The pool of guaranteed income options is shrinking in Canada, and those in existence are being fine-tuned by the few companies still offering them.

The latest in a string of similar moves is Empire Life’s decision to restrict guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefit (GMWB) deposits.

According to a release obtained by, the firm announced it is limiting deposits to its Class Plus product to $50,000 for the remainder of 2012.

The decision was motivated by the current interest rate environment and uncertainty, says Julie Yoshikuni, vice-president, retail investment products and marketing, Empire Life Investments Inc.

“Empire Life Class Plus is the last remaining five per cent at age 65 guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefit solution available without restriction today,” she says. “We announced a $50,000 deposit limit to Class Plus to manage demand and address the ongoing impact that low interest rates, regulatory changes and continued market volatility are having on Class Plus.”

Read: What’s next for GMWBs?

Effective Monday, November 26, 2012, policyholders will be allowed to contribute an additional $50,000 to their existing Class Plus policy for the remainder of 2012.

In December, the insurer will announce the launch of Class Plus 2, the next generation of its Class Plus product.

Until then, clients will be allowed to buy new policies, which will also be subject to the deposit limit of $50,000 and $10,000 minimum for Class G.

“Deposits made to Class Plus include new deposits and switches from other classes,” says the company memo.

Read: GMWBs boost retirement income planning

Historic low interest rates and volatile equity markets have had the Canadian insurance industry struggling to cope with the lasting commitments associated with their guaranteed income products. Resultantly, product shelves are fast getting pared.

“We continue to monitor the demand for Class Plus and the current environment and, if the situation calls for it, we will take any necessary measures,” says Yoshikuni.

Empire Life’s recent move comes close to its decision to reduce its offerings and raise rates on some insurance products earlier this year.

Effective November 24, 2012, the insurer will no longer be offering 20 Pay Solution, will raise rates on Solution 100 (guaranteed whole life insurance) plans by 21%. It will also raise Level COI rates within Trilogy and Trilogy Plus (UL) plans by 20% on average.

Guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefit products enjoy considerable popularity among those planning for retirement.

Although their primary function is to provide a reliable income stream, they also work as valuable wealth accumulation tools.

Here’s a rundown of changes since the beginning of this year:

January 2012: Transamerica cuts shelf to focus on life

April 2012: Standard Life to suspend GLWB sales

June 2012: Say goodbye to GMWB as you knew it

June 2012: RBC exits permanent insurance

July 2012: Assumption Life products on chopping block

July 2012: Manu to close deposits on two guaranteed income products

July 2012: Industrial Alliance drops GMWB lineup

November 2012: 4 carriers adjust guaranteed and level cost products