Valuing Variable Annuities with Guaranteed Minimum Lifetime Withdrawal Benefits

Petra Steinorth and Olivia S. Mitchell

Abstract — This paper examines variable annuities (VA) that include a guaranteed minimum withdrawal lifetime benefit (GWLB). For a risk-averse retiree, we show that the basic VA/GWLB is unlikely to induce systematic withdrawals early in retirement, while it also provides useful protection in the case of extreme longevity. The typical VA/GWLB increases utility compared to not annuitizing, though its money’s worth ratio is slightly lower than not annuitizing. The individual’s portfolio mix elected within the VA has the greatest impact on the valuation of the product, mattering much more than fees or mortality. Having a GWLB prompts riskier portfolio choices up to the point where insurers must restrict the risky share so as to protect solvency.