Fixed Index Annuities are contracts between the annuitant and an insurance company in which the insurance company promises to credit interest based on the performance of a certain stock market index. Fixed Index Annuities have an inbuilt capital protection feature, so your principal will remain safe even if the index goes down.
Annuities are complex products, and many advisors try to missell them without properly understanding the buyer’s needs. Thus, you must educate yourself on these products and not solely depend upon the annuity agent’s high-pressure sales pitch.
This article discusses an in-depth review of the Athene Accumulator Fixed Indexed Annuity. Athene Accumulator is a deferred, fixed-indexed annuity that may be a good option if you are looking for accumulation, the safety of principal, good indexing options, and leaving a legacy. After extensive research and due diligence, I have provided an in-depth and unbiased analysis of this plan.
The review of the Athene Accumulator Fixed Indexed Annuity will be broken into multiple subcategories:
- Product Description
- Rates and Costs Associated with the Athene Accumulator Fixed Indexed Annuity
- What Makes This Product Stand Out?
- What I Don’t Like
- Company Details
Product Description - Athene Accumulator Fixed Indexed Annuity
The Athene Accumulator is a Fixed Indexed Annuity (FIA) plan that offers the annuitant (annuity investor) an opportunity to earn a market index-linked return without having to incur the risk of market downside. This is a suitable plan for people who want to accumulate a corpus for retirement and aim to grow and protect their retirement savings. This plan is also suitable for people who are looking to leave a legacy for their loved ones, in addition to protecting and growing their retirement savings.
Let’s have a look at the high-level fine print of Athene Accumulator Fixed Indexed Annuity, and then we will discuss each point in detail.
|Issuing Company||Athene Annuity and Life Company|
|AM Best Rating||A (2nd of 13 ratings)|
|Withdrawal Charge Period(s)||5, 7, and 10 years|
|Maximum Issue Age||83 Years|
|Minimum Initial Purchase Amount||$10,000 ($5,000 in some states)|
|Surrender Charge Schedule||Varies for different tenure policies|
|Crediting Period and Strategies||1-year or 2-year point-to-point with participation rate, 1-year point-to-point with cap, and 1-year fixed with interest rate guaranteed.|
|Plan Types||IRA, Roth IRA, Nonqualified Account, SEP IRA, SIMPLE IRA, 401(a).|
|Indexes||S&P 500 Index, S&P 500 FC Index BNP Paribas Multi-Asset Diversified 5 Index, NASDAQ FC Index, AI-Powered US Equity Index, AI-Powered Global Opportunities Index, UBS Innovative Balanced Index|
|Free Withdrawals||10% of the annuity’s Accumulated Value; per year.|
|Death Benefit||Upon the annuitant’s death, the beneficiary can either choose from (i) Accumulated Value (Lumpsum) or (ii) Minimum Guaranteed Contract Value *If death occurs after annuitization, payments will be consistent with the Settlement Option selected.|
|Riders||Optional paid death rider|
|Surrender Value||Greater of Accumulated Value (less any withdrawal charges/MVA) and the Minimum Guaranteed Contract Value|
The Athene Accumulator Fixed Indexed Annuity is almost identical for all three policy tenures, except for the crediting strategies and surrender charge schedule. For ease of discussion and better clarity, we will discuss the Athene Accumulator 7 Fixed Indexed Annuity for the rest of the article.
How does the Athene Accumulator Fixed Indexed Annuity policy work?
Any annuitant (maximum age at the time of policy issue: 83) can purchase the Athene Accumulator Fixed Indexed Annuity with a minimum initial purchase amount of $10,000, and in return, he will earn market index returns (calculated through a formula that we will discuss shortly), credited as per the chosen crediting period. Apart from the regular crediting period, there are various events that may trigger earnings credit: On free withdrawals, for a long-term care event or terminal illness or injury event, or when a death benefit is payable.
The Athene Accumulator Fixed Indexed Annuity offers the annuitant to choose from one or more of the seven indexes to determine his earnings crediting formula. The S&P 500 index has 1 point-to-point strategy with a cap, and the other six indexes have 1-year and 2-year point-to-point strategies with participation rates. In addition, there’s also a fixed-rate guaranteed interest strategy to choose from (making a total of 13 strategy options). We will discuss each available index briefly:
- S&P 500 Index: The S&P 500 index is one of the most popular and oldest indexes in the world. It tracks 500 large-cap publicly traded stocks listed in the United States. It is a reliable index and has often succeeded in the test of time.
It is very important to note that the Athene Accumulator Fixed Indexed Annuity offers the S&P 500 index with caps in place, meaning that your interest-earning capacity is capped. However, it is worth noting that the cap rate that is currently being offered by Athene is very decent when compared to other annuity providers. These rates tend to change frequently; I will discuss more on the rates shortly.
- BNP Paribas Multi Asset Diversified 5 Index: The BNP Paribas Multi Asset Diversified 5 Index is a rules-based index that seeks to measure the performance of a diverse range of asset classes comprised of eight components (three equity futures indexes, three bond futures indexes, and two commodities index. On a daily basis, the BNPP MAD 5 Index dynamically rebalances the weightings of the components according to a proprietary methodology that seeks to identify weights for the components that would have resulted in the Hypothetical Portfolio with the highest past returns.
- NASDAQ Fast Convergence Index: The NASDAQ Fast Convergence Index is powered by BofA (Bank of America) and uses a proprietary technology that aims to reduce risk and increase performance by adapting faster to changing market conditions. It has a 107.95% exposure in the NASDAQ 100 TR Index (which contains 100 of the most prominent large-cap stocks). It is important to know that this index employs a performance control mechanism wherein a portion of the returns of the Nasdaq FC Index is capped at 4% for the preceding one-month period. The NASDAQ FC Index was created in January 2020 and targets a 12.5% annualized realized volatility.
- HSBC AI-Powered US Equity Index: The HSBC AI-Powered US Equity Index (AiPEX) is an index developed by HSBC that uses IBM Watson’s AI engine to create a risk-controlled, excess return index comprised of approximately 250 U.S. publicly traded companies, adjusted monthly, that is intended to provide growth through a variety of market conditions. The AiPEX Index was created in August 2019 and targets a 6% daily volatility.
- AI-Powered Global Opportunities Index - AI-Powered Global Opportunities Index (AiGO) is a multi-asset strategy that uses the power of IBM Watson and Equbot's proprietary Artificial Intelligence capabilities to turn data into investment insight. AiGO is designed to track a strategic combination of a diversified portfolio of ETFs (and one HSBC index) that represents global equities, fixed income, and inflation-sensitive assets in an attempt to deliver resilient market growth across different market cycles. This is a very new index that was launched in March 2023, and it targets a 7% volatility.
- UBS Innovative Balanced Index - The UBS Innovative Balanced Index (UBSIBAL) leverages unique signals that aim to provide an early read into the U.S. macro environment and inform an all-weather tactical allocation to equities, commodities and bonds. The signals include US inflation expectations and a Nowcast of US economic growth, generated using key datasets from UBS Evidence Lab, the largest sell-side alternative data offering of its kind. This is also a very new index and applies a volatility control mechanism.
You will notice that besides the S&P 500 index, all the index applies a volatility control mechanism, because of which the range of both the positive and negative performance of the index is limited. Although to make up for this, the company offers a higher participation rate on these indexes.
Note: In addition to allocating the funds in the following indexes, the annuitant also has the option to allocate funds at a fixed interest. These Fixed Rates tend to change from time to time. The Fixed Value Rate at the time of writing this article was 4.9%.
Rates and Costs associated with the Athene Accumulator Fixed Indexed Annuity
The earnings crediting formula
The earnings crediting formula is the most important part of this annuity discussion. It is important to know that we don’t simply get the index return credited to our annuity. There are a few rates and caps that the company has in place that affect our earnings. These rates tend to change over time, and the updated rates can always be checked on the company’s website.
The formula to calculate the earnings credited is:
- For Strategies with Participation: (Participation Rate % X Index Return)
- For Strategies with Caps: Index return over a given crediting period with a maximum potential of earning the cap rate
Let’s have a look at the Athene Accumulator rate sheet (as of 24 July 2023) to understand how the earnings are determined.
The first thing to note is that we have seven indexes. The S&P 500 has a 1-year point-to-point strategy with cap rate. Besides the S&P 500, each index has two point-to-point strategies. Additionally, we have a fixed rate strategy to choose from. All in, we get to choose from a total of fourteen strategies (thirteen index-based and one fixed). The company displays three types of crediting strategies across these rates (Participation, Cap, and Fixed). The Participation rate (index allocation rate) and the strategy caps are the most important.
Let’s quickly go through the terminologies described by Athene:
- Participation Rate (PR): The participation rate describes the annuitant’s participation percentage in a return of an index. For example, suppose the participation rate is 60%, and the index returned 10% over the agreed time. In that case, the annuitant will be eligible for only 60% of the return, i.e., 6%.
- Cap Rates: It means at what rate your interest-earning capacity is capped. For example, if an index returned 12% but the contract’s cap rate is 6%. In this situation, the annuitant will be eligible for an interest credit of 6% only. It doesn’t matter how much the index goes above the cap rate; the maximum interest that can be earned is the cap rate.
- Bailout Feature: If Athene lowers the declared 1-year point-to-point index strategy annual cap rate below the Bailout Cap rate, you’ll have full access to your annuity’s accumulated value - free of any charges - for up to 30 days after the contract anniversary in which the Bailout Cap Rate was pierced. After the 30-day Bailout window, all withdrawal charges and MVA will apply.
- Fixed Account Rate: If you opt for a fixed account rate, you simply earn the fixed rates for a particular period specified by the company before your policy begins. These rates usually tend to be very low as compared to other fixed avenues, such as CDs and MYGAs, so you should avoid fixed rates in a general scenario. The 1-year fixed rate on this policy at the time of writing this article was 4.9%.
Out of all these indexes, at this point in time, I would prefer the S&P 500 index and the BNP Paribas Multi Asset Diversified 5 Index the most. S&P 500 because of its global importance, higher transparency, and relatively higher cap rate, and BNP MAD because of its decent real performance and relatively high index allocation rate (participation rate) offered by the company.
I would not choose the AI-Powered Global Opportunities Index and the UBS Innovative Balanced Index at this point because they are very new indexes, having less transparency and limited return data.
Should your needs change unexpectedly, and you need to take an excess withdrawal (a withdrawal that is above the free withdrawal amount available in a given contract year), you may be entitled to access additional monies, although certain charges and penalties may apply. Any amount withdrawn in excess of the remaining free withdrawal amount is subject to a Surrender Charge. Below is the Surrender Charge schedule for Athene Accumulator Fixed Indexed Annuity 7.
|Completed Contract Years||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||8+|
|Surrender Charge %||8%||8%||7%||6%||5%||4%||3%||0%|
|Surrender Charge % (in CA)||8%||8%||6.9%||5.8%||4.7%||3.6%||2.4%||0%|
In case you need to surrender your policy, a Market Value Adjustment (MVA) will be applied to the portion of the withdrawal or surrender that exceeds the free withdrawal amount during the withdrawal charge period.
The surrender charge schedule is different for the different tenures of annuities. For a quick comparison of surrender charges across different products of Athene, you may visit their fixed indexed annuities product page here.
The surrender charge of Athene Accumulator Fixed Indexed Annuity is pretty much in line with all the other annuity issuers.
The Athene Accumulator Fixed Indexed Annuity levies no annual contract or administrative fees
The Death Benefit Rider is one of the main highlights of the Athene Accumulator Fixed Indexed Annuity. The Athene Accumulator Fixed Indexed Annuity comes with an optional paid rider that enables an annuitant to avail of enhanced death benefits with two payout options. This rider is particularly useful if you do not anticipate making regular withdrawals and want to leave a legacy. I will be discussing the rider in depth.
Rider Cost: For the Death Benefit rider, an annual 0.95% charge is deducted monthly from the Accumulated Value until the Benefit Base stops accumulating. The rider charge is guaranteed not to change and will not decrease the Benefit Base.
Benefit Base: Your Initial Benefit Base is essentially the amount of your Initial Premium. Each year, on the anniversary of your contract, this Benefit Base will be credited with an interest payment. This continues until the pre-specified Guaranteed Simple Interest Stop Date. The interest credited is calculated by taking the amount of your Premium (minus any withdrawals you've made) and multiplying it by the Guaranteed Simple Interest Rate defined in your contract.
The Benefit Base Guaranteed Simple Interest Rate at the time of writing this article was 8%. You can check the latest rates here.
It's important to note that any withdrawals you make will reduce your Benefit Base. This reduction could either be on a dollar-for-dollar basis or proportionally, depending on the specific terms of your contract. Also, it’s crucial to understand is that the Benefit Base is not something you can withdraw as a lump sum. It doesn't possess a cash or surrender value. Instead, it serves as a determinant for calculating benefits such as income payments.
Death Benefit Rider Payout Options
Upon the event of the contract owner's death, beneficiaries can choose from two payout options:
Option 1: The Benefit Base is distributed in equal payments over a pre-determined period known as the Death Benefit Payout Period. Currently, this period is set to five years, but it is assured to not exceed ten years. This offers the beneficiaries a consistent stream of income over a number of years.
Option 2: Beneficiaries can opt for a lump sum payment. This payment equals the average of the base contract Death Benefit and the Benefit Base. This option provides beneficiaries with immediate access to the funds, which may be useful for covering urgent expenses or settling financial affairs.
Note: There's a two-year waiting period attached to the Death Benefit. If the contract owner's demise occurs before this two-year waiting period has elapsed, the rider charges that were incurred will be refunded. In this situation, the beneficiaries will receive the Death Benefit as per the base contract terms, not as per the additional rider terms.
This means, essentially, the additional provisions of the Death Benefit rider only come into effect after the two-year waiting period. If death occurs within the first two years of the contract, the benefits revert to the original terms outlined in the base annuity contract.
Also, as with most annuities, the Accumulator FIA has free in-built confinement and terminal illness waivers.
Confinement Waiver: After the first contract year, an annuitant can withdraw up to 100% of the contract’s accumulated value if he is confined to a Qualified care facility for at least 60 consecutive days. No withdrawal charge or MVA applies if the owner qualifies for this benefit. Diagnosis must occur after the contract is issued, and written proof with supporting documentation is required from a qualified physician.
Terminal Illness Waiver: After the first contract year, an annuitant can withdraw up to 100% of the contract’s accumulated value if he is diagnosed with a terminal illness with a prognosis of 12 months or less. No withdrawal charge or MVA applies if the owner qualifies for this benefit. Diagnosis must occur after the contract is issued, and written proof with supporting documentation is required from a qualified physician.
What makes this product stand out?
The Athene Accumulator Fixed Indexed Annuity offers some of the features that not many fixed-indexed annuities offer. The ones that I like the most are
- Higher Caps on the S&P 500 Index - Compared to other similar annuities, Athene offers a higher cap on the S&P 500 Index.
- Option of Uncapped Strategies - Strategies with low caps should not be actually considered true indexing strategies because these Caps limit the earning potential of an index significantly. If I choose a good index, but it has a Cap of, say, 4%, then essentially, I am settling for 4% right from the beginning; so why should it be called an “indexing” strategy in the first place? But, the good thing with the Athene Accumulator Fixed Indexed Annuity is that it provides uncapped strategies for all other indexes (BNPP MAD 5 Index, NASDAQ FC Index, and the AiPEX Index, etc.). Uncapped strategies are a true way of taking an upside exposure of an index. Although, Participation rates still apply to these indexes, at the time of writing this article, all these indexes were being offered with a very high participation rate.
- Minimum Interest Credit - Your Accumulated Value is safeguarded against any market downturns. The Minimum Interest Credit feature enhances this guarantee. If the total interest credited to your Accumulated Value is below the Minimum Interest Credit at the end of your withdrawal charge period, the difference will automatically be added as a one-time interest credit. This credit is calculated as a percentage of your Initial Premium after accounting for withdrawals and charges.
- Multiple Lifetime Withdrawal Options
- Free Confinement and Terminal Illness Waiver
- Good rider for enhanced death benefit
What I don’t like
The only popular index that this plan offers is the S&P 500. All other indexes are volatility-controlled indexes, which limits the upside potential of returns.
You must always keep in mind that, unlike CDs, annuities are not guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or any other federal insurance agency. An annuity's "guarantee" is only as strong as the insurance company that issues the annuity, so it is always important to assess the issuing company before buying an annuity.
Athene Annuity and Life Company
Athene Annuity and Life Company have been in the business since 2009. It is one of the largest providers of fixed and fixed indexed annuities in the US for many years and has been regularly in the top ten Fixed Indexed Annuity Sales.
It is rated as follows by the rating agencies:
|AM Best||A (2nd of 13 ratings)|
|Fitch||A+ (5th of 19 ratings)|
|S&P||A+ (5th of 21 ratings)|
Athene Annuity and Life Company have managed to maintain decent ratings for many years. It is considered to be strong and stable financially. In 2020, the company paid out nearly $12.6 billion in claims. As of year-end 2020, some of the other financial highlights for Athene Annuity include its:
- $11.9 billion in total sales / direct written premium for three months ended March 2023.
- $8.7 billion of total stockholders’ equity
- $257.7 billion in total assets
Thus, going by the operating history and financial numbers, we can safely gauge that you can trust your savings with Athene Annuity and Life Company.
On January 1, 2022, Athene Holding Ltd. merged with Apollo Global Management, Inc. (NYSE: APO). Apollo is a high-growth, global alternative asset manager listed on the NYSE that serves institutional and individual investors across the risk-return spectrum in yield, hybrid, and equity strategies.
With the advancement in healthcare and technology, the average American today is living longer than ever. So, it’s very important to have a stream of income that can grow safely and steadily and have the ability to provide a guaranteed income during the retirement years. This not only helps you to mitigate the risk of outliving your income but also ensures that you continue to live a decent life even in your retirement.
The Athene Accumulator is one such annuity that helps you grow and accumulate your savings with much less risk. Through its enhanced death benefit rider, It offers an enhanced sum of money to your loved ones, helping you leave a legacy.
If you are considering buying a Fixed Indexed Annuity that works best for Accumulation and leaving a legacy, the Athene Accumulator FIA may be a decent product to look after. Although, you must keep in mind that this is not the best annuity for someone who is looking for lifetime income payments or enhanced withdrawals.