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How FAs Can Overcome Their Clients’ Annuity Aversion

February 12, 2019

Financial advisors struggling to peddle annuities to their pre-retiree clients could learn a trick or two from a recent academic paper that pins aversion to the product to sensitivity to fairness.

A recent report polled 900 subjects between the ages of 40 and 65 and analyzed several variables contributing to their willingness to consider buying annuities, Shlomo Benartzi and Suzanne Shu write in the Wall Street Journal. Among those variables were risk tolerance, financial literacy, income and others, but the only predictive factor turned out to be a person’s sensitivity to issues of fairness, according to Benartzi, professor and co-head of the behavioral decision-making group at UCLA Anderson School of Management, and Shu, associate professor of marketing and behavioral decision-making at UCLA and a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Subjects who were most sensitive to the question of fairness in a statement such as, “It is fair that the insurance company is allowed to keep the excess funds” were “far less likely” to consider annuities, according to the paper by Shu and Robert Zeithammer at UCLA and John Payne at Duke University, Shu and Benartzi write.

The researchers found, for example, that 82% of the subjects thought it was unfair for a hardware store to raise prices on snow shovels from $15 to $20 the morning after a snow storm — and that type of response is likely behind aversion to annuities, Shu and Benartzi write.

Advisors who want to sell annuities should first convince their clients that emotional reactions like the idea of fairness shouldn’t dissuade them from annuities, according to Shu and Benartzi. They can educate the clients on how the product works and help them understand that their money is being pooled with that of other retirees, which hedges their risk of running out of retirement savings, they write.

Advisors can also point out that outliving their savings can cause clients to depend on their children instead of leaving something for them, according to Shu and Benartzi.

But annuities aren’t for everyone, they write.

“For example, if you have significant health problems, the typical annuity could be a bad deal, as you might not live long enough to get a return on your investment,” Shu and Benartzi write.

By Alex Padalka
  • To read the Wall Street Journal article cited in this story, click here.