Penn Mutual Whole Life Policy Historical Performance

The latest installment in our series of reviewing real-life results from whole life insurance policies, we look this week at Penn Mutual.  Similar to other policies reviewed, we took data from a Penn Mutual whole life policy purchased around 10 years ago.  We have the original illustration and used that to compare against current policy values.

We also used this data to look at the dividends currently payable to the Penn Mutual policyholder compared to originally projected dividends.

Penn Mutual Whole Life Policy Actual Cash Value Performance

We're looking at a Penn Mutual whole life policy that used all the critical elements of a policy designed to optimize cash value growth.  It's blended with the majority of the premium comprised of paid-up additions.

This policyholder paid premiums almost exactly as originally planned. Premiums paid in the very first year were slightly lower and then increased in years 2+.  We could accommodate looking at this change with an in-force illustration from year two that projected values up to this point.  While this isn't critical to evaluating projected versus actual results since we can use internal rate of return (IRR) to control for changes, we noted in the other reviews that changes in the actual premium paid probably affect the rate of return to a slight degree. However, in this case, we can compare the projected values made by this change because we had an in-force illustration that assumed the change.  Here's what we learned:

Originally, the policy projected a 5.39% annualized rate of return at this point in the policy.  This means the policy owner anticipated earning 5.39% compounding annually on the premiums paid to the policy.  The policy purchase took place about 10 years ago.  The dividend rate at Penn Mutual declined from 6.34% at inception to 5.75% today.  The most dramatic change took place just this past year.  The real IRR achieved on this policy is from inception is 5.11%.

Actual Historical Dividends Paid By Penn Mutual

While I don't have a detailed breakdown of each annual dividend payment from the policy outset, I can see the current dividend paid compared to the projected payable dividend from the original illustration.  They are not surprisingly different.

The current dividend paid is 24% lower than the originally projected dividend payable at this point.

We can see that this lower dividend certainly drives down cash value performance from what the policyholder originally anticipated.  It's also worth noting that while the change in dividends isn't as substantial as we saw in reviewing other companies, the change in cash value IRR is slightly more pronounced than in the case of some of the other comparisons.  This point supports our long-standing claim that whole life insurance is a broad name used for a type of life insurance that can vary considerably from company to company when it comes to specific functionality.

Reasons The Policy Performed As It Did

The use of paid-up additions places less significance on the dividend payment with respect to the development of cash value.  This is especially true for the first several years of a whole life policy's existence.  The guaranteed interest paid on cash value, which applies to cash value created by PUA's, drives a considerable amount of policy growth during this time.  So the change in cash value growth due to the dividend changes is less when looking at the overall performance of the policy.

Had this whole life policy used a more traditional design and approach to whole life insurance, it's extremely likely the change in IRR would be significantly more.

The Timing Of Dividend Changes Matters

While this Penn Mutual whole life policy slightly underperformed its original projections, the dividend performance moving forward could lead to a wildly different story over the next 10 years.

If the dividend remains mostly the same, then the spread between actual and projected values will grow.  This is simply the mathematical reality of the difference between the initial accumulation assumption and current realities.  If on the other hand the dividend increases over this time, actual results will pull closer to projected values.  What's easy to overlook in a life insurance ledger is the role the timing of dividend changes plays on cash value performance.  When the policy has more cash value, changes in the dividend will be more impactful.

This knife cuts both ways, however.  A whole life policy with a larger cash value balance will get a considerable boost when the dividend goes up, but it will also miss out on a lot of growth when the dividend goes down.

The Penn Mutual dividend did change quite substantially since policy inception, and this results in a policy with a lower than planned rate of return.  There are about $1,500 fewer dollars in the policy than originally assumed.

That said, this policy still performed better than some of the other policies we reviewed even some that performed much closer to their projected values.

4 thoughts on “Penn Mutual Whole Life Policy Historical Performance”

  1. Thanks for another great podcast and article. I’ve been curious the last few times about how this translates (if at all) to more traditionally designed policies with the carriers you’ve highlighted. Sorry if I’ve missed any past commentary on this question, but I was glad to see your comment here: “Had this whole life policy used a more traditional design and approach to whole life insurance, it’s extremely likely the change in IRR would be significantly more.” Do you have many or any of those policies on the books you’ve looked at or can comment on anecdotally? Thanks again for sharing your wisdom.

    • Hi Chris,

      I just might have a couple and this brings up a good point to include in this series. Stay tuned.

  2. I’m very impressed with the performance of the Penn Mutual policy – 5.11% IRR is far better than what I would have expected. In what do they invest premiums? The competition could learn from them.

    Will you be able to share the experience with Northwestern Mutual or Pacific Life? Or any M Financial products?

    I checked out the IRR on my UL policy. The span is 9/24/07-5/28/21. My IRR is 1.9379%.
    I will be glad to share my UL information with you so long as if you use the info on a podcast/blog you promise to describe the company as a prominent life insurer – or something vaguely to that effect.

    So far you have not answered any of the Comments I’ve left to any of your blogs (although I apologize for what I think were some snarky remarks), including the one where I told you I would like to figure out a way we could work together. I’m still interested. I would be glad to send you my resume. I’ve been published it Journal of Financial Service Professionals (several times) and The Tax Adviser.

    Given the IRRs you’ve cited for Guardian, Mass, and Penn – and compared to the IRR on my policy – I’ve gained a lot of respect for whole life.

    Waiting to hear from you.

    • Hi David,

      I don’t see any other comments logged on the website from you so I’m not sure what happened to them. While the intention of the most recent series of posts focuses specifically on whole life insurance and not UL, we’re always interested in looking at real in-force policies. You can contact us through the contact page and we can facilitate the process of sending information to us from there. I can’t promise that it will ever become content on the site, but we appreciate it nonetheless.

      While we’re not looking to hire anyone at the moment, if you think you have a topic that would be of interest to our readers/listeners, you can send your thoughts through our contact page. Thanks.


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