The Fragility of Market Risk Insurance

Insurers sell retail financial products called variable annuities that package mutual funds with minimum return guarantees over long horizons. Variable annuities
accounted for $1.5 trillion or 34 percent of U.S. life insurer liabilities in 2015. Sales fell and fees increased after the 2008 financial crisis as the higher valuation of existing liabilities stressed risk-based capital. Insurers also made guarantees less generous or stopped offering guarantees entirely to reduce risk exposure. We develop an equilibrium model of insurance markets in which financial frictions and market power are important determinants of pricing, contract characteristics, and the degree of market incompleteness.

(JEL G22, G32)

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