Is Fidelity Investments on a mission to deceive indexed annuity prospects and policyholders?
By Sheryl J. Moore
Moore Market Intelligence
Would it be feasible to conclude that this may mean that some media outlets could be receiving payoffs (a.k.a. advertising dollars) from securities firms, just so that their brokers can make more sales? Could this really be happening?
In the past week, I have received two reports of representatives from Fidelity Investments aggressively bad-mouthing indexed annuities to purchasers and or prospects of these products.
This cannot be a coincidence.
These two different insurance agents did business on opposite sides of the country. They both told me that their clients felt “strong-armed.” The Fidelity Investments representatives were reportedly very aggressive, merely because the client/prospect trusted their insurance agent and said they wouldn’t be deterred from their interest in indexed annuities.
One of these insurance agents had a prospect that was told by her Fidelity rep that “only the insurance company [makes money on indexed annuities].” The other insurance agent had a client whose Fidelity rep presented her with the most inaccurate article ever published on indexed annuities: Lisa Gibbs’s “The Safety Trap.”
The issue of Fidelity Investments representatives defensively disseminating inaccurate information on indexed annuities first came to my attention in November of 2011. It was at this time that a marketing organization contacted me about a case where a prospect had been provided with the same copy of Lisa Gibbs’ Money Magazine editorial, in similar circumstances to those above.
I cannot help but think that there is a possibility that Fidelity Investments may be endorsing this, or even providing resources to perpetuate it. Certainly, one would never want to consider the possibility that a prominent firm such as Fidelity would endorse such behavior. Yet how can three different insurance agents that sell indexed annuities in different areas of the country run into nearly identical circumstances with brokers employed by Fidelity Investments?
My good friend (and CEO of the trade group that I partner with in countering the perpetuation of inaccurate information on indexed annuities) shared a valuable piece of information with me not long ago. She was notified of the case that I first encountered in November of 2011, and as a result, she sought out and spoke with a Fidelity Investments compliance officer about the issue. It was then that she was told that “since [the negative/inaccurate indexed annuity] article was in the public domain, there [were] no ‘use restrictions’ [on it]. There [was] no authority, FINRA, SEC or Fidelity, that prohibits a broker from sharing public information with clients.”
In short, if a securities broker can find something in the public domain (i.e. the library, the news, on the Web, etc.), they can share it with their clients and prospects without any “use restrictions.” Sadly, my friend believes that the best and only approach for situations such as these is to ”counter the [inaccurate] information” that has been given to the consumer. I am forever grateful that NAFA has joined the fight to counter such information in these situations, with a microsite dedicated to the cause.
I have questions in light of this information and my experience working with the securities media. Let me illuminate you on my thought process, one domino at a time:
1. Securities firms such as Fidelity Investments pay for the bulk of advertising in securities media outlets, such as the newspapers, trade journals and magazines that Americans look to for the majority of their financial news.
2. These largely securities-driven sources of financial information, such as Money Magazine, are (possibly knowingly?) regularly publishing blatantly negative/inaccurate articles on products such as indexed annuities.
3. These aforementioned products, such as indexed annuities, are not sold by the brokers that are employed with the securities firms that are paying the media outlets for advertising.
4. These brokers’ products-of-choice often compete against indexed annuities for the same retirement dollars (despite the fact that one cannot suffer market losses in an indexed annuity, unlike the securities products offered by these brokers).
5. The aforementioned blatantly negative and inaccurate articles can be presented by brokers in sales or conservation efforts without any regulatory scrutiny, as the article is considered ”public information.”
Many of you will be horrified that I would even put such a question into print. For that, I am sorry. However, I feel that vast experience in the financial services industry has aided me in understanding the dynamics and politics of working with the media. I also believe that it is my duty to ensure to the best of my ability that people have access to accurate, truthful information on insurance products, including indexed annuities. Anyone working against this duty should not only be questioned, but be scrutinized.
I want to know, is anyone else hearing more about this Fidelity Investments smear campaign against indexed annuities? I sincerely hope that we do not have a national epidemic on our hands.