Thursday, November 15, 2012
The SEC and Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company settled charges that MassMutual failed to sufficiently disclose the potential negative impact of a "cap" it placed on a complex investment product that investors were planning to use for retirement. MassMutual, which removed the cap after the SEC's investigation to ensure that no investors will be harmed, agreed to pay a $1.625 million penalty.
The SEC's investigation found that MassMutual included a cap feature in certain optional riders offered to investors, and the cap potentially affected $2.5 billion worth of MassMutual variable annuities. Neither the prospectuses nor the sales literature sufficiently explained that if the cap was reached, the guaranteed minimum income benefit (GMIB) value would no longer earn interest. MassMutual's disclosures instead implied that interest would continue to accrue after the GMIB value reached the cap, and dollar-for-dollar withdrawals would remain available to investors. A number of MassMutual's own sales agents were confused by the language in the disclosures, and investors were not sufficiently informed of the potential negative effect of taking withdrawals if they reached the cap approximately a decade from now.
According to the SEC's order instituting settled administrative proceedings, MassMutual offered GMIB 5 and 6 riders from 2007 to 2009 as an optional feature on certain variable annuity products. The GMIB rider sets a minimum floor for a future amount that can be applied to an annuity option, known as the "GMIB value." Unlike the contract value of the annuity that fluctuates with the performance of the underlying investment, the GMIB value increases by a compound annual interest rate of either 5 or 6 percent and allows investors to make withdrawals any time during the annuity's accumulation phase.
According to the SEC's order, MassMutual advertised its GMIB riders as providing "Income Now" if investors elected to make withdrawals during the accumulation phase or "Income Later" if they elected to receive annuity payments. MassMutual's sales literature highlighted the guarantee provided by the riders by stating, "Even if your contract value drops to zero, you can apply your GMIB value to a fixed or variable annuity." The riders included a maximum GMIB value, and investors could not reach this cap until 2022. If the GMIB value reached the cap, every dollar withdrawn would reduce the GMIB value by a pro-rata amount tied to the percentage decrease on the contract value. After a number of such withdrawals, depending on market conditions, both the contract value and the GMIB value could decline and adversely affect the amount a customer could apply to an annuity and the future income stream.
According to the SEC's order, while MassMutual was offering GMIB riders, there were indications that sales agents and others did not understand the effect of post-cap withdrawals on the GMIB value, which should have alerted the company to the fact that its disclosures were inadequate. Beginning May 1, 2009, after it stopped offering the riders, MassMutual revised its prospectuses to better explain the consequences of taking withdrawals after the GMIB value reaches the cap. Following the SEC's investigation, MassMutual undertook the remedial step of removing the cap entirely from these riders in order to guarantee that no investor will ever reach the cap. This action contributed to the determination of the penalty amount. MassMutual consented to the SEC's order without admitting or denying the findings. In addition to the $1.625 million penalty, MassMutual agreed to cease and desist from committing or causing any violations and any future violations of Section 34(b) of the Investment Company Act.