Life settlement due diligence FAQs
What is a life settlement?
A life settlement is the sale of an in-force life insurance policy to a third party for an amount greater than what the insured could receive from simply canceling the policy. In return for providing the seller with a cash payment, the third-party purchaser (investor) owns the life policy, pays all premium payments going forward and eventually receives the entire death benefit at the time of the insured’s death.
How is a life settlement beneficial for the seller?
Life insurance is a necessary protection vehicle for individuals who have significant liabilities, but limited assets to pay for them. For example, young parents typically have mortgages and debt obligations but limited assets to pay for them in the event that a primary income earner were to pass away unexpectedly. A life insurance policy helps protect the family against this unforeseen event.
As these parents get older, however, their assets increase as they earn more at their jobs and save for retirement. Their liabilities also decrease as the mortgage gets paid down and children grow into adults and become financially independent. Older policy owners no longer need life insurance at that point, but have other life expenses that need to be paid while they’re still alive: healthcare, assisted living, etc.
As insureds get older, the cost of insurance on these policies also gets more expensive and often times seniors on fixed incomes can no longer afford to pay the premiums on these policies or no longer want to. Therefore, the ability to treat their insurance policy as an asset and sell it is an incredible benefit for an aging population with increasing costs of living. For senior citizens in the US, the ability to monetize their life insurance policy supports the growing life settlement market. In the absence of a life settlement market, these senior citizens would be forced to simply cancel their policy and receive almost nothing back.
Is it ethical to profit off the death of insureds?
Life settlements provide a liquidity value to insureds who want to exit a long-term policy contract that they no longer need or no longer want to continue paying for. In the absence of the life settlement market, they would be forced to either cancel the policy and walk away with nothing, or to continue paying premiums on an asset that they will never benefit from during their lifetime.
So the life settlement market provides a liquidity value that the seller wants. Many sellers in the life settlement market are upper middle class to wealthy individuals who would prefer to have cash now then to have that cash be transferred to their beneficiaries later—even if it would be more economically valuable to transfer that wealth to their beneficiaries at a later time. These sellers prefer the liquidity over the long-term economic value (and premium responsibility) of the asset. Furthermore, if the seller has paid a lot of premiums into the policy and surrenders it for nothing is a complete loss for them in spite of all the premiums they paid for it. However, if they sell it on the life settlement market and the cash received is less than the premiums they paid on the policy then the seller can claim the difference as a capital gains loss that it be used to offset other capital gains in that year or future years. So it always makes more sense for the seller to sell the policy rather than cancel it.
Life settlements are no different than life insurance companies profiting off life dependent annuities, or estate planning attorneys profiting off creating generational wealth transfer strategies for clients. All these parties are creating value for their counterparties while also profiting from the impending death of their clients.
How well regulated is the life settlement space?
Life settlements are extremely well regulated in order to protect both buyers and sellers. Life settlements are regulated in 43 states which account for 90% of the U.S. population.
What groups have invested in the life settlement space?
Alternative asset management firms have been a staunch supporter of life settlements for decades now. Over the last 20 years large institutional groups like Berkshire Hathaway, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, AIG, Fortress, and Apollo have invested billions of dollars in the asset class seeking uncorrelated assets on behalf of their investors.    
How large is the life settlement market?
It’s estimated that over $35 billion in life settlement assets are currently owned by life settlement investors (most by the large institutional type investors mentioned previously).
In terms of yearly transactions, approximately $900 million in payments flow every year from investors to individual policyowners (secondary market). 
In the tertiary market, in which existing life settlement investors sell parts of their portfolio to other existing life settlement investors, its estimated that $1 billion to $2 billion in payments exchange hands every year.
How can a life settlement investment be utilized in the context of portfolio allocation models?
Traditional portfolio allocation models involve allocating client assets between equity and bond positions in order to maximize the return of the profile relative to its risk. However, in a low-interest rate environment the yield on the bond portfolio is too low to provide any diversification benefits. Furthermore, in a rising interest rate environment the bond portion of the portfolio will take notable losses. This will result in portfolio rebalancing that will take assets away from higher earning equity assets and invest them in lower yielding bond assets. However, the lower yielding bond assets still do not provide enough yield to provide diversification benefits to the overall portfolio. Furthermore, as interest rates continue to rise these bond portfolios will continue to take losses that will result in more rebalancing efforts away from equities and into bond allocations. In order to avoid this interest rate loss, portfolio managers can shift away from long-term bonds and towards larger allocations of short-term bonds and cash. However, this also reduces the yield of the overall portfolio in an attempt to reduce volatility.
By taking a part of the long-term bond portfolio that is both low-yielding and subject to interest rate risk and allocating it to life settlement investments instead, portfolio managers get better diversification, lower correlation to equity risk, and higher overall risk-adjusted returns.
By taking assets that would be otherwise allocated to the bond portion of the portfolio (particularly the long-term bond portion) and allocating the assets to life settlements, portfolio managers can achieve higher risk-adjusted returns, greater portfolio diversification, and greater protection against interest rate risk.
What do the cashflows of a life settlement fund look like from inception of a new fund?
The cashflows of a new life settlement fund will be negative in the first few years since the expected premiums the fund needs to pay in the early years are greater than the expected death benefits the fund will receive. These negative cashflows in the early years can be paid for through either holding large cash reserves or from ongoing capital calls. In the later years, as the insureds in the portfolio get older, the expected death benefits outweigh the premiums. These positive cashflows will increase towards the life expectancy of the portfolio. After the life expectancy of the portfolio, the positive cashflows will decrease since the bulk of the death benefit payouts will already have been received.
If the fund is buying new policies every year, the expected life expectancy of the portfolio will continue to be extended. This delays the realized return since the fund is essentially reinvesting the cashflows into new policy investments and turns the cashflow stream into a de facto deferred annuity.
If a life settlement fund invests all its capital in year 1 only (blue line), then it will have a small negative cashflow period and then immediately start returning positive cashflows that ultimately peak at the original life expectancy of the portfolio and then decrease as most of the insureds in the portfolio will have died by the later years. This is the fastest way to get return of principal and gains.
If the fund is continually buying new policies every year (orange line), then it is essentially reinvesting its proceeds into new policies which delays the return of positive cashflows and turns the investment into a deferred annuity type of investment that eventually provides a steady yield every year (which can then be used to meet redemption requests).
Another issue that should be considered with ongoing yearly life settlement investments is the taxation issue. If the fund has positive cashflows due to maturities and chooses to reinvest the proceeds into new life settlement investments—as is the case with open-ended funds—then the investors will receive a K1 with a taxable gain without having received a distribution (since the proceeds were reinvested).
What do the gross and net returns of a life settlement fund look like?
Life settlement investments are purchased by investors at gross rates of 13%-15%. After expenses, this amounts to a 9%-11% net return in the private fund space. The total return of the fund consists of unrealized capital appreciation (increasing value of the assets as the portfolio gets older) and realized returns which consist of death benefit payouts on the portfolio.
As discussed above, in the early years of a life settlement fund the yield portion of this return is negative/low. This means that in the early years the entire return of the fund is based on the unrealized capital appreciation of the fund—in other words how the assets are being valued. As the portfolio matures, the total return stops being entirely dependent on the valuation of the assets and more on the realized returns as the portfolio turns cashflow positive.
What are the typical management and performance fees of life settlement funds?
There are currently no life settlement interval funds. All of the life settlement funds are private Reg D funds that are either open-ended or closed-ended.
Open-ended life settlement funds typically charge a management fee of 1.5-2% of NAV and a performance fee of 10%-20% of NAV (almost exclusively based on unrealized NAV gains every year). The minimum investment is typically $100k-$250k per investor. Typically open-ended funds will have a two year lock-up period and then allow investors to redeem quarterly subject to a gate.
Closed-end life settlement funds typically charge a management fee of 1-1.5% of committed capital (not NAV) and 10%-15% performance fee (based either on realized gains or on unrealized NAV gains every year). While closed-end funds offer better investment terms for investors, the minimum capital contribution is typically in the $5M-$10M range. Furthermore, these structures are often 10 year lockups with no liquidity.
What are the tax considerations for gains for investors in a life settlement fund?
Life settlement funds realize gains in two ways: selling a policy on the tertiary market (to another life settlement investor) or when insureds on the policies pass away. Selling a policy for a gain or loss results in capital gains or losses for the fund. If an insured on the policy passes away, then that qualifies as ordinary income. Since most gains on the policies will result from insureds on the policy passing away.
Furthermore, if the fund achieves a net gain through policy maturities and then reinvests the proceeds back into the fund to buy new policies instead of distributing the gain to investors, then investors will have a taxable gain for the year without having a distribution to pay for it.
How can taxes on gains be minimized?
Taxes on the gains of life settlement funds can be minimized through a couple of ways: offshore feeder funds that turn ordinary income gains into qualified dividends, “in-kind” and retained death benefit transactions which increase the tax-basis and reduce taxable gain, and private placement life insurance which eliminates the taxes completely for qualified purchasers.
Why is it important to consider expense ratios and tax-efficiency holistically?
Some funds have significantly larger expense ratios than others, whereas others are more tax-efficient. If a fund has a smaller expense ratio, but is tax-inefficient, the lower expense ratio might not offset the higher taxes owed on the gains. Conversely if a fund is tax-efficient, but has high expense ratios, the tax-efficiency of the funds might not offset the larger expense ratio.
What is the difference between a life settlement interval fund and a life settlement tender offer fund and why is a tender offer fund a better fit for a life settlement fund?
While both interval funds and tender offer funds are 40 Act funds, there are two key differences between the two:
1) Interval funds have minimum redemption and liquidity requirements while tender offer funds have no minimum redemption and liquidity requirements.
Interval funds have a 5% minimum redemption offering per redemption period. In other words, if an interval fund offers quarterly redemptions then it needs to hold 5% of its NAV in highly liquid securities at all times. If investors choose to redeem the full 5% every quarter, then the interval fund needs to move 5% of its assets away from its core strategy into the highly liquid strategy every quarter. Since life settlements have a high bid/ask spread, liquidating a long-term asset like this invariably results in a loss of future returns for the investors that want to stay in the fund. So the desired liquidity of those who want to exit hurts those who want to stay.
A tender offer fund has no such liquidity or redemption requirements. Instead, tender offer funds allow the fund manager to choose the redemption percentage and frequency based on the cashflows of the fund. In the case of life settlements, this would allow the fund manager to have no liquidity in the early years when the cashflow from the portfolio is negative and large redemption percentages and more frequent redemption opportunities in the later years when cashflows are positive. This allows better matching between the incoming positive cashflows from maturities and offering liquidity to investors without having to sell assets at large discounts in order to meet this liquidity.
2) Interval funds allow funds to easily expand in the future by selling more shares, whereas if tender offer funds wish to sell new shares in the fund it involves a much more complicated process.
If an interval fund wishes to raise new capital in the future, it can easily go back to the market and sell shares at the current NAV. This can be valuable for a fund that is looking to increase its AUM or take advantage of sudden large investment opportunities that might materialize on short notice (eg large life settlement portfolios that become available). However, for a tender offer fund to sell more shares it has to have the process be approved by the SEC beforehand.
Therefore, for fund managers that are looking to grow a large life settlement fund an interval fund allows the maximum benefit of “open-end” features of a fund that allow it to easily scale by selling new shares in order to raise new capital. However, in exchange for this flexibility in selling new shares and raising new capital, interval funds need to maintain the required liquidity levels which means assets need to be diverted away from its core strategy to maintain this liquidity.
Tender-offer funds offer the maximum benefit of the “closed-end” features of a fund by letting the life settlement fund manager and board of directors dictate what the redemption availability for the fund is based on the cashflows and performance of the fund. Furthermore there are no liquidity requirements for the fund regardless of what the redemption availability is. In exchange for this flexibility in offering liquidity and redemptions to investors, fund managers of tender offer funds have less flexibility in offering new shares in the future.
A tender offer fund allows the simplest way to deploy a defined amount of capital without worrying about liquidity and redemption requirements that exceed the capability of the underlying asset. This allows the life settlement fund manager to focus on managing its core strategy. Since an interval fund requires significantly more effort in managing liquidity and redemption requirements—often times requiring management of a complementary liquid but lower, yielding asset strategy—the management costs and expenses may run higher and the returns may be lower.
For a good overview of interval funds versus tender offer funds I would recommend this article from Ultimus, a fund administrator for interval and tender offer funds, and this article from IntervalFunds.org which provides ongoing news in the interval fund space. 
For those who prefer the interval fund structure over the tender fund structure, how can a life settlement interval fund structure be properly tailored to improve returns?
For life settlement investors who prefer the interval fund structure, the goal is to tailor the structure to minimize the effects of providing liquidity on the fund manager and long-term strategy of the fund. Fund managers can do this in two key ways:
1) Limit frequency and magnitude of redemptions in the early years and increase them in the later years
As discussed previously, life settlements are not cash flow positive in the early years. As such, it’s important that the fund limit liquidity in the early years of the fund so that it doesn’t have to liquidate assets or allocate assets to lower-yielding, but more liquid strategies. The minimum threshold for interval funds is 5% annually. Once the fund turns cashflow positive this can be increased to 5%-10% semi-annually (for a total of 10%-20% a year).
2) Utilize future capital commitments to meet liquidity requirements
Instead of allocating capital to lower-earning strategies in order to meet liquidity requirements, life settlement funds can plan to utilize future capital commitments to meet the desired liquidity requirements. For example, if a fund needs to meet a 10% liquidity requirement at the end of year 1, the fund can structure capital calls so that capital flows into the fund at the end of quarter 3 in order to meet the repurchase offer at the end of year 1. This limits the need for the life settlement fund manager to take assets away from its premium reserve (which are needed to pay future premium liabilities) or sell assets at discounts.
Life Settlement Fund Risks
How reliable are life expectancy estimates and the methodology behind them?
The underwriting methodology used to determine the life expectancy and mortality assumptions for the life settlement industry were initially adopted from the life insurance industry. While there were notable differences between the two industries that were not properly accounted for at inception—namely anti-selection, wealth effects, comorbidity issues, etc—which I largely critiqued at the time—these have been addressed and significantly more statistical rigor is applied to the methodology than in previous years.
That being said life expectancies are accurate en masse with many thousands of lives. Smaller portfolios will have a lot more volatility around this expectancy. That’s why model risk, tail risk, and other variables are more important to consider so that the fund can acquire policies at a price that reflects the risk and not just the life expectancy.
What is the difference between realized and unrealized returns and why is this important?
The total return of a life settlement fund consists of unrealized capital appreciation (increasing value of the assets as the portfolio gets older) and realized returns which consist of death benefit payouts on the portfolio. A new life settlement fund that is just buying policies will have its entire return consist of unrealized capital appreciation since the cashflows are negative in the early years. However, as time goes on the portfolio matures and the bulk of the return should be in the form of realized returns. A large, mature life settlement fund that has low realized returns and high unrealized returns should be an immediate red flag as it indicates the fund is not cashflow positive but is valuing the assets at a high value that may not be reflective of the true market value of the policies. Analogously a new life settlement fund that is actively buying policies can use valuation tactics to show large unrealized returns in its early years to help it raise capital.
Therefore, it’s important to evaluate the funds and the share of unrealized and realized gains they are reporting in relation to its size.
How can a fund’s valuation policies hurt long-term investor returns?
Individual life settlement policies are difficult to accurately value as they require using population statistics and practices to value an individual asset. This can result in life settlement funds using tactics that show large immediate unrealized gains at the expense of long-term performance all while charging management and performance fees on unrealized gains. I wrote about this problem here. To offer a simplified example, imagine a life settlement fund gets two life expectancies from two different life expectancy companies for a policy and they only need to use one to value the asset on its books. Let’s say one life expectancy (LE) is at 24 months and the other is at 48 months. The blend of the two is therefore at 36 months. The value of the policies at these life expectancies is shown below:
If the market value of the policy is the 36 month LE price of $900k, the fund can pay $900k and only use the 24 month LE for valuation purposes. Since the 24 month LE price is $1,000,000, by doing this the fund gets to post a $100k unrealized gain.
As the above table shows, the longer the LE is the lower the value of the policy. Since there are two LEs, the 24 month and the 48 month LE, the market typically will blend the two and use the 36 month LE to set the market price ($900k). However, if the valuation policy only requires 1 LE to be used, then the purchase the policy for the market price of $900k and then use the 24 month LE valuation price of $1,000,000 to report an immediate $100k unrealized gain on its books. This hurts long-term investors since the expected LE is at 36 months and the long-term investors will lose this $100k unrealized gain when the insured actually matures since they already booked the gain early.
This problem with valuation can induce fund managers (and brokers and providers selling policies to fund manages) to hide LEs or only buy policies that they can immediately report a gain—as opposed to policies that have underlying long-term value.
Are any parts of the return profile of a life settlement fund correlated to equity or interest rate markets?
The underlying cashflows are based on insurance and mortality risk and the fund managers ability to manage this. These cashflows are not tied to economic conditions. However, the discount rate applied to these cashflows is tied to economic conditions—namely supply and demand for overall investment. For example in the mid-2000s when demand for investment was high, discount rates for these cashflows were 8%-12%. However, after the global financial crisis of 2008 capital pulled out of all markets including life settlements. The investors who remained demanded higher rates of return. This caused discount rates in 2010-2011 to skyrocket to north of 20%. Much like bond prices, when the discount rate on these cashflows increase, the market value of these assets declines. This large increase in the discount rate caused an immediate and large write-down on the market value of these assets even though the underlying cashflows didn’t change. This causes a problem for existing investors who wish to liquidate the investment but now would have to exit at low prices. However, it also offers an opportunity for new investors to enter the space at depressed prices.
What is Colva’s perspective on life settlement discount rates going forward?
As discussed previously, the life settlement discount rate is a function of supply and demand. Over the last 5-6 years demand in the life settlement space has largely increased in the wake of high P/E ratios in the equity markets and low interest rates in the bond markets. This increase in demand has caused discount rates to drop to 13%-15% from a high of 20%+ in 2010-2011 after the global financial crisis.
Since 2015 secondary market transactions (transactions between individual policy owners and life settlement investors) have increased in volume to a billion dollars changing hands between sellers (policyowners) and buyers (life settlement investors). Another $1 to $2 billion changes hands on the tertiary market (life settlement investor selling to another life settlement investor).
Source: Life Settlement Deal 
*2021 Volume estimated
Increasing demand for life settlements over the past 6 years have slowly pushed life settlement discount rates down. However the risk premium over both high quality and high yield debt still remains high
Source: AAP6, FedReserve
Over the next few years we would expect the discount rates to stay in the 12%-15% range.
What are the differences between choosing a selective strategy with a smaller fund versus maximizing capital deployment with a larger one?
A smaller life settlement fund that limits the capital it deploys in a year can focus on cherry picking individual policies that are undervalued in the market which results in high gross returns on the assets being purchased but then has higher expense ratios since the AUM is smaller and the fund can’t benefit as much from economies of scale. A smaller fund also has larger volatility around its mean since there are less policies to diversify the risk.
A large fund that actively seeks to deploy large amounts of capital a year is forced to acquire portfolios en masse which means the fund has less opportunity to do due diligence and cherry pick policies and is fundamentally competing on price with limited information. This means the assets will typically be acquired at lower gross discount rates. However, a larger fund benefits from lower expense ratios since it can spread its expenses over a larger AUM.
Sample life settlement funds of various sizes
A smaller deployment allows for the ability to cherry pick policies at high expected gross returns, but also has a higher expense ratio as a % of NAV due to the smaller AUM in addition to larger volatility due to a smaller pool of policies.
A larger deployment acquires policies at a lower gross discount rate due to increased competition, but benefits from economies of scale and lower volatility from a larger pool of policies.
Colva’s Competitive Advantages
Who is Colva?
Colva Capital (https://colvacapital.com/) was founded in 2021 as Colva prepared to launch its life settlement investment initiatives. It was founded by Rajiv Rebello, the founder and Chief Actuary of Colva Actuarial Services which provides life insurance and life settlement skills to investment groups that actively invest in the life settlement space as well as to RIAs that utilize insurance as a financial planning tool and law firms that litigate unlawful cost of insurance increases.
Rajiv launched Colva Actuarial Services in 2011 and developed proprietary software for the industry that addressed deficiencies in the one-size-fit-all software that was prevalent at the time. This software helps quickly identify and value complicated features of life insurance policies that allows investors to acquire undervalued policies.
Prior to founding Colva, Rajiv worked at AIG/Chartis helping to manage their 6,000 policy life settlement portfolio with over $18 billion dollars in face. Rajiv began his career as an actuary at New York Life helping to evaluate the mortality assumptions and to design their Universal Life and Variable Universal Life products.
Colva Capital currently consists of Rajiv and three other full-time employees that are actuaries/engineers that help run Colva’s software and provide actuarial knowledge and analytics to existing investors in the space. Since 2011 Colva’s team has helped investors analyze over 10,000 policies. Colva has also utilized its in-depth actuarial and insurance knowledge to serve as actuarial specialists against life insurance companies that have erroneously or illegally charged excessive costs on their policies.
Colva also has a part-time marketing and part-time SEO contractor.
How can qualified purchasers use private placement life insurance to invest in life settlements tax-free?
Private placement life insurance (PPLI) allows RIAs to set-up separately managed accounts for its clients who are qualified purchasers. This allows the ability for these clients to invest in life settlements through the PPLI vehicle and turn the tax-inefficient returns of life settlements into a tax-free return for clients. This also allows the RIA to charge their fee on all the assets from within the vehicle the same way they would do for a Roth IRA.
To learn more about private placement read our white paper here: Improving after-tax, after-advisory returns for UHNW clients through private placement life insurance.
What are the various ways in which Colva’s skill sets can benefit investors long-term?
Colva has 4 main ways it aims to add value to its investors: in-depth actuarial and insurance experience, cost-efficient vertical integration, tax-efficient planning, and individual review of mortality records and application of mortality data and expertise.
In-depth actuarial and insurance experience
Colva prides itself on having the most in depth actuarial and insurance experience in the life settlement space. Most life settlement funds have very little in-depth insurance experience and merely use one size fits-all practices in the acquisition of policies. This experience allows us to both cherry pick undervalued policies as well as structure investments in the space to both minimize tail risk and investor tax liabilities.
Cost-efficient vertical integration
At Colva we’ve built everything from the ground-up: specialized software, highly trained actuarial professionals, and back-end servicing processes and databases. Most life settlement funds typically outsource these responsibilities to groups that have significantly less experience than us. In fact, a good amount of our clientele has come from groups that used our competitors for these services and then came to us due to our higher level of ability and service.
Colva understands the tax-inefficient nature of life settlement returns. It has worked with funds and fund administrators to make the asset class more tax-efficient through the use of offshore and onshore feeder funds, in-kind acquisitions, private placement life insurance, and general structuring of policy acquisitions.
Individual review of medical records, life expectancies, and actual-to-expected life expectancy data
Colva does an individual review of medical records and life expectancy reports. While life expectancies are accurate across a large set of population data, on individual cases there can be volatility around this life expectancy. As such it’s important to do reviews of medical records and life expectancy reports on an individual level especially when there is a large variance between two life expectancies. Furthermore, Colva has actual-to-life expected data so that we can determine how accurate the life expectancies for a given condition have been on a population level. We use this in combination with the underlying tail risk of the policy to make a decision whether to acquire the policy—and if so how to structure the investment to minimize the tail risk.
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