changed dramatically in the wake of the financial crisis, a
development that holds significant promise for life insurers. Axa
Equitable Life’s chief innovation officer provided Charles
Davis with valuable insight into how the insurer is
harnessing this new opportunity.
The financial goals of American consumers have shifted
noticeably in the past six months as the markets roiled beneath
them, according to a study recently released by Axa Equitable Life
Insurance Company. The study is a timely indicator of just how
profound the changes in investor outlook have been, and portray
real opportunities for life insurers, as income guarantee and
protection take center stage.
Axa’s study revealed that consumer attitudes and behaviours of
Americans have shifted dramatically in the past six months. Among
the most notable results, almost eight in 10 of those polled, 78
percent, ranked income guarantees as a top financial priority, up
16 percentage points from a similar Axa survey conducted in April
Axa conducted the online survey in October last year among 400
randomly chosen US consumers who were between the ages of 35 and
70, with annual household incomes of $75,000 or higher.
The study also found that those placing a priority on protection
from outliving retirement savings increased dramatically, from 59
percent six months ago to 71 percent in October. Securing
protection against market conditions also increased considerably,
with 68 percent ranking it as a priority, compared to a little more
than half (53 percent) back in April.
“It is no surprise that attitudes and behaviours have changed,
especially given the period of economic instability we are
experiencing,” Barbara Goodstein, executive vice-president and
chief innovation officer for Axa Equitable told LII.
“What is striking, however, is the heightened priority being
placed so quickly on securing a stream of lifetime income.”
Guarantees take centre stage
Goodstein said the increased focused on protection from
outliving retirement savings is noteworthy, and the amount of the
increase in focus on longevity and protection caught the insurer’s
“This validated many of our assumptions going in; that the
annuity product set, particularly guarantees, would be critically
important,” she said. “What it has done is get us moving even
The study found that slightly more than half of those polled (54
percent) said that they have not made financial changes, nor do
they intend to do so. For the 25 percent of those who have thought
about doing something, the actions most considered included meeting
with an adviser (62 percent), re-
allocating investments (47 percent) or making withdrawals (24
Of the 21 percent that have actually taken action amid the
volatility, 67 percent said they had reallocated investments, 56
percent bought products like annuities, life insurance and shares,
and 24 percent made withdrawals from 401(k) or 403(b) retirement
savings accounts or liquidated personal investments.
The study also found that of all the sources to learn about
finances, almost half of those polled (48 percent) sought
information from news and financial websites. Other preferred
sources included newspapers (45 percent), financial professionals
(35 percent) and magazines (15 percent).
Consumer perception shifted when polled on trust, as 61 percent
ranked financial professionals the most trustworthy – 10 percentage
points more than financial websites (51 percent) and 20 percentage
points more than news websites (41 percent).
“The fact people are using the tools at their disposal to
educate themselves is very encouraging,” said Goodstein.
“But more interesting is our study also illustrates that people
still view the relationship cultivated with a financial
professional as invaluable and better positions them to make sound
Axa takes advice online
To that end, Goodstein said Axa created MyRetirementShop.com, a
lifestyle website for information and resources to help consumers
redefine life in retirement. It is the company’s latest innovation
on its At Retirement platform, committed to helping individuals
near and at retirement make informed choices to enhance and
preserve their lifestyle.
“We sensed a real need out there for actionable information on
not just finances, but lifestyle, relocation issues,
post-retirement employment and volunteer opportunities and all the
information people approaching retirement might need,” Goodstein
Among the most compelling differences along gender lines, the
study found that women are more concerned amid the current market
turmoil about their retirement savings than male counterparts.
Specifically, 84 percent of women polled rated having a guaranteed
source of lifetime income as “extremely important,” compared to
just 73 percent of men.
Women are also significantly more concerned about protecting
retirement income from a market downturn as 75 percent viewed it as
“extremely important”, compared to just 60 percent of men.
Ironically, although more concerned than men about the future,
the study found women are less likely to make changes in response
to current market conditions. Specifically, more than half of men
polled (55 percent) said they had reallocated money in an
employer-sponsored account, compared to just 40 percent of women.
In addition, 29 percent of men have either withdrawn money from an
employer-sponsored account or mutual funds, or sold stocks,
compared to 19 percent of women.
“Women live longer, and they pay more in medical expenses, they
earn less money on average, and four in 10 marriages end in
divorce,” Goodstein said. “You put all those data points together
and you see the need for marketing messages aimed at gender.”
Goodstein added that Axa was already honing its marketing
message toward these gender differences. The insurer has begun a
series of seminars aimed at women, developed marketing material for
women who own small businesses and directed its sales staff to pay
close attention to the difference in attention being paid by female
“Women are focused on this issue, and we would be remiss if we
did not respond,” Goodstein said. “We do not see a need to alter
the product, but the marketing message has to reflect a difference