GINN: NAIC’s New Regulatory Proposal Threatens Your Retirement Savings

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The National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ (NAIC) recent regulatory proposals have concerned stakeholders across the U.S. insurance landscape. At the heart of the controversy are proposed changes that could fundamentally alter how life insurance companies invest in financial instruments, with far-reaching consequences for the broader economy and, more specifically, the retirement security of millions of Americans.

The NAIC, as a non-governmental entity that wields considerable influence over the insurance industry’s regulatory framework, operates in a unique space where its decisions can have national implications. Its recent move to increase capital requirements from 30% to 45% on residual asset-backed securities (ABS) tranches is a poignant example of regulatory action with unintended consequences. 

The proposal reflects a perceived higher risk assessment by necessitating higher financial reserves against these investments. However, this risk reassessment and the consequent regulatory response have not gone unchallenged. 

Critics, armed with analyses such as the Oliver Wyman report, contend that the data does not substantiate these changes, highlighting a dissonance between the empirical evidence and regulatory action.

The implications of the NAIC’s proposals extend beyond the immediate financial health of life insurance companies to impact broader retirement planning. By disincentivizing investments in ABS and similar financial instruments, these regulatory changes threaten to narrow the investment options available to life insurance companies. 

Given the critical role that life insurance companies play in providing annuity products and as major institutional investors, the potential for these regulatory changes to affect market dynamics and returns for retirees is a major concern. These decisions should be made from a bottom-up approach in the marketplace, not from a top-down approach by NAIC.

Amidst these regulatory developments, the suggested influence of external political forces, including the Biden administration and labor unions, introduces an additional layer of complexity. The assertion that these proposals may be driven by broader political objectives, rather than by an unbiased assessment of market risks and consumer protection needs, underscores the potential for regulatory processes to be co-opted for ideological ends. 

This prospect is particularly troubling in retirement planning, where American workers’ and retirees’ economic well-being and choices should be paramount.

The debate over the NAIC’s proposed regulatory changes highlights the broader challenges of ensuring that this regulatory body operates with a commitment to transparency, accountability and evidence-based policymaking. An institutional framework that supports free-market competition, consumer choice and the economic interests of Americans in this financial space is needed, given the oversized influence of NAIC and the government. 

As the insurance industry navigates these regulatory waters, the call for a balanced, data-driven approach to regulation — prioritizing American workers’ long-term financial security and the U.S. economy’s health — is urgent. Regulation should be the last resort instead of the first for potential problems, as the marketplace, through a well-functioning price system, is best at regulating things to those who want and provide them most.

The NAIC’s regulatory proposals represent a critical juncture for the U.S. insurance industry and the financial system supporting American retirement planning. The potential for these proposals to disincentivize key investment strategies poses a considerable risk to the sustainability of defined-contribution plans. It highlights the need for vigilant oversight of the regulatory process to hold regulators in check. 

Stakeholders, including policymakers, industry leaders and the public, must engage in substantive dialogue to ensure that future regulatory actions are grounded in solid empirical evidence and aligned with the prosperity of Americans. 

As this debate unfolds, upholding principles of competition, consumer protection and the integrity of the retirement planning framework in the marketplace remains paramount. At best, the NAIC proposal should be delayed for a year to give more time to examine its effects. But given the evidence so far, the proposal should be trashed.

Vance Ginn, Ph.D., is the president of Ginn Economic Consulting, host of the Let People Prosper Show, and was previously the associate director for economic policy of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, 2019-20. Follow him on X.com at @VanceGinn.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.

Editor’s note: This article previously stated that the NAIC’s proposed regulations could diminish returns on 401(k) and 403(b) plans. However, it has now been updated to reflect that the proposed increase in capital requirements is for life insurance companies, which wouldn’t diminish 401(k) and 403(b) returns.