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Sizzle or Steak?

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As usual, I am posting on my blog as the month comes to an end, and this time it's just before everyone heads out for the Labor Day weekend, when, no doubt, many barbecues will take place, a fact which is fitting given my chosen theme and accompanying photo.

My inspiration is a sort of catchphrase I heard a longtime annuity industry executive use at a late-1990s conference, back towards the tail end of the tech boom when the market was packed with players and competition among them was intense. If I recall correctly, he asked if the kinds of products being offered at the time were "more sizzle than steak." For some reason his words stuck with me these many years. The metaphor is easy to understand, I think: the sizzle represents snazzy features meant to entice the client, while the steak is what is truly substantial about a product.

I am invoking this imagery because annuity sales - especially on the fixed and indexed side - are booming and competition is heating up. During times like these it's tempting for players to push the envelope. In my latest commentary I cite an industry executive who opined on an earnings call that the FIA space is currently in a period of “commoditized rate-based competition” that his company intends to avoid. Certainly there are other ways the annuity product can become commoditized; we've seen it happen before.

So in closing, I'll admit that just as every good steak has some sizzle to it, every product must have elements that make it alluring. But the latter should never be the main focus of any sale. Otherwise, someone may get burned.

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