Friday, April 23, 2010

More on ULIPs - esp NAV Guarantee

In this entry, I had done a round-up on the ULIP SBI vs IRDA controversy, quoting a few experts. One of those experts, Jayant Thakur, commented on one aspect of my entry on which entity takes up the downside of the NAV guarantee, and what is its capital adequacy. He pointed out this article to me.  Inter alia, this article points out that the way the guarantee is managed is that if the NAV spikes on any day, enough of the portfolio is transferred to debt to cover the guaranteed NAV on maturity. This struck me as very unfair to the investor.
 Most ULIP brochures (here is an example) include words to this effect:

There will be an additional charge for the cost of investment guarantee of 0.10% per annum. These will be made by adjustment to the NAV.
This actually is the opposite of what advertisements make out implicitly -- that the risk and cost of the guarantee is being borne by the insurance company, whereas they are charging the investor every year. This sentence was what made me think in the first place that perhaps there would be a third party backing up or taking the downside for the guarantee, in return for a fixed charge, similar to bond insurance premia charged by monoline insurers in the US. Till I saw this sentence in the above-referred example ULIP brochure:

If the NAV of Pinnacle Fund falls below allowable limits, assets will be completely reallocated to debt.
If the guarantee is to be implemented by shifting from equity to debt as the article suggests, (and also what the above example brochure suggests) then it is insult added to injury added to dishonesty. Why so?
(a) It means they are charging the investor for what the fund managers already have the right to do, viz. invest any part of the portfolio in debt. That is Insult.
(b) It means that when the going gets tough, switching to debt to contain the fallout of the guarantee is a "poison pill" that the fund manager forcibly makes the investor swallow, because it lowers the expected rate of return dramatically and reduces NAV fluctuation dramatically too. It also means that the fund managers have virtually abdicated their fund management function. That is Injury.
(c) Switching to debt predominantly to de-risk and cap NAV guarantee liability means hardly any equity exposure left.
Why should the investor pay a higher fund management charge on the now specious argument that investing in equity being riskier justifies a higher risk management charge? Worse, the fund reserves the right to increase the fund management charge to 2.5% per annum [being almost double of what they are charging today (1.35% in the example)]. All this when the investment risk is borne by the investor! That is Dishonesty. It is also Unfairness.
If, on the other hand, the guarantee is being implemented by passing on most or all of the guarantee cost to a third party, then the questions raised in my earlier blog entry remain relevant.


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