Tuesday, July 9, 2019

No. 321: TIAA Is Exiting the Life Insurance Business

On June 26, 2019, Investment News carried an article by reporter Greg Iacurci disclosing that Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA) is exiting the life insurance business at the end of 2019. The article quotes an industry observer as saying: "Part of the reason they're getting out is because they're not selling enough." Here I discuss this important development.

TIAA's Comments
The Iacurci article alludes to a June 25 memorandum from Dennis Rupp, TIAA's director of insurance wholesaling. I asked the TIAA media office for the Rupp memorandum, but did not receive it. Instead, I received a June 28 letter from Todd Sagmoe, TIAA's vice president of product management. He said:
Thank you for your inquiry into the recent TIAA decision to stop issuing new life insurance contracts. I can confirm that TIAA will no longer underwrite and issue new life insurance contracts. Here is the public response that TIAA has prepared: "While life insurance is a key component of our holistic approach to financial wellness, we have decided to stop underwriting new life insurance policies. To enhance our operational efficiency, we will offer a variety of solutions from other carefully selected providers to meet our customers' life insurance needs. We will maintain and continue to service existing policies to ensure a high-quality customer experience."
The Examination Reports
TIAA and its subsidiary, TIAA-CREF Life Insurance Company, are domiciled in New York. The most recent examination reports of the two companies by the New York State Department of Financial Services are as of December 31, 2013, and are dated June 10, 2015. The TIAA report says it "ceased issuing life insurance policies in 2005." However, I think TIAA-CREF Life continued issuing life insurance policies. Selected pages of the two examination reports are in the complimentary package offered at the end of this post.

The Life Insurance Price Issue
Long-time readers know that I conducted many studies of the price of life insurance protection from the viewpoint of the policyholder, and that I recommended a system for disclosing the information to consumers. Because of strong opposition from the life insurance business, my recommended disclosure system was not adopted. I described the system in an article entitled "Information Disclosure to the Life Insurance Consumer" in the December 1975 issue of the Drake Law Review. The article is in the complimentary package offered at the end of this post.

In the course of my research in the 1960s and 1970s, I became aware of a "lifetime" (whole life) policy issued by TIAA in 1965 to a man aged 35. The policy included the usual premium provision, fractional premium options, grace period and reinstatement clauses, a table of cash values, reduced paid-up insurance and extended term insurance, a loan clause with a fixed annual interest rate of 5 percent, an automatic premium loan clause, an ownership clause, an entire contract clause, two-year incontestability and suicide clauses, a reserve provision based on the 1958 C.S.O. mortality table and 2.5 percent interest, beneficiary provisions, settlement options, and a waiver-of-premium clause. The policy was "non-participating," but TIAA mailed to the policyholder each year a check representing a "voluntary dividend." No dividend options were available other than the cash option.

When I examined the price structure of the policy, I found that the price of the life insurance protection from the viewpoint of the policyholder, including the effect of the "voluntary dividends," was well below the price of the life insurance protection in any other policy I had seen. One explanation may have been that TIAA employed no agents, and instead sold directly to its narrow constituency—the faculty and senior administrative staff of colleges and universities. Another explanation may have been TIAA's reportedly stringent underwriting practices.

The LTC Insurance Incident
In November 2003, TIAA notified its then 46,000 long-term care (LTC) insurance policyholders that it was exiting the LTC insurance business and transferring its LTC insurance policyholders to Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Because both companies were domiciled in New York, the transfer was subject to the approval of the person who is now the superintendent of financial services. On February 3, 2004, I submitted to the superintendent a "Statement of Joseph M. Belth on TIAA Transfer to MetLife" showing, among other things, five matters that should be conditions for approval of the transfer.

The LTC insurance incident led to three major articles in The Insurance Forum, my monthly newsletter. The first article, which was in the March/April 2004 issue, was entitled "TIAA's Surprising Exit from the Long-Term Care Insurance Business." The article included my statement to the superintendent, and is in the complimentary package offered at the end of this post.

General Observations
When TIAA exited the LTC insurance business in 2003 and sought to transfer its obligations to another insurance company, I had been writing since 1989 about the widespread practice of insurance companies seeking to shed their obligations to their policyholders.  I had deep respect for TIAA, and was disappointed to see it engage in that anti-policyholder activity.  Many of my academic colleagues felt the same way.

I interpret the Sagmoe letter as saying TIAA will not attempt to transfer its life insurance obligations to another company. Instead, I think TIAA will honor its obligations to its life insurance policyholders, and will run off its existing life insurance policies over many years. If my interpretation is incorrect, and TIAA moves to transfer its life insurance obligations to another company, I will report developments.

Available Material
I am offering a complimentary 51-page PDF consisting of selected pages from the latest TIAA and TIAA-CREF Life examination reports (21 pages), the 1975 Drake Law Review article (26 pages), and the March/April 2004 Forum article (4 pages). Email jmbelth@gmail.com and ask for the July 2019 package about TIAA.