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Journal Article

The Titanic Option: Valuation of the Guaranteed Minimum Death Benefit in Variable Annuities and Mutual Funds

Moshe Arye Milevsky and Steven E. Posner
The Journal of Risk and Insurance
Vol. 68, No. 1 (Mar., 2001), pp. 93-128
DOI: 10.2307/2678133
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2678133
Page Count: 36
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The Titanic Option: Valuation of the Guaranteed Minimum Death Benefit in Variable Annuities and Mutual Funds
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Abstract

The authors use risk-neutral option pricing theory to value the guaranteed minimum death benefit (GMDB) in variable annuities (VAs) and some recently introduced mutual funds. A variety of death benefits, such as return-of-premium, rising floors, and "ratches," are analyzed. Specifically, the authors compute the fair insurance risk fee, charged to assets, that funds the embedded option. The authors derive analytic option prices for a simplified exponential mortality model and robust numerical estimates in the case of a properly calibrated Gompertz model. The authors label this contingent claim a Titanic option because its payoff structure is in between European and American style but is triggered by death. The authors' main objective is to compare theoretical estimates against a cross-section of insurance risk charges, as reported by Morningstar, Inc. The authors' main conclusion is that a simple return-of-premium death benefit is worth between one and ten basis points, depending on gender, purchase age, and asset volatility. In contrast, the median Mortality and Expense risk charge for return-of-premium variable annuities is 115 basis points. Presumably, the remaining markup can be attributed to profits, model imperfections, or, more cynically, to an implicit payment for the tax-deferral privilege.

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