Bank-owned life insurance (BOLI) continues to be an attractive investment alternative for banks, given the number of banks that hold policies and high retention rates across the industries. An increasing percentage of banks hold BOLI, many of them using the policies as an important part of their compensation and retention strategies for key personnel.
A significant industry trend driving interest in BOLI is their use by banks in compensation strategies to attract and retain the best talent. Bank management and boards of directors are reevaluating their existing compensation plans and strategically implementing new ones in order to retain key executives given increasing competition for scarce talent.
BOLI assets reached $171.16 billion at the end of 2018, growing 2 percent year-over-year, according to the Equias Alliance/Michael White Bank-Owned Life Insurance (BOLI) Holdings Report. Sixty-four percent of banks reported holding BOLI assets; about 71 percent of banks with more than $100 million in assets owned BOLI. Most BOLI purchased is by banks that hold existing policies; of those banks, more than half have purchased BOLI as an add-on for a current group of executives. In 2018, about 86 percent of new premiums were invested in general account products, compared to hybrid and separate account products, according to IBIS Associates.
Although the pace of BOLI purchases slowed last year compared to 2017, purchases exceeded $1.7 billion and were steady throughout 2018. The reasons for slower BOLI purchases were due to continued strong loan demand that reduced bank liquidity and the reduction in the tax-equivalent yield on BOLI following the federal corporate tax cut.
Credited interest rates and net yields, the crediting rate minus the cost of insurance charges, on new BOLI purchases are expected be similar to 2018 figures. The interest rates that carriers can obtain on investment-grade securities held for between five and 10 years has remained relatively flat, given the modest increases in this portion of the yield curve. Corporate bonds usually comprise the largest holding in the portfolio, but it can also include commercial mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, private placements, government and municipal bonds, a small percentage of non-investment grade bonds and other holdings.
BOLI plans fund many of the most common retention plans, which can include supplemental executive retirement plans, deferred compensation plans, split-dollar plans and survivor income plans. Additionally, some banks are using deferred compensation plans to create flexibility in designing plans to retain young “up and coming” officers. Unlike a supplemental executive plan, which provides a specific benefit at a specific date or age, a deferred compensation plan allows the bank to make contributions to the executive’s account using a fixed dollar amount, fixed percentage of salary or bonus or a variable amount based on performance. A deferred compensation plan also permits voluntary deferrals of compensation, which could be valuable to executives who would prefer to defer more compensation but are limited in the 401(k) plans.
BOLI financing helps offset and recover some or all of the expenses for the employer. For example, a bank provides an officer with supplemental retirement benefits of $50,000 per year for 15 years, for a total cost of $750,000. The bank could purchase a BOLI policy on the officer with a net death benefit of $1 million to $2 million that would allow it to recover the cost of the paid benefits, as well as a return on its premium.
We expect that community banks will continue to implement these types of nonqualified benefit plans in 2019, using BOLI to help attract and retain key personnel.