Independent Review of the Athene Balanced Choice Annuity (BCA) Elevate Fixed Indexed Annuity – [November 2018 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

Athene USA is a relatively new name for an acquisition of long-established life insurance companies that have a proven 100-year track record. Their life insurance companies are based out of Delaware, Iowa, and New York and Athene USA serves customers in all 50 states. As a product offered by Annexus, they specialize in the retirement market, which is good if you are an investor looking to guarantee a portion of your retirement savings.  Because an income guarantee is only as good at the insurance company that gives it, you are smart to do your due diligence and look into the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the company that holds any annuity you are considering. Athene actually got its start in 2009, when the financial crisis and resulting capital demands caused many financial and insurance companies to exit the industry. Athene has been able to fill this “void” with its strong and stable capitalization, as well as experienced management team.

Over the past nine years, Athene has grown from a start-up to having nearly $115 billion in total assets, and $8.5 billion in total equity. The company’s invested assets are managed by Athene Asset Management LLC, a subsidiary of Apollo Global Management LLC.

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 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 initial 5% Income Base bonus
  • Access to “name brand” indexing strategies that offer risk control and a monthly re-allocation process.

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 150% 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.

There is also a printable Athene BCA Elevate brochure 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%

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.

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Athene Balanced Choice Annuity (BCA) Elevate Fixed Indexed Annuity

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