Insurance Talks is an interview series where insurance industry thinkers share their thoughts and perspectives on a variety of market trends and themes impacting indexing.
Rhonda Elming is Senior Vice President, Annuity Product Development at Sammons Financial Group. Based in West Des Moines, Iowa. Elming is responsible for fixed annuity product strategy, including new product development and managing the profitability and risk profile of the company’s inforce block of business.
S&P DJI: Tell us a bit about your role at Sammons Financial Group and how you serve the insurance space.
Rhonda: I lead a team of actuaries and analysts that are focused on creating innovative fixed annuity product solutions to help people prepare for retirement, while also helping the company understand and manage financial risks. I work closely with each of our distribution channel leadership teams to identify and understand its unique business and client needs. Through that process, we do a lot of ideation to arrive at a product design that meets the needs of the target market and fits within the desired risk and profitability requirements for the company. My team is responsible for the pricing, regulatory filings, and implementation efforts to bring the products to market.
In my product management role, I have the responsibility of effectively managing the risk and profitability of both the annunity new business and the in-force block. Annunities are a spread business; a large part of this role is setting interest-crediting rate or index parameters on the products.
S&P DJI: Is risk management more of a focus now for Sammons Financial Group in the current market environment?
Rhonda: Yes, the current economic environment is a challenge! Market volatility and historically low interest rates have resulted in widespread adjustments to product portfolios including lowering crediting rates or policy benefits. In some cases, insurers have also suspended sales of products with unfavorable risk or profitability profiles.
Planning for a prolonged low interest rate environment—with the potential for negative interest rates—has been a high priority for a while now. A “lower-for-longer” outlook, particularly for longer duration assets, may lead to higher levels of spread compression on in-force blocks of business and put pressure on insurers’ ability to continue to offer longer liabilities, like guaranteed living benefit riders or guaranteed universal life insurance.
The pandemic has also created unique challenges, with most insurance company employees and distributors working from home. Annuity sales have fallen this year due to shelter-in-place restrictions, record unemployment, and volatile economic conditions. Agility is the name of the game, as insurers adapt to new work arrangements, regulatory changes, and a heightened need to help policy owners, distribution partners, and their local communities through this difficult time.