February 25th was the deadline set by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) for industry comments on its proposed revisions to the current “suitability” standard governing the sale of annuity products—revisions that NAIC officials say would effectively establish a national “best interest” suitability regime.
NAIC is the U.S. standard-setting and regulatory support organization created and governed by the chief insurance regulators from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. Through the NAIC, state insurance regulators establish standards and best practices, conduct peer reviews, and coordinate their regulatory oversight.
According to attorneys with Stradley Ronon, the outcome of the NAIC’s model rulemaking process is one of the top regulatory issues for the insurance, advisory and brokerage industries in 2019. For its part, NAIC has made it a goal to finish its work on a model best-interest standard this year. On the NAIC website, it is further noted that the Annuity Suitability Working Group will also consider other ways to “promote greater uniformity across NAIC-member jurisdictions.”
In commentary shared with PLANADVISER, Stradley Ronon attorneys note that the working group tasked with revising the NAIC’s model suitability rule for the sale of annuity products was hard at work throughout 2018 and early 2019, seeking to replace its current “suitability” standard for the sale of annuity products with a rule that would apply a “best interest” standard.
“The committee faced great debate among NAIC members regarding among the future of the model rule,” the attorneys explain. “With states like New York and California leading the charge, the NAIC was pressured to adopt a rule that, like New York’s regulation, would impose a best interest standard for the sale of both annuity and life insurance products. Other states have pushed back, arguing that such an approach goes too far and would be unlikely to pass in many state legislatures. Because the NAIC is working to harmonize its advice standards with those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, it is unlikely that NAIC will have its final model rule promulgated until after the SEC finalizes its rule. The future of the NAIC’s model regulation will continue to be a hot topic of debate in 2019.”
The minutes published after the last national meeting of NAIC officials—held in November 2018—illustrate the process the regulatory organization has put in place to attempt to craft its model suitability rule in an open and transparent way. Interestingly, the meeting minutes present in significant detail the various points of debate and discussion that led to the current proposed draft, especially on the point of whether life insurance sales activity should be included. The minutes also highlight the actual language revisions made to the latest draft of the model suitability rule. As noted by the Stradley Ronon attorneys, insurance commissioners from New York and California played a leading role in crafting some of the key sections of the model suitability rule, though other states pushed back on their more progressive counterparts in some key areas.
As of Friday, NAIC had not published a full index of the latest round of industry comment letters, but previous rounds of commentary are available on the working group’s landing page on the NAIC website, under the “related documents” tab.