How to Double Your Insurance Agent's Returns

How to Beat Your Insurance Agent’s Returns

How to Beat Your Insurance Agent’s Returns

 

Last time I discussed how to beat your stock broker’s returns, so now I thought it was high time to do the same for the insurance agent’s returns. How can you double your insurance agent’s returns?

Doubling your insurance agent’s returns is easy. Rhis is not clickbait. We need to understand the cost of insurance, the reason for insurance, and the goal of the money!

So, how can you double your insurance agent’s returns?

 

What is an Insurance Agent?

First off, what is an Insurance Agent?

An insurance agent has an office in one of those big buildings downtown, in a bank, or maybe someone more local to you.

They get paid on commission. When they sell you a policy, they get a percent off the top and perhaps a trail (an ongoing percent yearly to “service” your policy). Some policies (like IULs and are you being sold a RILA?) pay well, and some (the good annuities like SPIAs) pay much less.

But wait. First, there is life insurance and annuities. Life insurance protects against premature death, and annuities protect against living too long—or at least that was the original use.

With Permanent Life Insurance, you can have indications to use the death benefit or the cash value (or sometimes for long-term care needs). Permanent life insurance is a breathtakingly complicated topic. But it can be used to leverage tax-free cash for investing (especially in cash-flowing assets), retirement (tax-free loans that are paid off by the death benefit), or as a way to pass on cash to the next generation(s) (which can be estate-tax free if done in an ILIT).

On the other hand, while remaining similarly shockingly complex, Annuities also lack a basic classification scheme. That is, there is no good way of describing annuities!

I like good annuities better than everything else. That’s not to say that there is no value in non-good annuities; it just takes much more education to understand them. But with a SPIA or a QLAC (both good annuities), you know what you are getting.

Otherwise, there are accumulation annuities (which you likely never plan to annuitize) and income annuities. Or there are immediate and deferred annuities. Or there are indexed and variable. Oh, but don’t forget about the ones that are like structured products called RILAs.

Anyway, insurance agents can be registered to sell securities (and then they might try to sell you a variable life or annuities product, or a RILA) or not (in which case they will try to sell you an indexed product or something else that is not an “investment.”). If any of that confuses you, don’t buy an annuity.

But perhaps that is too much. An insurance agent is someone that middle-class Americans can go to with financial questions.

In many cases, it might be better than going to a stock broker!

They might help you with your employer plan and ensure you have your basic insurance needs covered (which, let’s face it, most people don’t). But the person I’m talking about is someone you give your after-tax money to invest. You have paid the bills and have extra. So you want to “invest” in insurance. How can you double the returns you get personally vs. giving the money to your local insurance agent?

 

Commissions

For example, look at the old whales of traditional whole life insurance and variable annuities, as these products were sold in the 90s.

If you have a whole life policy from the 1990s, I bet you are pretty happy with that decision. Sure, you paid a hefty commission years ago, and your old insurance agent probably did well for himself—not spectacular, but upper-middle class. If you annualize the expenses over the policy’s life, I bet it is about 1% a year.

That’s about the same as AUM charged by financial advisors.

So, there is survivorship bias, but folks with current whole life policies are happy with them because think of this: What is the alternative? What could they have done with that money over the last 30 years compared to what they would have likely done?

For example, we can say, what if they just used VTI for the last 30 years? It’s a great thought experiment because VTI has not been around that long! Sure, you could have done small-cap value, but there was no inexpensive way to access this factor.

So, what would you have done with the money over the last 30 years? Unless you bought something and continued to buy it year after year (as you do with your whole life), I doubt you did as well.

The math here is that 1% fees over the last 30 years is pretty damn good, no matter what the asset has returned. Remember, compound growth takes decades. If you have held something for decades, especially if it is a cash-flowing asset, you are likely rich.

Here is an important point I’m trying to make: sometimes, it is better to stick with something no matter what you pay. The implication is that sometimes, the old-fashioned commission model is better for you than the alternatives.

Right, so what about annuities?

The Returns of Annuities

If you are in de-accumulation, consider good annuities.

But what if you are in accumulation? Is there ANY role for annuities?

I’m going to keep this part simple. You would only buy an annuity during early accumulation because you know no better. Once you have enough market exposure (or real estate exposure if that is your vice), you might not be crazy to consider annuities for principal protection and perhaps to generate income in the future. If that is, you use annuities as a bond-replacement.

And that is the key to de-accumulation or accumulation. Annuities are bond-replacements.

The long and the short of buying complicated annuities is that the devil is in the details (the contract with the provider). There are schemes and complex indexes to navigate, let alone shifting caps and spreads.

Why not just invest directly in options yourself? Or better yet, consider buffered ETFs.

As in most things in life, it is buyer beware.

 

Conclusion—How to Beat Your Insurance Agent’s Returns

So, in conclusion, you can beat your insurance agent’s returns if you buy the total US economy when you have money and then don’t sell it.

This is the least expensive way to get better returns than your insurance agents can.

But who did that for the last 30 years? No one, ’cause you couldn’t. Now you can.

Now, as always, consider the purpose of the money. If you are going to buy a whole life or an annuity, what is the purpose of that money?

Sure, your kids might be better off if you have an indication for whole life insurance before you buy it. You can also use your whole life or an IUL to accumulate cash. I’d have a good chunk of investments in something else before I did this (usually business or real estate). However, for non-W-2 rich folk, there are indications for cash accumulation policies, too.

And yes, I like annuities as bond replacements. Mathematically, it makes sense to floor your life-long expenses with an income annuity exchanged for bonds (especially if you have an income need).

Annuities during accumulation are much more of a stretch, but different strokes for different folks. Just be smart about the products, as if you were buying a rental investment or a business—because you are.

 

In summary, 30 years ago, it was hard to be an investor. Now it is cheap and easy. If you are lucky enough to have a good income, the game is accumulating enough assets to cover the living expenses for the rest of your life. You can do this by buying VTI and forgetting about it. That is easy. Or you can do real estate or business or keep working for the man. I like life insurance and annuities once you already have enough of the other good stuff.

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