I wasn’t planning to write about this weekend’s New York Times article about the securitization of life settlements after reading Felix Salmon’s post saying there was no new news there. But I was thinking about it some more and thought it was an interesting concept, whether or not it gets off the ground.
Life settlements already exist. The idea is that someone has a whole life insurance policy with a death benefit of, say, $1 million. The insured bought it when he was 35 and had two kids; now he’s 70, the kids are working on Wall Street and don’t need the death benefit, but they’ve cut him off and he needs some cash to fill the prescription drug donut hole and pay his Medicare co-pays. The insurance company will give him a cash settlement value of, say, $100,000. I don’t know what this actual number is, but the key point is that it is less than $1 million at the insured’s expected date of death, discounted back to the present (let’s call that the current actuarial value of the policy). In a life settlement, an investor pays the insured a lump sum that is greater than $100,000 – say, $200,000 – and makes the premium payments (if any are left to be made) on his behalf; in return, the investor becomes the beneficiary on the policy. Again, this already happens, although there are concerns about churning, misrepresentation, the whole deal.