According to state regulators, during the first 12 months after the law took effect in January 2011, consumer complaints about false guarantees, excessive fees and other abusive practices fell sharply for a second straight year, having also dropped in 2010, when the measure was passed by the Legislature and signed into law.
“Annuity complaints are down, which also causes enforcement actions to go down,” said Alexis Lambert, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Financial Services. “The Safeguard Our Seniors [regulations] … have served as a strong deterrent and have helped curb the problems we saw in the annuity market.”
Some problems persist. A Winter Springs insurance agent, for example, was convicted this summer in state court of annuity fraud. But most experts agree the law has helped clamp down on problems with annuities: insurance contracts that pay investors monthly incomes, either fixed or variable, for set periods or the life of the recipients.
“My impression is that this law is working,” said Charlie Fitzgerald, a Maitland financial planner and president of the Financial Planning Association of Central Florida. “But in my opinion, it is apparent that the insurance lobby still hasn’t embraced it.”
Earlier this year, insurers pressed for new legislation based on a model developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. The industry said the national model would extend the same protections accorded seniors in the Florida law to everyone, while also simplifying the steps insurers have to take to comply with varying laws across the country.
But according to Fitzgerald, the industry proposal in its earliest drafts threatened many of the protections in Safeguard Our Seniors. The amended bill eventually failed to pass the state Legislature.
Industry officials dispute any notion that they are trying to undermine Florida’s new law by lobbying for the national model.
“We believe Safeguard Our Seniors has been effective in Florida, but this national model would make it better,” said Sam Miller, vice president of the Florida Insurance Council. “We have been working with state regulators for the last several years because there was a real problem: abuses by maybe a handful of agents. Our bill would have adopted Safeguard and extended those protections to everyone.”
Miller said the industry plans to lobby for the national-model bill again next spring when state lawmakers convene in Tallahassee for their annual legislative session. Financial planners are still wary of any plan to revise the new law.
“My view is that Florida’s law is much stronger than the national model,” Fitzgerald said. “It has more serious restrictions and penalties for anyone who tries to manipulate seniors into unsuitable annuities.”
Certified financial planners and insurance agents have been butting heads over annuities in Florida and elsewhere because both groups sell annuities to at least some of their clients.