Last year, a reader wrote into Consumerism Commentary with a story about how her elderly father was convinced to buy a variable annuity, locking away his money until after his likely passing. He had wanted to talk to a financial adviser, but found his way to Banc of America Investment Services.
Recently, Dateline took a look into Annuity University, seminars designed to teach brokers how to sell annuities to the elderly. Undercover, the Dateline producers infiltrated seminars and sales calls to show how the salesmen deceive would-be customers.
Dateline’s four-part special shows how these particular salesmen play down or intentionally ignore surrender fees, claim annuities are more liquid than CDs, and “puff up” their credentials by putting their photos on official-looking books and magazines and by creating recordings of fake radio shows.
Agents in these seminars are taught to treat the elderly like they are 12 years old and use scare tactics. They are instructed to tell clients that money is riskier in an FDIC-insured bank account than in an annuity product.
I firmly believe that any customer has the responsibility to research any financial product before purchase. Problems arise when seniors (or others) are trusting and when agents flat out lie. It’s difficult to make informed decisions if the information you receive is intentionally incorrect or misleading.
Not all annuity salesmen follow these tactics, of course. I would suggest being wary of any salesperson whose fiduciary interest is in their own commission from the sale. Not all annuity products are bad, either. Even Ben Stein is a big fan (with friends in the annuity business).
Please take the time to view the four-part Dateline presentation which uncovers the truth about Annuity University and some of its “graduates.”
Published or updated April 17, 2008.