VULs versus UITFs and mutual funds
Pooled funds such as unit investment trust funds (UITFs) and mutual funds have become popular investing vehicles for Filipinos. Insurance companies have jumped on the bandwagon with variable unit-linked life insurance products, or VULs, which have been driving the growth of their industry, thanks to potentially higher returns than traditional policies. Unit-linked insurance (also called variable universal life insurance) offers the security of insurance protection via term coverage, together with the opportunity to participate in potentially unlimited growth via mutual fund investments.
Suddenly, life insurance has been given a face-lift of sorts, becoming more attractive to more and more consumers. But with mutual fund companies and trust departments vying for your savings, which one should you choose? The main selling point for variable life insurance is that “you get the best of both worlds.” That is, you get protection coverage and capital appreciation through the convenience of just one product. Ironically, this can be a double-edge sword – the advantage can be a disadvantage. There are two arguments to consider:
Argument against VULs: You get the best of both worlds … but your money doesn’t work as hard. If your premiums pay for insurance and investment, this then begs the question of whether you should even bother with the protection element instead of simply putting your money in standalone investment funds.
With mutual funds and UITFs, the entire sum, save for the sales load in front-end transactions, is invested in the fund of choice. With variable universal life insurance, your money is allocated towards paying for the insurance coverage and purchasing shares of the investment fund you wish to participate in. Under this setup, it would appear that investing purely in pure investment funds has an edge, as everything is put in the pot for growth and appreciation.
Argument for VULs: You get the best of both worlds … and can actually produce higher returns. However, there’s another way of looking at this. While VULs may split your resources in two, resulting in a smaller amount being diverted to the investment portion, if for some unforeseen event, you suffer from a disability or accident or – heaven forbid – you lose your life, your insurance benefits will kick in. It may sound morbid and insensitive, but the return on your investment can’t be matched by any other pooled investment.
If you avail of a host of benefits known as riders, such as critical illness or accidental dismemberment, you get sums over and above the basic life insurance coverage for the treatment of dreaded diseases or compensation for a disability resulting from an accident.
In the long run, a dedicated fund for such contingencies may be one of the most economical hedges against unforeseen health-related expenses. Such need-specific riders are only available as add-ons to unit-linked products – something that cannot be done with pure mutual funds. That said, what you stand to earn in a mutual fund placement may only wind up depleted by the very same contingencies the above riders can help provide for.
The bottom line is that there is a place for both unit-linked products and standalone investment funds. We need only to remember one of the basic principles of investing, and that is diversification. Whether you are single, married, with or without dependents, there is merit in investing in life insurance products that offer both protection against various contingencies as well as competitive returns. Beyond that, there is also an argument for investing in pure growth instruments such as mutual funds. One does not necessarily take the place of the other. Instead, both are sound alternatives to take advantage of in the constant fight against uncertainties, inflation, and catastrophic events.
(This article is from MoneySense, the country’s first and only personal finance magazine. Visit www.moneysense.com.ph for more.)