Estimating Gross Market Return for Life Settlements: Are your calculations correct?

The recently published ELSA paper on estimating gross returns is another refreshing step in the right direction of bringing uniformity of methodologies and expectations in assessing the emerging Life Settlement Asset class.

It correctly brings into focus the disciplines of Uniform Medical Underwriting and Uniform methodologies of Financial Analysis to assist investors (and Managers) in making more informed decisions in the crucial decision process of allocating capital to asset purchases.

The science around Medical underwriting continues to evolve in the dynamic environment of human longevity while the discussion around appropriate methodologies for uniform financial analysis is timely given the post GFC environment where lack of suitable robust analysis was the root of many a financial failure.

You can have the finest underwriting and the best return analysis tools but unless you have the skills to select the best policies these will be wasted.

We are disappointed that the paper did not address the missing “Third Leg”. This is the application of correct policy data in any calculation. This is of paramount importance in the life settlement asset class because unlike a bond or stock price analysis the information for input into the analysis calculation is not uniform or generic. In fact every new life policy you pick up to analyse will potentially have features and data idiosyncratic to that case alone even when potentially comparing different policies on the same insured life and issued by the same insurance company.

Whilst the example cited in the case study uses data from the real world and this is admirable, it makes two tellingly simplistic assumptions in that all policies in the market with the stated characteristics (Age, Gender, Smoking Status, LE, Policy Type,) will have the same average premiums and (in some cases therefore) the same Assumed Purchase price.

An uninformed investor may mistakenly draw these two conclusions.

Now for the purpose of a simplistic financial comparison exercise, it may well be appropriate to make these basic comparisons.

However, any suitably experienced Life Settlement market practitioner will know that this is very much not the case. Accordingly an investor (or Manager) should be careful to assess purchases on each policy’s individual merits and not on a generic portfolio basis Many a Hedge Fund has acquired portfolios at apparently bargain basement rates only to find that large sections of the assets are worthless and that are IRR negative or will go so in a very short space of time.

These factors also go a long way to explain why the “Synthetic” longevity products never really became popular because they missed so many of the value opportunities in the physical market quite apart from the usual synthetics issues of credit concentration, opaque fees, lack of liquidity etc.

Here are seven reasons (and the list is not exhaustive) why the price you pay for one policy of identical Age, Gender, Smoking Status, Life Expectancy and Policy Type could be justifiably quite different to another.


  1. Prices in the Secondary Market can differ from the Tertiary Market. Reasons include differing sophistication of the counterparties, Anti-Selection Bias in the underwriting, Size and Number of bidders in the market at sale.
  2. Policy Size: It is well established that larger face value policies often attract less bidders hence lessen the ability to bid up the price through competition.
  3. Policy Documentation and Wording (ie Rider Clauses or Contract type) A policy with a “No Lapse Guarantee” clause will price differently to one without. Some Policies have Escalating or De-Escalating Benefit clauses over time, Joint Life Policies will price differently to single life policies and even two Joint life policies may price differently depending on the approach to LE Calculation applied to the two lives.
  4. Premium Optimisation Calculations: Has the forward premium stream been optimised? What methodology? A short term holder (Trader) may use different optimisation targets to a long term holder.
  5. Policy Metrics: Some policies simply have stronger metrics than others and therefore (in theory) should command a higher price.
  6. Carrier Risks: Some insurance carriers have more risks around potential claim challenges and premium hikes than others and accordingly these policies should be bid down.
  7. Legal Risks: Some policies have significant risks attached to them around how they were originated or sold in the first instance. Investors should attempt to account for these risks in any pricing methodology or simply avoid them if their appetite for risk is breached.

One final point as to why we believe simplistic comparisons on pricing (and hence attempts to somehow Index the Life Settlement Market) are fraught with danger.

Life Settlements are a US based, denominated and regulated asset class and hence it is not unreasonable to look to US accounting practices and standards for guidance in the general handling of the asset class. Under US GAAP accounting principles there is a three level hierarchy for assessing “Fair Value” in an orderly transaction. Tier One uses quoted prices in active markets for identical assets or liabilities for comparison. Tiers two and three use valuation techniques and data inputs some of which is directly observable and some not. Tier three is where the amount of directly observable market data is less than the unobservable content.

Life Settlement Portfolios are typically valued under Tier 3 guidelines. Hence they are clearly not identical securities trading in deep observable markets. Hence benchmark comparisons are problematic without understanding the underlying assets and the validity of comparisons. “Apples with Apples!”

Is this therefore a bad thing?

Emphatically the answer is no! Life Settlements are one of the few genuinely uncorrelated assets for precisely these reasons. The value opportunities presented by this market are compelling as well as the opportunity to further diversify a larger asset allocation.

Mercer rightly pointed out;


“One of the fallouts of the global financial crisis was the realisation that many of the more traditional alternative, such as hedge fund of funds, asset classes failed to provide adequate portfolio diversification. We believe investors should continue to investigate the use of investments such as life settlements to gain exposure to real alternative risk premia.”


“Insurance Linked Strategies: Life Settlements”- Mercer April 2010 

If you wish to learn the best process for purchasing and valuing techniques which may affect your life settlements investment, we would be more than happy to outline a best approach to suite your needs.


As always we wish you well with your life settlement investment opportunities and if you want to learn more about investing in this asset class please contact us.



Contact Stephanie Nolan (COO & Director)


Contact Stephen Knott (Director)




Disclaimer: This information is intended for qualifying investors only and was correct at the time of preparation. It has been prepared to provide general information only and should not be considered as a “securities recommendation” or an “invitation to invest” in any jurisdiction. Potential investors should consider the relevance of this information to their particular circumstances. Before proceeding investors must obtain the prospectus and take their own legal and taxation advice. If you acquire or hold one of our products we will receive fees and other benefits as disclosed in the prospectus and relevant offering documents.


Tags: Index, Life Insurance Policy, Life Settlements, ROI

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