It’s no big secret that we think whole life insurance is pretty awesome. Hopefully, most of you realized we were just being cheeky on our podcast last week when we declared that it sucked (though we don’t think it’s the answer to all the world’s problems).
We often receive questions regarding which company has the best whole life products. After giving this subject careful consideration, the time has come for us to make an official list. You’re very welcome!
First, a Little Explanation
We have to be very clear here: this is not an exhaustive list of the only carriers from which you should ever buy whole life insurance.
However, this is a list of the carriers we recommend if you plan to purchase whole life insurance designed to maximize cash value and use the policy as part of a low risk asset strategy/retirement income play.
We’ll come back to this point at the end as there may be some notable omissions.
The 2013 List
The list consists of seven carriers that we’ve determined—after extensive deliberation and policy design for prospective clients—are the top contenders for giving you the most potential cash value bang for your incoming premium buck. This list is in alphabetical order.
American United Life
Also commonly referred to as One America, which is the parent company’s name, American United Life manufactures a competitive—although somewhat quirky—whole life product.
It’s non-direct recognition, making it popular among the Infinite Banking die-hards, and it also includes a unique declining paid-up additions load. They’re surely proud of this feature, but we think it’s actually counterproductive; it creates a serious incentive to delay paid-up additions payments, which will decrease overall cash value growth potential.
Time lost can never be regained.
Colloquially known as “The Guardian,” this company has a rare commitment to the use of cash value life insurance as an asset. In fact, they own a website dedicated to the cause and paid a lot of money to develop a sales tool to compete with the likes of LEAP® and Circles of Wealth® to help their agents articulate the benefits of owning whole life insurance.
Our only word of caution about Guardian is to watch their career agents closely. They are in love with Guardian’s L99 whole life product.
This product is rather focused on death benefit and lags behind Guardian’s much stronger 10 Pay whole life product when it comes to cash accumulation and income generation.
Their 10 Pay product is designed to accept paid-up additions beyond 10 years (a wonderful feature). In order to do this, the policy has to be properly blended to open a higher modified endowment contract premium, but this should be easy for intermediate to advanced agents.
You won’t see Guardian strongly recommended by most independent agents for various reasons.
We work with them and include them in our recommendations as we truly feel they are a strong contender for cash accumulation strategies. They are direct recognition, but they pioneered the concept and certainly don’t let it drag them down too much.
The Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company
When it comes to size and stellar financial ratings, MassMutual has it going on. Commonly referred to within Northwestern Mutual circles as their biggest threat, MassMutual has a super competitive product and an incredible reputation in the industry.
The fact that MassMutual is non-direct recognition and has one of the industry’s highest current dividend rates makes them appear really great on paper, and they have the historical performance to back it up.
Surprisingly, they don’t devote much time to outwardly promoting whole life as an asset class.
They have a number of brochures that highlight the benefits of whole life as a college funding tool and wealth transfer vehicle, but their efforts are more here and there than the concerted and focused attempt that other companies put forth.
Despite this slight lack of direction, their product is top-notch.
For years, MetLife was sort of a “blah” company. They had the whole Snoopy thing going for them, which helps when it comes to branding (although, as we know, branding is the refuge of the weak-minded). But, they always appeared somewhat lost when it came to identity.
MetLife failed to jump on the trend embracing guaranteed universal life insurance and neglected to build a competitive universal life product.
However, they dabbled a bit with the variable annuity business, built a decently competitive product, and actually attracted a lot of money to it—perhaps more so because of their name and large distribution network.
Despite being a demutualized public company, they’ve kept their participating whole life product, which is a very rare move. But, they were often ridiculed by the true-blue mutuals for being a public company with a rather lackluster whole life product.
And then, something changed.
They rolled out this product called Promise Whole Life, and suddenly, it looked like Snoopy wanted to play whole life insurance with the big boys. We have it on pretty good authority that they designed their Promise 120 product specifically to edge Northwestern out on price—touché, Snoopy.
And then, something changed again.
MetLife underwent another renaissance just this year when they showcased three new whole life products all focused on shorter payment periods and better cash performance. We honestly didn’t expect a lot out of them, but since the products were new, we placed them into the rotation of evaluated companies—and were we ever surprised.
Their paid-up at 65 whole life product is an incredible income generator, and their 10 Pay, though much more restricted with respect to available design features compared to Guardian and MassMutual, is no slouch.
We’ve been told that MetLife spent some time recruiting executive talent to reinstate them as a strong contender in the whole life insurance space. What we’ve seen so far indicates that they made some very good hiring decisions.
Northwestern Mutual Life
We know some of you are going to raise an eyebrow at this. Northwestern Mutual made the list? The company at which we constantly poke fun? Yup, they did—and for some very good reasons.
First, let’s be clear about something.
Our contention with Northwestern is less about them functionally as a company and more about their undeserved sense of self-excellency and self-importance. Their cult-like atmosphere and disdain for other companies, particularly the smaller boutique-types that manufacture really great products, are especially annoying due in large part to the personal preferences of yours truly (some of us think numbers matter more than company kumbaya BS).
Putting aside the fact that many of their agents tend to be intellectually dishonest with themselves, Northwestern doesn’t manufacture a bad product. It may not be the best as evidenced by our personal review, but its certainly nowhere near the worst, and Northwestern at least places importance on whole life as a strong, low-risk asset.
Here’s the other thing, and I really wish every other carrier in the industry would send someone to Milwaukee to study this Northwestern jewel: they have incredible customer service.
I don’t just mean they are good at it. I actually love having to call them for something. They may not have written the book on corporate culture, and they may not have written the book on how to build the absolute best whole life product, but they certainly did write the book on how to excel at customer service, and I implore other carriers to take a page from it.
Ohio National Life
Ohio National is a company that we adore and dislike almost in equal parts. They manufacture a really great product for cash accumulation purposes, and we’d love to be able to show people what it can do, but unfortunately, we can’t.
Whoever built their policy design (aka illustration) software was either pressed for time or got fired halfway through and they decided to go with what they had.
To put it in more direct terms, their design software sucks.
Additionally annoying are strange limitations on paid-up additions that seem extremely arbitrary, though we’ve been reassured and have discovered in practice that these limitations are circumventable. Still, “Trust me, it works out better than this in practice” is a cold comfort when you are parting with several thousand of your hard-earned dollars each year.
One big red flag we’ll note here is that this company and many of its agents are in love with their Prestige Max product.
They like to suggest that it was designed to be maximum (i.e., MEC) funded without requiring the agent to do any tweaking. On top of that, it comes with this great “preferred loan” provision that reduces the policy loan interest rate to increase your potential income generation.
It sounds great, but like Guardian, Ohio National has both a strange love of one product that really is only so-so for our purposes and a better product that they often fail to mention: Prestige Xcel Plus (and the “Plus” is crucial as that’s the product that can be blended).
It’s a nasty product to design due to Ohio National’s terrible design software, but it’s where you want your money if you’re seeking cash accumulation and eventual income generation.
We remain amazed at Penn Mutual. Their career force is sitting on one of the best whole life products for cash value accumulation we’ve seen, and no one there seems to be aware of this fact.
The product is incredibly flexible, and as far as we’re aware, it has the most solidly built income-generating features.
Instead, most of their career agents are busy talking about guaranteed universal life insurance and indexed universal life insurance. There’s nothing wrong with that, and indexed universal life can certainly be a strong contender for life insurance as an asset class, but their products aren’t as superlative in either of these categories (they used to be but aren’t any more) as they are in the whole life space.
By now, someone has surely discovered the superior strength of Penn Mutual’s whole life contract—Blease data shows us that the vast majority of their whole life sales come from brokers as opposed to their career agent sales force, which is a very unique statistic when compared to other mutual companies with a career agent system.
Their paid-up additions rider is far more flexible than anyone else on the list, and with a proper design, those old worries about being committed to too large an outlay (something that has followed whole life for years) can be put to rest.
And that’s the List
Call it the lucky seven if you wish. We’d be most comfortable placing anyone’s money with these companies if cash accumulation is the key goal. It might look like we’ve snubbed certain companies, but the truth is that we’ve looked at them all and made this determination after much deliberation and real-life comparing for prospective clients.
If a company isn’t on the list, it’s either because they tend not to focus their whole life product on cash accumulation, or they simply don’t have a product that we’ve seen compete well against these seven.
Want help with setting up a policy for cash accumulation purposes? Contact us, and we’ll be happy to help you out.
We’re listing these companies in alphabetical order and not in order of who we think is the best and the worst because such designations really depend on the circumstances of the potential buyer.
We don’t necessarily find that one company is always on top, so we can’t categorically declare one better than the other. In the future, we might cut the list down to the top five or maybe even three.
For now, we wanted to answer one question: Which life insurance companies offer the best products in terms of cash accumulation?
We will be updating this list each year, so we’ll be making additions and subtractions as needed. For 2013, these are our top contenders for whole life insurance when focusing on cash accumulation or income.