How do Annuities Work? With David Lau

David Lau of DPL Financial Partners discusses the in’s and out’s of annuities, what to look for in a good annuity and how to utilize them properly in your retirement plan.

Annuities are a hot button topic among investors, but my guest in this week’s “Retirement Revealed” podcast, David Lau of DPL Financial Partners, sees the inherent problems with how annuities have been treated in the past. He shared his thoughts on how we can change the way annuities are purchased and perceived.

The Controversy of Annuities

Annuities often find themselves at the center of controversy in the financial world. On the one hand, Nobel Prize-winning economists and retirees alike appreciate the security and guaranteed income they provide. Yet, the mention of annuities can provoke strong negative reactions, mainly due to their high fees and the commissions they generate for salespeople. The irony is that while people might dislike annuities, they cherish their pensions and Social Security, both of which are essentially forms of annuities but without the hefty fees.

High Commissions: The Root of the Problem?

The high fees associated with annuities often stem from high commissions. This structure has led to situations where clients are sold products that might not be in their best interest, simply because they generate higher commissions for the advisor. For example, I had a client who was recommended to switch from one annuity to another. Upon review, the new annuity did not offer better guarantees, yet the advisor stood to earn a significant commission from the switch. This kind of practice erodes trust and tarnishes the reputation of annuities as a financial product.

The Long Surrender Periods

Another significant issue with many annuities is the long surrender periods. I recall a case where an annuity purchased in 2005 had a 17-year surrender period, with a penalty as high as 20% in the initial years. Such conditions can trap clients in unfavorable contracts, making it difficult for them to access their funds without substantial penalties. This lack of flexibility further contributes to the negative perception of annuities.

Evaluating the Real Benefits

Despite these drawbacks, annuities can be beneficial under the right circumstances. They offer tax deferral, guaranteed lifetime income, and downside protection, which can be valuable for certain individuals. However, it’s crucial to evaluate whether these benefits align with your financial goals. For instance, if you’re not seeking lifetime income or don’t need the tax deferral benefits, an annuity might not be the best choice for you.

The Importance of Tailored Financial Advice

What stands out in the annuity debate is the need for personalized financial advice. The Retirement Income Style Awareness (RISA) profile, for example, helps determine the best investment strategies based on your individual goals and risk tolerance. This approach contrasts with the one-size-fits-all mentality that sometimes pervades the industry. Everyone’s financial situation is unique, and the right financial product should fit their specific needs, not the other way around.

The Role of Different Financial Advisors

Understanding the type of financial advisor you’re working with can also shed light on the recommendations you receive. Advisors affiliated with big brokerage firms, registered investment advisors, or insurance companies may have different biases and product offerings. For example, insurance company advisors might lean towards selling more insurance products, while registered investment advisors might not offer enough insurance options. Striking a balance and ensuring your advisor is independent and unbiased can help you receive more holistic and beneficial advice.

Moving Towards Fee-Based Models

One promising development is the shift towards fee-based models, which can eliminate the conflict of interest inherent in commission-based sales. By focusing on fee-based advice, advisors can recommend products that truly meet their clients’ needs without the influence of commission incentives. This model promotes transparency and builds trust between advisors and clients.

Once you have a clearer picture about the risks and benefits of annuities, you can approach them as another avenue to round out your investment strategy.

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