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'Bloody whinger': Freedom staff resisted request to cancel insurance

WAtoday logo WAtoday 12/09/2018 Clancy Yeates

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Video provided by Seven News

An insurance company staff member referred to the father of a disabled man who had been sold life insurance through an unsolicited phone call as a "bloody whinger," the royal commission heard.

Senior counsel assisting, Rowena Orr QC, continued a grilling of the ASX-listed insurance distributor Freedom Insurance on Wednesday after it was revealed on Tuesday that it sold cover to Baptist minster Gavin Stewart's son, a 26 year-old born with Down syndrome, who did not understand what he was committing to.

Ms Orr pointed Freedom's chief operating officer Craig Orton to internal chats among Freedom staff after Mr Stewart had called up to complain and cancel his son's policy, which she said were a "damning indictment" of the company's culture.

It took two phone calls and an email from Mr Stewart before Freedom eventually cancelled the policy.

Grant Stewart, the father of a 26-year-old, who was sold inappropriate insurance by Freedom. © AAP Grant Stewart, the father of a 26-year-old, who was sold inappropriate insurance by Freedom. In one internal message following a complaint from Mr Stewart, a sales staff member who had reviewed the initial sales call to Mr Stewart's son claimed it was not clear he was disabled. This was despite long pauses and instances where Mr Stewart's son struggled to answer simple questions.

“I've had a listen to the call. Not once does the policy owner mention anything about being disabled, or not being able to make decisions for himself etc.. So it would have been hard for the sales agent to assume that the policy owner had a disability,” the sales staff member wrote.

Chief operating officer Orton told the commission he did not agree. “I cannot understand how you could listen to that call and come to that conclusion,” he said.

Although the sale staff member claimed it was not clear MrStewart's son was disabled, they did agree the policy should be cancelled by Freedom.

However, this did not happen, and a few days later, Mr Stewart called up again. On this call, the company eventually agreed to cancel the policy, but first it put Mr Stewart through to the retention department and requiring his son to say the words "I wish to terminate the policy".

A recording played on Tuesday showed him stuttering, and Mr Stewart said his son was "quite distressed" by the experience.

Freedom Insurance chief operating officer Craig Orton was grilled over the behaviour of Freedom staff. © Daniel Pockett Freedom Insurance chief operating officer Craig Orton was grilled over the behaviour of Freedom staff. 'Totally inappropriate'

After this call, the retention officer sent an instant message to the sales agent who had reviewed the sales call days earlier and come to the view the policy should be cancelled.

The retention agent told the sales agent Mr Stewart had cancelled the policy, to which the sales consultant replied: “Bloody whinger.”

“Totally inappropriate,” Mr Orton responded when shown the message, saying he had counselled the agents.

Ms Orr then read another message from the retention agent to the sales agent.

“His son sounds not normal though. Strange, but the dad sounds like he’s going to take it further.”

The sales agent replied: “Oh well. I don’t know what he expects to get out of it. LOL.”

After taking Mr Orton to the messages, Ms Orr said: "This is a fairly damning indictment of the culture of Freedom at this time, is it not Mr Orton?"

He agreed it reflected poorly on the company, and said the company should have given Mr Stewart a formal apology at the time.

Earlier, Ms Orr highlighted the aggressive strategies used by Freedom Insurance to persuade customers who wanted to cancel their policies not to do so.

When customers called up, staff were told to ask them what alternatives they had in place to cover a lump-sum payment in the event of their death, which Mr Orton agreed were "intrusive" and "inappropriate" questions designed to make consumers feel anxious.

Figures showed fewer than a third of customers who called up to scrap their policy successfully had their cover cancelled. Mr Orton agreed the business was making it too difficult for customers to cancel their cover.

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