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Financial Institution Letters
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
Office of Thrift Supervision

Interagency Statement on the Purchase and Risk Management of Life Insurance

Supervisory Guidance

Before entering into a BOLI contract, institutions should have a comprehensive risk management process for purchasing and holding BOLI. A prudent risk management process includes:

  • Effective senior management and board oversight;
  • Comprehensive policies and procedures, including appropriate limits;
  • A thorough pre-purchase analysis of BOLI products; and
  • An effective ongoing system of risk assessment, management, monitoring, and internal control processes, including appropriate internal audit and compliance frameworks.

The risks associated with temporary (term) insurance are significantly less than those arising from holdings of permanent insurance. Accordingly, the risk management process for temporary insurance may take this difference into account and need not be as extensive as the risk management process for permanent insurance.

Senior Management and Board Oversight

The safe and sound use of BOLI depends on effective senior management and board oversight. Regardless of an institution's financial capacity and risk profile, the board must understand the complex risk characteristics of the institution's insurance holdings and the role this asset is intended to play in the institution's overall business strategy. Although the board may delegate decision-making authority related to purchases of BOLI to senior management, the board remains ultimately responsible for ensuring that the purchase and holding of BOLI is consistent with safe and sound banking practices.

An institution holding life insurance in a manner inconsistent with safe and sound banking practices is subject to supervisory action. Where ineffective controls over BOLI risks exist, or the exposure poses a safety and soundness concern, the appropriate agency may take supervisory action against the institution, including requiring the institution to divest affected policies, irrespective of potential tax consequences.

Policies and Procedures

Consistent with prudent risk management practices, each institution should establish internal policies and procedures governing its BOLI holdings, including guidelines that limit the aggregate CSV of policies from any one insurance company as well as the aggregate CSV of policies from all insurance companies. When establishing these internal CSV limits, an institution should consider its legal lending limit, the capital concentration threshold, and any applicable state restrictions on BOLI holdings.2 In this regard, given the liquidity, transaction/operational, reputation, and compliance/legal risks associated with BOLI, it is generally not prudent for an institution to hold BOLI with an aggregate CSV that exceeds 25 percent of the institution's capital as measured in accordance with the relevant agency's concentration guidelines.3 Therefore, the agencies expect an institution that plans to acquire BOLI in an amount that results in an aggregate CSV in excess of 25 percent of capital, or any lower internal limit, to gain prior approval from its board of directors or the appropriate board committee. The agencies particularly expect management to justify that any increase in BOLI resulting in an aggregate CSV above 25 percent of capital does not constitute an imprudent capital concentration. An institution holding BOLI in an amount that approaches or exceeds the 25 percent of capital concentration threshold can expect examiners to more closely scrutinize the risk management policies and controls associated with the BOLI assets and, where deficient, to require corrective action.

When seeking the board's approval to purchase or increase BOLI, management should inform the board members of the existence of this interagency statement, remind them of the illiquid nature of the insurance asset, advise them of the potential adverse financial impact of early surrender, and identify any other significant risks associated with BOLI. Such risks might include, but are not limited to, the costs associated with changing carriers in the event of a decline in the carrier's creditworthiness and the potential for noncompliance with state insurable interest requirements and federal tax law.

Pre-purchase Analysis

The objective of the pre purchase analysis is to help ensure that the institution understands the risks, rewards, and unique characteristics of BOLI. The nature and extent of this analysis should be commensurate with the size and complexity of the potential BOLI purchases and should also take into account existing BOLI holdings. A mark of a well-managed institution is the maintenance of adequate records concerning its pre-purchase analyses, usually including documentation of the purpose and amount of insurance needed.

An effective pre-purchase analysis involves the following management actions:

I. Identify the Need for Insurance and Determine the Economic Benefits and Appropriate Insurance Type

An institution should determine the need for insurance by identifying the specific risk of loss to which it is exposed or the specific costs to be recovered. It is not appropriate to purchase life insurance to recover a loss that the institution has already incurred. An institution's purchase of insurance to indemnify it against a specific risk of loss does not relieve it from other responsibilities related to managing that risk. The type of BOLI product, e.g., general4 or separate account, and its features should be appropriate to meet the identified needs of the institution. The appendix contains a description of insurance types and design features.

An institution should analyze the cost and benefits of planned BOLI purchases. The analysis should include the anticipated performance of the BOLI policy and an assessment of how the purchase will accomplish the institution's objectives. Before purchasing BOLI, an institution should analyze projected policy values (CSV and death benefits) using multiple illustrations of these projections provided by the carrier, some of which incorporate the institution's own assumptions. An institution should consider using a range of interest-crediting rates and mortality-cost assumptions. In some cases, the net yield (after mortality costs) could be negative, particularly for separate account products. The potential for unfavorable net yields underscores the importance of carefully evaluating BOLI costs and benefits across multiple scenarios, both currently and into the future.

II. Quantify the Amount of Insurance Appropriate for the Institution's Objectives

An institution should estimate the size of the employee benefit obligation or the risk of loss to be covered and ensure that the amount of BOLI purchased is not excessive in relation to this estimate and the associated product risks. When using BOLI to recover the cost of providing employee benefits, the estimated present value of the expected future cash flows from BOLI, less the costs of insurance, should not exceed the estimated present value of the expected after-tax employee benefit costs. In situations where an institution purchases BOLI on a group of eligible employees, it may estimate the size of the obligation or the risk of loss for the group on an aggregate basis and compare that to the aggregate amount of insurance to be purchased. This estimate should be based on reasonable financial and actuarial assumptions. State insurable interest laws may further restrict or limit the amount of insurance that may be purchased on a group of employees. Management must be able to support, with objective evidence, the reasonableness of all of the assumptions used in determining the appropriate amount of insurance coverage needed by the institution, including the rationale for its discount rates and cost projections.

III. Assess Vendor Qualifications

When making a decision about vendors, an institution should consider its own knowledge of insurance risks, the vendor's qualifications, and the amount of resources the institution is willing to spend to administer and service the BOLI. Depending on the role of the vendor, the vendor's services can be extensive and may be critical to successful implementation and operation of a BOLI plan, particularly for the more complex separate account products.

While it is possible to purchase insurance directly from insurance carriers, the vast majority of insurance purchases are made through vendors – either brokers, consultants, or agents. A vendor may design, negotiate, and administer the BOLI policy. An institution should ensure that it understands the product it is purchasing and that it selects a product that best meets its needs. Management, not just the vendor, must demonstrate a familiarity with the technical details of the institution's insurance assets, and be able to explain the reasons for and the risks associated with the product design features they have selected.

An institution that uses a vendor should make appropriate inquiries to satisfy itself about the vendor's ability to honor its long-term commitments, particularly when the vendor is expected to be associated with the institution's insurance program over an extended period of time. The institution should evaluate the adequacy of the vendor's services and its reputation, experience, financial soundness, and commitment to the BOLI product. Vendors typically earn a large portion of their commissions upon the sale of the product, yet they often retain long-term servicing responsibilities for their clients. The vendor's commitment to investing in the operational infrastructure necessary to support BOLI is a key consideration in vendor selection.

An institution should be aware that the vendor's financial benefit from the sale of insurance may provide the vendor with an incentive to emphasize the benefits of a BOLI purchase to the institution without a commensurate explanation of the associated risks. Therefore, reliance solely upon pre-packaged, vendor-supplied compliance information does not demonstrate prudence with respect to the purchase of insurance. An institution should not delegate its selection of product design features to its vendors. An institution that is unable to demonstrate a thorough understanding of BOLI products it has purchased and the associated risks may be subject to supervisory action.

IV. Review the Characteristics of the Available Insurance Products

There are a few basic types of life insurance products in the marketplace. These products, however, can be combined and modified in many different ways. The resulting final product can be quite complex. Furthermore, certain permanent insurance products have been designed specifically for banks. These products differ from other forms of corporate-owned life insurance (COLI) policies in that the policies designed for banks are generally structured without surrender or front-end sales charges in order to avoid having to report these charges as expenses when initially recording the carrying value. However, BOLI products may have lower net yields than COLI products due to the absence of these charges. An institution should review the characteristics of the various insurance products available, understand the products it is considering purchasing, and select those with the characteristics that best match the institution's objectives, needs, and risk tolerance.

Design features of permanent insurance policies determine: 1) whether the policy is a general account, separate account, or hybrid product;5 2) whether the insurance contract is a modified endowment contract (MEC) that carries certain tax penalties if surrendered; and 3) the method used to credit earnings to the policy. Some implications of these design features are discussed in more detail in the "Risk Management of BOLI" section of this interagency statement.

When purchasing insurance on a key person or a borrower, management should consider whether the institution's need for the insurance might end before the insured person dies. An institution generally may not hold BOLI on a key person or a borrower once the key person leaves the institution or the borrower has either repaid the loan, or the loan has been charged off. Therefore, the maturity of the term or declining term insurance should be structured to match the expected tenure of the key person or the maturity of the loan, respectively. Permanent insurance generally is not an appropriate form of life insurance under these circumstances.

V. Select Carrier

To achieve the tax benefits of insurance, institutions must hold BOLI policies until the death of the insured. Therefore, carrier selection is one of the most critical decisions in a BOLI purchase and one that can have long-term consequences. While a broker or consultant may assist the institution in evaluating carrier options, the institution alone retains the responsibility for carrier selection. Before purchasing life insurance, an institution should perform a credit analysis on the selected carrier(s) in a manner consistent with safe and sound banking practices for commercial lending. A more complete discussion of the credit analysis standards is included in the "Credit Risk" section of this interagency statement.

Management should review the product design, pricing, and administrative services of proposed carriers and compare them with the institution's needs. Management should also review the carrier's commitment to the BOLI product, as well as its credit ratings, general reputation, experience in the marketplace, and past performance. Carriers not committed to general account BOLI products may have an incentive to lower the interest-crediting rate on BOLI over time, reducing the favorable economics of the product. The interest-crediting rate refers to the gross yield on the investment in the insurance policy, that is, the rate at which the cash value increases before considering any deductions for mortality cost, load charges, or other costs that are periodically charged against the policy's cash value. Insurance companies frequently disclose both a current interest-crediting rate and a guaranteed minimum interest-crediting rate. Institutions should be aware that the guaranteed minimum interest-crediting rate may be periodically reset in accordance with the terms of the insurance contract. As a result, the potential exists for a decline in the interest-crediting rate.

While institutions can exercise what is known as a 1035 Exchange6 option to change carriers, there are some practical constraints to using this option. First, the institution must have an insurable interest in each individual to be insured under the new carrier's policy. In a 1035 Exchange, former employees of the institution may not be eligible for coverage under the new policy because state insurable interest laws may prohibit their eligibility. Second, the original carrier may impose an exchange fee specifically applicable to such 1035 Exchanges.

VI. Determine the Reasonableness of Compensation Provided to the Insured Employee if the Insurance Results in Additional Compensation

Insurance arrangements that are funded by the institution and that permit the insured officer, director, or employee to designate a beneficiary are a common way to provide additional compensation or other benefits to the insured. Split-dollar life insurance arrangements are often used for this purpose. Before an institution enters into a split-dollar arrangement or otherwise purchases insurance for the benefit of an officer, director, or employee, the institution should identify and quantify its compensation objective and ensure that the arrangement is consistent with that objective. The compensation provided by the split-dollar or other insurance arrangement should be combined with all other compensation provided to the insured to ensure that the insured's total compensation is not excessive. Excessive compensation is considered an unsafe and unsound banking practice. Guidelines for determining excessive compensation can be found in the Interagency Guidelines Establishing Standards for Safety and Soundness.7

Because shareholders and their family members who are not officers, directors, or employees of an institution do not provide goods or services to the institution, they should not receive compensation from the institution. This includes compensation in the form of split-dollar life insurance arrangements.

Prior to an institution's purchase of a life insurance policy to be used in a split-dollar life insurance arrangement, the institution and the insured should enter into a written agreement. Written agreements usually describe the rights of the institution, the insured individual, and any other parties (such as trusts or beneficiaries) to the policy's CSV and death benefits. It is important for an institution to be aware that ownership of the policy by the employee, a third party, or a trust (non-institution owner) may not adequately protect the institution's interest in the policy because the institution ordinarily will not have the sole right to borrow against the CSV or to liquidate the policy in the event that funds are needed to provide liquidity to the institution. Moreover, if a non-institution owner borrows heavily against the CSV, an institution's ability to recover its premium payments upon the death of the insured may be impaired.

At a minimum, an institution's economic interest in the policy should be equal to the premiums paid plus a reasonable rate of return, defined as a rate of return that is comparable to returns on investments of similar maturity and credit risk.

Split-dollar life insurance has complex tax and legal consequences. An institution considering entering into a split-dollar life insurance arrangement should consult qualified tax, legal, and insurance advisors.

VII. Analyze the Associated Risks and the Ability to Monitor and Respond to those Risks

An institution's pre-purchase analysis should include a thorough evaluation of all significant risks, as well as management's ability to identify, measure, monitor, and control those risks. An explanation of key risks (liquidity, transaction/operational, reputation, credit, interest rate, compliance/legal, and price) is included in the "Risk Management of BOLI" section of this interagency statement.

VIII. Evaluate Alternatives

Regardless of the purpose of BOLI, a comprehensive pre-purchase analysis will include an analysis of available alternatives. Prior to acquiring BOLI, an institution should thoroughly analyze the risks and benefits, compared to alternative methods for recovering costs associated with the loss of key persons, providing pre- and post-retirement employee benefits, or providing additional employee compensation, as appropriate.

IX. Document Decision

A well-managed institution maintains adequate documentation supporting its comprehensive pre-purchase analysis, including an analysis of both the types and design of products purchased and the overall level of BOLI holdings.

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2 In July 1999, the OTS adopted a policy that savings associations may not invest more than 25 percent of their total capital in BOLI without first notifying and obtaining authorization from their OTS Regional Office. In order to maintain strong and effective communications with institutions under its supervision, the OTS retains this policy. The other agencies may also institute approval or notification requirements.

3 Each agency's definition of a concentration differs slightly. Institutions should refer to the definition provided by their supervisory agency when measuring the CSV of BOLI as a percentage of capital: OCC Bulletin 95-7 for national banks; FRB Commercial Bank Examination Manual Section 2050.1 for state member banks; FDIC Manual of Examination Policies, Section 17.1 for insured state nonmember banks, http://www.fdic.gov/regulations/safety/manual/section17-1_concent.html; and OTS Thrift Activities Handbook, Section 211 for savings associations.

4 A general account is a design feature that is generally available to purchasers of whole or universal life insurance whereby the general assets of the insurance company support the policyholder’s CSV.

5 A hybrid product combines features of both general and separate account products.

6 A 1035 Exchange is a tax-free replacement of an insurance policy for another insurance contract covering the same person in accordance with section 1035 of the Internal Revenue Code.

7 For national banks, Appendix A to 12 CFR 30; for state member banks, Appendix D-1 to 12 CFR 208; for insured state nonmember banks, Appendix A to 12 CFR 364; for savings associations, Appendix A to 12 CFR 570.



Last Updated 08/03/2005 communications@fdic.gov