Operation Antebi: The Rescue

Good morning, all you customers of the insurance companies.

Do you have an insurance policy, or save money via an insurance company? We have bad news and good news for you.

The bad news interactive that there seems to be a misunderstanding between you and the people who manage your money. You think the money is yours, and that the insurance companies only hold it in trust for you. But it turns out that the managers of the insurance companies think it's theirs. At least, that is what arises from a letter sent to the insurance commissioner over at the Finance Ministry, Yadin Antebi.

The good news is that like yourself, Antebi was flabbergasted by the gall of the insurers. But he didn't just sit there gibbering: he wrote back that in fact, the money belongs to the insurance customers, not to the companies.

Insurance buyers not savvy in financing generally don't understand the true nature of their agreement with the insurance company. They are not aware of its draconian terms. Customers who know the facts believe they are slaves of the insurance companies.

They are wrong, through. Their situation is worse.

Slaves to the bitter end

If they looked into the Hebraic laws governing slavery, they would know that during shnat shmita - every seventh year - the slave is set free. If the slave loves his master and wants to stay, he may. But the slaves of the insurance companies are there until death, pension, or unemployment, whichever comes first.

We cannot in all fairness complain about the insurance companies: they comply with the law and with agreements with customers that were approved by insurance commissioners over the ages. The commissioners are bureaucrats who are all but  automatically plucked from the civil service to a plush job at an insurance company.

Over the last 20 years, we asked the insurance commissioners over the ages why they hadn't reformed the industry to let customers withdraw their life insurance monies without getting fined. We always got the same answer: "Impossible."

In English: "Ooh, that's a tough one. I'm too small and weak. The insurance companies will trample me into dust. Anyway, I'll get my picture in the paper enough times to get a terrif job after I leave this one, even without wrestling with giants."

Life insurance policies are where the insurers make their money, and Antebi's attitude is grounds for war. The banks are the ones that make headlines, but every last analyst in town knows that shares in insurance companies outperformed shares in the banks over the last ten years. Why?  Not because the insurance managers are unsung geniuses, but because the insurance commissioners let them squeeze the customers dry.

Mission definitely possible

Yadin Antebi

But Antebi, perhaps because of his tender years or perhaps because of his keen ambition, decided that the "mission impossible" is entirely possible. He told the insurance companies to start preparing for the biggest revolution the sector has ever known: utter and complete mobility. Fast. Instant. Without fines. The whole NIS 100 billion imprisoned in insurance policies is about to be freed.

Operation Antebi could be one of the most dramatic reforms ever to hit the Israeli capital market. It is a sorely needed corollary to the Bachar reforms. It is desperately needed in order to remove the last obstacle, the most significant one, to full competition in the capital market.

Unfettered mobility of life insurance funds will not only dramatically reduce management fees, but will improve the performance of the investment managers beyond recognition. It will create competition over life insurance monies in Israel, and will propel the biggest cultural-structural change the sector has ever known: the customer will finally be king.

Pensions and insurance are the most important financial decisions you will ever make. A difference of a fraction of a percent, let alone whole percentage points, can make a vast difference in your standard of living after retirement. It can add up to millions of shekels.

The war between Antebi and the people owning and managing the insurance companies over NIS 100 billion will be a bloody one. Just remember how bitterly the banks fought against the Bachar reforms. The insurance companies are powerful and will not hesitate to wield force.

The watchdogs guarding the public good, private and public alike, must support Operation Antebi and urge it be pursued to the end, with no compromises, fudging, or delays.