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Working Paper

Accounting and Actuarial Smoothing of Retirement Payouts in Participating Life Annuities

Raimond Maurer, Olivia S. Mitchell, Ralph Rogalla, and Ivonne Siegelin
WP2014-02

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Abstract — Life insurers use accounting and actuarial techniques to smooth reporting of firm assets and liabilities, seeking to transfer surpluses in good years to cover benefit payouts in bad years. Yet these techniques have been criticized as they make it difficult to assess insurers' true financial status. We develop stylized and realistically-calibrated models of participating lifetime annuities, an insurance product that pays retirees guaranteed lifelong benefits along with variable non-guaranteed surplus. Our goal is to illustrate how accounting and actuaries techniques for this product shape policyholder well-being as well as insurer profitability and stability. We show that smoothing adds value to both the annuitant and the insurer, so curtailing smoothing could undermine the market for long-term retirement payout products.