After the mortgage business imploded last year, Wall Street investment banks began searching for another big idea to make money. They think they may have found one.
The bankers plan to buy “life settlements,” life insurance policies that ill and elderly people sell for cash — $400,000 for a $1 million policy, say, depending on the life expectancy of the insured person. Then they plan to “securitize” these policies, in Wall Street jargon, by packaging hundreds or thousands together into bonds. They will then resell those bonds to investors, like big pension funds, who will receive the payouts when people with the insurance die.
The earlier the policyholder dies, the bigger the return — though if people live longer than expected, investors could get poor returns or even lose money.
Either way, Wall Street would profit by pocketing sizable fees for creating the bonds, reselling them and subsequently trading them. But some who have studied life settlements warn that insurers might have to raise premiums in the short term if they end up having to pay out more death claims than they had anticipated.
The idea is still in the planning stages. But already “our phones have been ringing off the hook with inquiries,” says Kathleen Tillwitz, a senior vice president at DBRS...
From the NYT's article, Wall Street Pursues Profit in Bundles of Life Insurance.
From Matt Taibbi:
What’s very amusing about this New York Times article is that, while describing this, there is no passage that reads anything like, “This utterly insane plan, which will condemn all those involved with it to an eternity of elaborate torment in the afterlife, is ironically being promoted by the very institutions that only just recently tried to destroy the world by creating similar casino-like gambits based on home ownership.”
More from the NYT's article:
Spreading the Risk
To help understand how to manage these risks, Ms. Tillwitz and her colleague Jan Buckler — a mathematics whiz with a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering — traveled the world visiting firms that handle life settlements. “We do not want to rate a deal that blows up,” Ms. Tillwitz said.
The solution? A bond made up of life settlements would ideally have policies from people with a range of diseases — leukemia, lung cancer, heart disease, breast cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s. That is because if too many people with leukemia are in the securitization portfolio, and a cure is developed, the value of the bond would plummet.
...what the fuck??? This feels like financial innovation as practiced by Josef Mengele meets the Zucker Brothers; not just evil, but wacky evil. I don’t even want to think about what happens when Goldman Sachs suddenly has a large financial stake in the premature deaths of a bunch of old people. Where are the crazy police? Where is the crack federal crazy squad with the big butterfly net? I don’t know about betting on anyone’s life expectancy, but I think I’d like to bet on whether or not this idea ends well.
First heard about this when The Skimmer came home Friday ranting and raving about it. Then again, when he was discussing it with company we had over for dinner Sunday night. The male half of that company is a retired bank president. And he thought it was a great idea!
That's the last time he'll get a free meal out of me. Next time, he can call Ms. Tillwitz. She'd be happy to talk with him. Another thing he said on Sunday was that the results of his latest nuclear test didn't turn out so well.