Back in November 2008, as then President-elect Barack Obama and his staff prepared to transition into the White House amid near-cataclysmic economic conditions, Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel put a positive spin on the landscape facing the new president. "Rule One: Never allow a crisis to go to waste," he said during an interview on the CBS news program Face the Nation. The gist of Emanuel's statement-which is now either famous or infamous, depending on one's point of view-was that the crisis was going to embolden Obama to push through major policy initiatives at a time when the country was looking for some big ideas to solve its big problems.

In many ways, this sentiment can also be attached to the annuity business. Not long ago, the industry was being battered by unfavorable scrutiny from regulators, the media and consumers for a host of sins-some real, others perhaps unfairly attached to anyone selling an annuity. By now the criticisms are well known: The products, especially variable annuities, are thought to be too complex and expensive, and they often underperform relative to the fees they charge.

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