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Annuities Markets Around the World: Money’s Worth and Risk Intermediation


  • Estelle James

    () (World Bank (consultant))

  • Xue Song

    (Institute for Women’s Policy Research)


Annuities markets around the world are small. However, they have been growing in recent years and are likely to grow further as a result of reforms in public social security systems and private pension plans, that partially replace defined benefit plans with funded defined contribution plans. When people retire they may choose, and are sometimes required,to annuitize these defined contribution savings. Therefore, it is important to learn whether or not annuities markets exist,how they operate and what kinds of market failure can be anticipated. Several papers have already analyzed US annuitie smarkets. This paper extends that analysis by examining annuities markets in other countries. We present evidence from Canada,the UK, Switzerland, Australia, Israel, Chile and Singapore—a variety of high and middle-income countries—and replicate the results from the US. This paper focuses on analyses of the expected present discounted value (EPDV) of cash flows from the annuity, and the money’s worth ratio (MWR), which is the EPDV divided by the initial premium cost. We find that, when discounting at the risk-free rate, MWR’s for annuitants are surprisingly high--greater than 95% in most countries and sometimes greater than 100%. MWR’s for the average population member are lower but still exceed 90% in most cases. We show that differential interest rate structures largely explain differential monthly payouts across countries,while differential mortality rates, especially projected improvement factors, help explain differences in measured MWR’s, given these monthly payouts and interest rates. The high MWR’s raise the question: How do insurance companies cover their costs despite these high MWR’s? We hypothesize that for each annuity sale, insurance companies get a large sum of money up-front that they invest in a portfolio of corporate bonds, mortgages, and some equities, earning a rate of return that exceeds the risk-free rate by 1.3% or more per year. They turn this “risky” portfolio into a safer annuity by a variety of risk-intermediation, term-intermediation techniques. This allows them to sell a product that is nearly risk-free, while earning a “spread” that covers their costs. We present data on cost and investment returns that are consistent with this hypothesis. The limited opportunity to earn this spread may help explain why price indexed annuities in the UK charge higher loads to cover their costs and risks. For consumers who would prefer to accept this investment risk and capture this spread themselves, the appropriate discount rate is higher and the MWR is lower, helping to explain the low demand for annuities in voluntary markets.

Suggested Citation

  • Estelle James & Xue Song, 2001. "Annuities Markets Around the World: Money’s Worth and Risk Intermediation," CeRP Working Papers 16, Center for Research on Pensions and Welfare Policies, Turin (Italy).
  • Handle: RePEc:crp:wpaper:16

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    Cited by:

    1. Février, Philippe & Linnemer, Laurent & Visser, Michael, 2012. "Testing for asymmetric information in the viager market," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(1), pages 104-123.
    2. Sutcliffe, Charles, 2015. "Trading death: The implications of annuity replication for the annuity puzzle, arbitrage, speculation and portfolios," International Review of Financial Analysis, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 163-174.
    3. Estelle James & Alejandra Cox Edwards & Rebeca Wong, 2012. "The Gender Impact of Pension Reform," World Bank Other Operational Studies 13046, The World Bank.
    4. Estelle James & Guillermo Martinez & Augusto Iglesias, 2004. "Payout Choices by Retirees in Chile: What Are They and Why?," Working Papers wp068, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    5. repec:eee:hapoch:v1_567 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Alejandra Cox-Edwards & Estelle James, 2006. "Crowd-out, Adverse Selection and Information in Annuity Markets: Evidence from a New Retrospective Data Set in Chile," Working Papers wp147, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    7. Ferro, Gustavo, 2008. "Un impulso al mercado de rentas vitalicias en España
      [Promoting the annuities market in Spain]
      ," MPRA Paper 20211, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Jul 2008.
    8. Robert Holzmann & Richard Hinz, 2005. "Old Age Income Support in the 21st century: An International Perspective on Pension Systems and Reform," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 7336, December.
    9. Petrichev, Konstantin & Thorp, Susan, 2008. "The private value of public pensions," Insurance: Mathematics and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(3), pages 1138-1145, June.
    10. Gong, Guan & Webb, Anthony, 2010. "Evaluating the Advanced Life Deferred Annuity -- An annuity people might actually buy," Insurance: Mathematics and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 210-221, February.
    11. Monika Bütler & Federica Teppa, 2005. "Should You Take a Lump-Sum or Annuitize? Results from Swiss Pension Funds," University of St. Gallen Department of Economics working paper series 2005 2005-20, Department of Economics, University of St. Gallen.
    12. Ferro, Gustavo, 2008. "On annuities: an overview of the issues," MPRA Paper 20209, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Oct 2009.
    13. Walker, Eduardo, 2006. "Annuity markets in Chile : competition, regulation - and myopia ?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3972, The World Bank.
    14. repec:eee:hapoch:v1_237 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Fang, H., 2016. "Insurance Markets for the Elderly," Handbook of the Economics of Population Aging, Elsevier.
    16. Cannon, Edmund & Tonks, Ian, 2016. "Cohort mortality risk or adverse selection in annuity markets?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 141(C), pages 68-81.

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