Private equity (PE) firms have had their eye on individual retirement savings since 2013 when they were first allowed to market directly to individuals. Pension funds already allocate workers’ retirement savings to PE firms, which use these assets to fund a range of risky equity and debt investments. Access to personal retirement savings, including IRAs and 401(k)s, would open up a huge new source of capital for PE.
PE firms’ first attempts to get a piece of these very sizable direct contribution assets were largely unsuccessful. More recently, however, they have turned to acquiring and/or managing life insurance and annuity assets. Some PE firms buy out life insurance and annuity companies, acquiring their assets. Others take a minority stake in a life insurance or annuity company in exchange for the right to manage all of the company’s assets. In both cases, the PE firm substantially increases assets under its management. They have also stepped-up efforts to recruit near-wealthy as well as wealthy investors, so-called retail investors, to allow PE firms to manage their assets. These activities have been a game changer for the largest PE firms. As Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman put it as he lauded the firm’s third quarter 2021 performance, this quarter has been “the most consequential quarter [in history] . . . a defining moment in terms of our expansion into the vast retail and insurance markets.”1
Meanwhile, policyholders find that a PE firm now manages their retirement savings. This raises a major concern for individuals and government regulators: Given PE firms’ track record of failing to observe their duty of care as owners of Main Street companies as well as their poor fund performance in recent years,2 can they be trusted to protect the retirement savings of millions of Americans?
Author(s): EILEEN APPELBAUM
Publication Date: 13 January 2022
Publication Site: CEPR (Center for Economic and Policy Research)
What risks do the more aggressive investment strategies pursued by private equity-controlled insurers present to policyholders?
What risks do lending and other shadow-bank activities pursued by companies that also own or control significant amounts of life insurance-related assets pose to policyholders?
Are there risks to the broader economy related to investment strategies, lending, and other shadow-bank activities pursued by these companies?
In cases of pension risk transfer arrangements, what is the impact on protections for pension plan beneficiaries if plans are terminated and replaced with lump-sum payouts or annuity contracts? Specifically, how are protections related to ERISA and PBGC insurance affected in these cases?
Given that many private equity firms and asset managers are not public companies, what risks to transparency arise from the transfer of insurance obligations to these firms? Will retirees and the public have visibility into the investment strategies of the firms they are relying on for their retirements?
Are state regulatory regimes capable of assessing and managing the risks related to the more complex structures and investment strategies of private equity-controlled insurance companies or obligations? If not, how can FIO work with state regulators to aid in the assessment and management of these risks?
In several Republican-led states, the officials who oversee pension funds for millions of state workers are being told, or may soon be told, to ignore the financial risks associated with a warming world. There’s something distinctly anti-free market about policymakers limiting investment professionals’ choices — and it’s putting the retirement savings of millions at risk.
The Texas comptroller, Glenn Hegar, recently announced that 10 financial firms and 348 funds could be barred from doing business with the state’s pension plans because they appeared to consider environmental risks in their investment decisions regarding the fossil fuel industry. The day before, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida announced a similar move. Other states, including Idaho, Louisiana and West Virginia, have either taken or are thinking of taking similar actions, which amount to ideological litmus tests that will likely result in lower returns for pensioners.
The percentage of U.S. insurers that reported outsourcing investment management to an unaffiliated firm has remained relatively unchanged at year-end 2020, compared to the last several years; it was about half of all U.S. insurers, dating back to at least 2016. Consistent with prior years, small insurers, or those with less than $250 million in assets under management (AUM), accounted for the largest percentage, or 63% of the total number of U.S. insurers, that outsourced investment management. Property/casualty (P/C) companies continue to account for almost 60% of the total number of U.S. insurers that outsource to unaffiliated investment managers. For U.S. insurers that named the unaffiliated investment management firms that they utilize, BlackRock, Conning, and New England Asset Management Inc. (NEAM) have been the top three most-named investment managers over the last few years.
Author(s): Jennifer Johnson and Jean-Baptiste Carelus
Publication Date: 18 Jan 2022
Publication Site: NAIC Capital Markets Special Bureau
The Securities and Exchange Commission is considering a tightening of disclosure requirements for investment firms following the collapse of Archegos Capital Management and the GameStop trading frenzy, people familiar with the matter tell Bloomberg.
Officials at the SEC, now being led by Gary Gensler, who was confirmed as chairman of the regulator last week, want to increase transparency of the derivative trading that led to the implosion of Archegos, Bill Hwang’s family office, the people say.
Lawmakers have also heaped pressure on the agency as they seek more transparency about who is shorting stocks following the GameStop debacle.
Shannon M. O’Leary cited lack of diversity as a big part of the reason her foundation cut ties with three managers in the past year or so. Foundations argue that scrutiny of investment consultants and money managers lagging on the diversity front will only move the needle so far. For firms failing to meet diversity goals set by foundations, the best recourse is to fire them and reallocate capital elsewhere, sources say.