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Independent Review of the Athene Balanced Choice Annuity (BCA) Elevate Fixed Indexed Annuity – [February 2019 Update]

What’s covered in this Review?

In this review, we’ll cover the following information on the BCA Elevate Fixed Indexed Annuity

  • Product TypeIndependent Review of the BCA
  • Fees
  • Current Rates
  • Realistic long term investment expectations
  • What to expect, and what not to expect

The Balanced Choice Annuity Elevate (BCA Elevate) is a Fixed Indexed Annuity (FIA) that offers racy indexing options for investors who are looking to park their income money where it can earn more secure returns. A Fixed Index Annuity (FIA) is a simple contract between you and an insurance company, but it’s often called a hybrid annuity because it can do two things: protect and grow.

The real engine under the hood of this annuity lies in its ability to give you growth based on the performance of an underlying index, which means it has the potential to keep up with inflation. But as the name of this annuity implies, the BCA Elevate seeks to lift your expectations about what an annuity can do. Does it really deliver on its promises?

Let’s find out.

Proponents of the FIA often talk about their ability to give investors upside potential with downside protection, and while the BCA Elevate can do that, it should not be looked at as the one solution to all your retirement concerns.

Critics of the FIA tend to complain that these annuities are way too complicated, and yes, the BCA Elevate comes with a suitcase full of jargon. Fancy acronyms such as the BAS strategy, the BAV balance, the AGO and, the FER might have you frantically flipping through the glossary that comes with the product description just to figure out what the heck they are talking about. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Annuity and Retirement Income Planning Information That You Can Trust

If you’re looking for the most comprehensive and easy-to-understand reviews of annuities available on the Internet today, then congrats, you’ve found the right place.

Welcome to Annuity Gator.

Who we are: A team of experienced financial professionals and dare-we-say-it annuity geeks who enjoy reading the small print on annuity sales pieces, propaganda, and prospectus.

What we do: We are dedicated to educating and informing investors like yourself, because we believe hard-working individuals deserve to know the facts. Studies have shown that an informed investor is a smarter investor, and smart choices lead to a more relaxed retirement. And isn’t that what you’ve been working so hard to achieve?

Why we do this:  We all have parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles who are at or near the time of retirement, and many of them, like you, are confused about what to do with their retirement savings. Commercials, advertisements, and financial salespeople have been known to make annuities sound like the silver-bullet solution. You’ve probably heard fantastic claims such as:

  • Highest Payouts
  • Lowest Fees
  • Top-Rated Companies
  • Guaranteed Income For Life
  • Get Your Quote Now!
  • Get 7-8% Returns With NO Market Risk

Do these claims give you the full picture?

Nope.

Annuities, in general, are complicated investments with riders and growth options and even multiple accounts that can get really confusing and sometimes even expensive, especially if you don’t know what to look for or what questions to ask.

If you want to understand how a particular annuity works, what it’s designed to do, and how it does it, then keep reading. Annuities in of themselves are not bad – you just have to understand what they do and how they do it. And you really want to know what kind of annuity you are getting into and how much it will cost before you buy.

It all depends on your goals. If income is your goal and we happen to know of a better income-producer for your situation, then we’ll tell you. If guaranteed protection is your goal and this annuity charges too much for it, we’ll give you our professional opinion.

This review is here to help you figure out if an annuity is the right one for your income needs and lifestyle goals. Let us read the fine print (because we enjoy it!) and then you can read our findings (it won’t be as boring!) so you can decide for yourself whether or not a particular annuity can be of help to you.

Ready to get smarter? Let’s go!

BCA Elevate Fixed Indexed Annuity at a Glance:

Product NameBCA Elevate
IssuerAthene USA (a subsidiary of Athene Holding Ltd.)
Type of ProductFixed Indexed Annuity
S&P RatingA
Phone Number(888) 266-8489
Websitehttps://www.athene.com

Opening Thoughts on the Athene BCA Elevate

If you’ve heard the name Athene, it could be that it’s because this is one of the fastest-growing fixed index annuities companies in the industry right now. As of early 2019, Athene more than 815,000 policies in force – and growing.

Financially, Athene is strong and stable, with its parent company – Athene Holding Ltd. – having nearly $100 billion in total assets. In addition to it’s a rating from S&P, Athene has also earned an A rating from A.M. best and an A- rating from Fitch.

The need for annuities – which are always backed by life insurance companies – has been growing since more and more of today’s workers are retiring without traditional pensions. If you have a defined-benefit contribution plan such as an IRA or 401(k), then you want to carefully consider what you will do with this money to make sure that it lasts. Fixed Indexed Annuities like this one are often sold as the answer because they give you the benefits of more than one kind of annuity, meaning they give you benefits offered by both fixed and variable annuities:

downside protection of fixed annuities + varied returns like a variable annuity =  FIA

What gets tricky to figure out with these FIAs is the indexing method used to credit this variable growth option. The BCA Elevate – which is actually offered by Annexus – has what they call a Balanced Allocation Strategy (BAS) that uses a formula combining an index allocation and (if you so choose) a declared rate allocation. Your interest rate growth is dependent on a combination of the growth strategy on the index you choose and on the declared rate allocation under the strategy you choose.

Confused? Don’t worry, so are we. The BCA Elevate has managed to elevate the complexity of the already complicated FIA to new heights. Wow.

The BCA does, however, have a few notable offerings:

  • A “free” income rider option
  • An up to 6% Income Base Bonus
  • Access to “name brand” indexing strategies that offer risk control and a monthly re-allocation process.
  • 160% Income Base growth, if any, every two years for 10 years

To help shed some light on the complexity, let’s dig into the terms used by BCA Elevate to describe their fancy-schmancy FIA. Here are the cliff notes:

When you elect an income rider or a death benefit rider (to grow the money for your legacy), Athene will invest the money you put into the contract, and then it creates a separate account. This separate account grows at a different rate than your regular account. BCA Elevate calls this special account the Income Base and the regular account is the Accumulated Value.

The Minimum Guaranteed Contract Value or MVA is the guaranteed lowest amount that your Accumulated Value or actual contract value will not fall below.

The Return of Premium Guarantee – this is interesting folks –is the amount that the insurance company promises your cash surrender value will be worth if you follow all the rules. This promise includes the money you paid into the contract PLUS any step-up bonuses and applicable premiums (minus any withdrawals, obviously).  This is important because the fancy strategies used for the indexing feature in the BCA does come with chargers in addition to the rider charge. This guarantee says that if you don’t earn enough interest using these fancy indexing methods to cover the fees and charges, then at least you’ll get your money back.

Hmmmm . . . kinda makes you wonder why they need to put this guarantee in place, doesn’t it?

But first, here is what you need to know about the two accounts created when you select the income rider option.

The Accumulated Value is the actual value of your annuity policy

  • If you surrender the policy, this is the cash surrender value.
  • When you make a withdrawal, the money comes out of this account.
  • When you receive an income payment, the money comes out of this account.
  • If you have purchased certain income rider guarantees, and this account value falls to ZERO, then you can still get your paycheck for the rest of your life, no matter how long you live. (Happy face.)

The Income Base is the value of the account created by the purchase of the income rider.

  • This account is used to determine your income amount.
  • This account is also used to calculate the rider charge (because it is usually the larger of the two accounts.)
  • This account is the one that receives any bonus money and the 160% BCA Elevate Interest Earnings, (if any) every two years.
  • The money in this account is NOT money that you can take out as a lump sum to buy a new car with, go to Hawaii, or put a down payment on a new house.
  • The money in this account does NOT have a cash value or a surrender value – so if you cash out the annuity before taking income, this money doesn’t exist. (Sad face.)
  • The money in this account CAN be accessed as a lifetime income payment.
  • If you take out MORE than the income amount specified, then your guaranteed lifetime income benefits could be canceled.

These are just some things you want to be aware of before you buy into any annuity with an income rider because the returns earned by the rider are on the money used to calculate your income payments. This isn’t always accurately explained to consumers. So now you know.

All of this information is further outlined in the Athene Elevate brochure, which can actually be found online by going HERE.

Because rates are not always duly updated online, you can chat with one of our Annuity Gator specialists if you are interested in rates, or in any related information that may be found on a BCA Elevate rate sheet.

Next, we will peek under the hood of the investment engine, but first, a few pithy words from our legal department . . .

This is an independent product review, not a recommendation to buy or sell an annuity.  Athene USA has not endorsed this review in any way nor do we receive any compensation for this review.  This review is meant to be an independent review at the request of readers so they could see our perspective when breaking down the positives and negatives of this particular model annuity.  Before purchasing any investment product be sure to do your own due diligence and consult a properly licensed professional should you have specific questions as they relate to your individual circumstances.  All names, marks, and materials used for this review are the property of their respective owners.

How Athene Describes the BCA Elevate Fixed Indexed Annuity.

BCA Elevate describes the benefits and features of this annuity in their brochures as follows:

  • *Growth: based on positive changes in an index over a two-year term.
  • *Protection:  investment strategies that protect you from downside market risk.
  • *Guarantees: for your lifetime income or your future legacy – the choice is yours.

There are other benefits offered such as the ability to track your daily values and lock in positive performance every two years, but we will go into some of that later. If you want to read the BCA Elevate brochures that go into greater depth about their indexing strategies, you can go HERE.

How Annuity Sales Agents  Might “Pitch” This Annuity to You

It’s been said that when all you sell are hammers, everything looks like a nail. This might also be true of financial salespeople who only sell annuities. However, that doesn’t mean the hammer isn’t a good and useful tool. You just have to understand its limitations.

Here are the three main concepts you might hear over-enthusiastic financial salespeople talk about when they sell this FIA to you, followed by an explanation of what that actually looks like in real life.

  • This annuity earns higher returns than other annuities plus your returns are “locked –in.”
  • You’ll get bonus money and bonus interest just for signing up.
  • This annuity can give you more income than other annuities.

First, let’s take a look at the performance. When financial salespeople talk about the indexing performance of an FIA, what they are usually talking about is the enhanced growth rate you get with the purchase of an income rider. The BCA Elevate offers a free income rider option; however, there are fees for the indexing strategies.

Unique to the BCA Elevate are several designer indexing features that use recognized brand names and leaders in the financial industry to add value and girth to the indices. You might think of these as the fireworks of the annuity. For example, investors might choose the index option featuring the “most innovative investment bank in America.” Oooooo.

Or, you might go for the Shiller Barclays CAPE US Sector Risk Controlled index that uses market sector selection to identify the strength and weakness of certain market sectors, and then every year, it adjusts investment selections accordingly. Ahhhhhh.

Does any of this mean that you will get a better income? Maybe. Or maybe not. It’s the market, so who knows what the market will do? BCA Elevate uses hypothetical illustrations for their returns based on backtesting, and because this is such a new product, there’s no way to really know how the indexes will perform in real time. The premium bonus step-up rates vary from state to state, and some of them drop or change after a certain period of time, so be sure to ask your financial advisor when the rates will change.

What we do know is that the BCA Elevate locks in your returns every two years, which means at the end of a two-year period, it looks at where you are and then locks in any growth. But this means there can be periods of zero gain between the two-year locking periods.

Bottom Line: This is one FIA that depends on market performance in order to get a good guaranteed income, so if income is on your mind, you should know there may be better FIAs out there.  Some of them lock-in returns every year instead of every two years, and still, others don’t charge you anything for their indexing strategies.

If you’re confused about the indexing methods inside the FIA you are considering, feel free to reach out to us – we’re here to answer your questions and point you in the right direction, free of charge.

What About the Fees?

There is good news and bad news about the fees with the BCA Elevate. Let’s start with the good news.

Let us tell you what fees this annuity does NOT have. It does NOT charge a mortality and expense risk fee, a front-load fee, or a fee for professionally managed options or operating expenses for mutual funds and investments inside the annuity. Nope – it doesn’t have any of that. (If you already own an annuity that does charge these fees, you might have the variable kind – go here to find out more).

Now for the bad news:

The Athene BCA does have an annual strategy charge. This charge varies depending on what state you live in, but it seems to range from 0% to 1.5%. The BAS may also charge an annual strategy charge which is calculated by multiplying the Accumulation Value and a strategy charge rate on every contract anniversary. What’s really interesting is that a portion of that charge (1/12th) is deducted from the Accumulation Value each month.

Next, you have the rider charges themselves. Now there is a free rider offered by the BCA Elevate called the Accelerated Growth Option (the AGO.) It must be elected when you sign up, and it is subject to a minimum age requirement. On the 10th contract anniversary, you may elect to extend the AGO, at which time a rider charge may apply. The rider charges for the BCA Elevate range from 0% to 1.25%.

What does all of this mean to you? Here is a breakdown of all the fees:

  • M&E: 0%
  • Administrative Charge: 0%
  • Sales Charge: 0%
  • Strategy Options: 0% to 1.50%
  • Rider Charge: 0% to 1.25%

If you’re up for it, there is some teeny tiny fine print that you can review in the product brochure HERE. Throughout this brochure, Athene goes into more detail on what you have to do – or what you have to pay – in order to secure the various benefits of the BCA annuity.

The Annuity Gators End-Take on the BCA Elevate Fixed Indexed Annuity.

Where it works best:

  • If you are at or near the time of retirement.
  • If you want to grow or enhance your legacy money.
  • If you enjoy the surprise of unpredictable returns.
  • If you do not have a traditional pension benefit and you need an income source.

Where it works WORST:

  • If you need immediate access to your money.
  • If you need a guaranteed and reliable income.
  • If you’re looking to maximize your income dollar.
  • If you don’t like the unpredictability of market indices.

In Summary

As a fixed indexed annuity option, the BCA offers extremely complex opportunities to capture growth potential that may or may not provide as much income as other annuities.

In terms of growth, the BCA Elevate offers several indexing strategies available for an additional fee, and it has the ability to lock-in positive performance every two years.

As an income producing investment, it does offer guaranteed lifetime income, but withdrawals are determined by multiplying the Income Base by the Annual Withdrawal Percentage. This percentage is just as important a number as the returns earned by the indexing strategies, and many investors overlook this.

So what does all this mean to you? If you already have your income strategy in place and are looking to enhance your legacy, then this might be a good option for you. If maximizing income is your goal, the BCA Elevate relies more than most FIAs on market performance in order to get a good guaranteed income, and there might be stronger options out there that don’t have the additional strategy charges.

Want to compare this annuity against others that can offer similar benefits or features? Contact us to get started- no fees, no pressure, just the facts.

Thanks for bearing with us on this rather long post. If you found it helpful, please spread the word and share it with others.

Lastly, like all humans – we do make mistakes.  If you see one on this review please reach out and let us know.  We can’t always get back to you right away, but we can usually clear up any questions within a day or two.

Have an Annuity You’d Like to See Reviewed?

No problem, our team of highly trained annuity geeks can jump to it! Click here to get started and we’ll do our best to get it online as soon as possible.

Athene Balanced Choice Annuity (BCA) Elevate Fixed Indexed Annuity

16 thoughts on “Independent Review of the Athene Balanced Choice Annuity (BCA) Elevate Fixed Indexed Annuity – [February 2019 Update]”

  1. Fantastic explanations on all! Thank you! Have you ever reviewed Nationwide New Heights 10 Fixed Indexed Annuity? We did purchase the Athene annuity and our advisor said to also put some money into the Nationwide so we did. The Nationwide doesn’t seem to be doing well and so so hard to understand.

    Do you think there is a better annuity out there besides Athene? Problem is if we wanted to switch, then we would really lose money surrendering the policies!!

    Any advice?

    Sandra

    1. Annuity Gator

      Hi Sandra – Thank you for your comment. We have actually reviewed the Nationwide New Heights 12 annuity (which you can find in our Annuity Review Database tab on our website). However, we are always looking for suggestions for additional annuities to review, so will add the New Heights 10 to the list and work to add that one shortly). It is true that by taking money out of your current Athene annuity – at least more than 10% of the contract value – that you would be hit with surrender charges, at least until the surrender period has elapsed. If you were to place funds into a different annuity, you could consider going with a smaller, monthly amount as versus one large lump sum, into the new one, while also hanging on to the Athene so as not to be liable for a surrender charge. If you’d like to discuss more in-depth, please feel free to contact us directly at (888) 440-2468. Thanks. Annuity Gator Team

    1. Hi Kirk – Thank you for your message. This review was completed in 2016. With many changes that occur in the annuity market place, there could be some information in this (or other) reviews that needs to be amended, so if you have noticed anything in the review, please let us know and we will get on it asap to update. Best. – Annuity Gator Team

    1. Hi Peter – Thank you for your message. We do offer an annuity guide on our AnnuityGator.com website. This can provide you with some information about how each of these types of annuities works. However, if you are looking for more specific comparison of FIA versus VA products, we can provide that for you as well. Just give us a call directly at (888) 440-2468, and provide us with the particular annuities that you are looking for a comparison on. Thanks, we look forward to hearing from you. Best. – Annuity Gator Team

    2. Hi Peter – Thank you for your message. We provide more in-depth information on different types of annuities in our Annuity Buyer’s Guide. We would be happy to send you a copy via email. Please provide us with your email address, or feel free to reach out to us by phone, toll-free, at (888) 440-2468. Best! The Annuity Gator

  2. Does your company sell annuities or have a financial interest in any way regarding the sale of annuities? I believe you do. Therefore, your “independent reviews” are anything but independent. I’d be very surprised if you actually had the courage to print my comment. Not counting on it though.

  3. I have Athene Balanced Choice Annuity 12, I have been very disappointed.. MY riders which I didn’t even understand cost 85% each , each month. so I pay 1.7% and I have most 70% of my funds are earning 1% wow.. This is NOT growing at all and I think it just went to line some financial guys pockets! As a teacher, I should have tried to understand more, but I didn’t so .. I have been very disappointed. Can you tell me how I can find out more about the Death Benefit Rider I have and why? WOn’t my beneficiaries already get the money anyway.. I do not know if it is a “step up monthly” or not.. I think it’s a lame product.

    1. Hi Pam – Thank you for your comment, and sorry to hear that the annuity isn’t working out very well for you. We would be happy to take a look at what you’ve got, and from there, determine the benefits that are offered (and possibly see if there is an annuity or other financial vehicle that may work better for your specific situation). Please feel free to reach out to us directly via phone at (888) 440-2468. Or, you can contact us through our secure online server at http://www.brighthousefinancial.com/content/ to set up a time to chat. Best! Annuity Gator

  4. I have an Athene BAC Elevate RPM that is coming up on the 2 year lock in in August. The accumulated value is currently below the amount guaranteed. I am assuming I will lock in at the guaranteed amount but would like to know if the next 2 years I start out fresh and don’t have to make up past rider charges , market downturns from the previous 2 years. I feel like I am digging a hole that I may never get out of. I should have had better understanding before I got into this. I keep asking questions from my agent but walk away with more questions. He said he could get me into another annuity after the 2 year date. How do I know the next one won’t be worse? Glad I found your website.

    1. Hi Mike – Thank you for your comment. We would be happy to walk through various scenarios with you regarding your current Athene annuity, as well as others that may (or may not) work better for you. In order to do so, we would need more information from you. Rather than sending sensitive details back and forth via email, it would be best to chat by phone. Please feel free to reach out to us directly, toll-free, at (888) 440-2468 to speak with one of our annuity experts. We look forward to talking with you. Best! Annuity Gator

  5. Could you please tell me what is the “free look” period on this annuity? I couldn’t find it in the fine print.

    1. Hi Sheila – Thank you for your comment. All annuities will typically have a free look period that lasts at least 10 days (up to 30 days). While the minimum is 10 days, individual states can allow it to be longer. The “clock” on the free look period starts when you receive your annuity contract. Please feel free to reach out to us with any additional questions you may have. We can be reached via phone at (888) 440-2468, or you can set up a time to chat with one of our annuity experts by going to: http://annuitygator.com/contact/. Best! Annuity Gator

    1. Hi and thank you for your comment. We are always updating our annuity review database, so we appreciate the suggestion of Athene Anexus fixed indexed annuity, as well as the American Equity Bonus Gold annuity in your other comment. We will add these annuities to our list of upcoming reviews. Please check back for these, as well as any other reviews. And, if we can help to answer any questions, feel free to reach out to us directly at (888) 440-2468, or set up a time to chat with one of our annuity specialists by visiting: http://annuitygator.com/contact/. We look forward to hearing from you. Best! Annuity Gator

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