20 million on March 17, 2014. 

Some AXA Equitable investors may have been misled about the variable annuity contract changes. In addition, certain characteristics of variable annuities, including high penalties for early withdrawal, long surrender periods and low rate of return, make these products unsuitable for many investors. Many brokers are motivated to make unsuitable recommendations because of the large commissions associated with variable annuities.

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Securities attorneys are currently investigating claims on behalf of the customers of Christopher B. Birli and Patrick W. Chapin, who suffered significant losses as a result of misrepresentations and unsuitable recommendations of variable annuities. Reportedly, Birli and Chapin received significant sales commissions for allegedly unsuitable recommendations to their customers.

Customers Could Recover Losses for Unsuitable MetLife Variable Annuity Recommendations

On March 27, a complaint was filed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Office of Hearing Officers against Birli and Chapin regarding the State University of New York retirement program. According to the complaint, Birli and Chapin recommended their customers switch MetLife variable Annuities with new ones held outside the retirement plan in MetLife IRA accounts.

Allegedly, Birli and Chapin circumvented their firm’s general prohibition of direct annuities exchange by recommending to their customers that they surrender their annuities to purchase another product available within the retirement program, wait 90 days, and then sell the second product in order to purchase the MetLife IRA annuity.

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Securities fraud attorneys are currently investigating claims on behalf of investors — especially older, retired investors — who suffered significant losses because of the unsuitable recommendation of variable annuities. Variable annuities are a type of insurance product. With this product, the investor pays into an account now in exchange for the guarantee of a future payout. The investment is tied to a stock index return, making it variable.

Variable Annuities Unsuitable for Many Investors, Especially Retirees

According to stock fraud lawyers, variable annuities typically offer large sales commissions to brokers and, as a result, some brokers make unsuitable recommendations. Furthermore, tax deferrals associated with variable annuities make them particularly unsuitable for retirees if the retirees’ assets are already held in an account that provides tax deferral (such as an IRA).  Reportedly, an arbitration panel recently awarded $112,000 to one investor who was sold variable annuities which then were put into the investor’s tax-deferred IRA account.  This strategy negates or renders irrelevant any tax benefit that would have been provided by the variable annuity.

InvestmentNews recently reported that individuals who invest in variable annuities are facing a risk of forced annuitizations.  If so, the annuitizations will eliminate some death benefits, which are a primary reason many investors have chosen to invest in variable annuities. A report by the Wall Street Journal states that while variable annuity claims lagged in 2013 after surging in 2012, the 2013 claims were still higher than the number of mutual fund and stock lawsuits.

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