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Life insurance customers welcome report exposing tactics

Radio New Zealand logo Radio New Zealand 30/01/2019 Eva Corlett, Reporter

The report gave examples of consumers not being told of higher charges and increased risks. © Getty Images The report gave examples of consumers not being told of higher charges and increased risks. Life insurance customers have described feeling threatened, ignored and kept in the dark by their insurance companies - and have welcomed a report which exposes companies' tactics.

The government is promising a crackdown on life insurance companies, after the Financial Markets Authority and the Reserve Bank blasted insurers for putting profits ahead of people, in a report released yesterday.

The report gave examples of consumers not being told of higher charges and increased risks, or reduced benefits and coverage when they renewed or changed their policies.

It also showed insurance companies didn't put customers first and had poor systems and badly trained staff to handle complaints or oversee risks.

Gisborne resident, Rose, decided to scrap her partner's life insurance policy after the couple got into financial difficulty.

But their provider, BNZ, then sent a letter and pamphlet she described as "nothing short of scaremongering" about the terrible financial woe they would face by getting rid of it.

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The pamphlet told the couple they would suffer without life insurance to cover debts, she said.

"We didn't divulge to them why we were cancelling, because of personal reasons," Rose said.

"For them to lump on us this big guilt trip about not having life insurance, was un-asked for and it really preyed on a vulnerable situation for us, which they didn't know about."

Sales were put ahead of customer care, Rose said, adding that she wouldn't seek out life insurance again because of the tactics used.

"My opinion of BNZ in particular was very, very low - they had become too removed from their customers."

Julian Edmonds, from Spring Grove near Nelson, took out life insurance with Government Life 40 years ago at $300 a year.

It has since been onsold to various other insurance companies.

When it was sold to Foundation Life a few years ago, Mr Edmonds said he was told he no longer needed to pay the premiums and the roughly $12,000 he'd paid over the years would be refunded.

The premium payments have now stopped but after multiple attempts to find out more about where his policy stands, he is still waiting for information and his money.

"I rang them up for the insurance broker, but it took 6 months for the broker to get in touch with me," Mr Edmonds said.

"They didn't know anything about the old policy and they were only concerned to try and sell me another policy."

The industry was poorly run, he said, and that did not fill him with confidence.

"I think if I was to die, it would be very hard for my trustees or executor to get hold of that policy."

State intervention in the industry was a must because insurance companies have "too much power", he said.

A Wellington woman, who RNZ has agreed not to name, took over her father's bank accounts in 2016.

He had bought a policy in 1998, with a cover amount of $589. However, he was paying a quarterly premium of $30.

By the time his daughter noticed 18 years later, he had paid well beyond double what the policy was worth.

She called the provider to highlight what she described as an injustice, and they refunded the money.

But she said the mistake should never have happened.

"I have picked up on this because of a slightly sharper eye on the maths of it, but I was concerned that there could well be a lot of other elderly people still paying that amount."

Companies needed to be more responsible about the policies they sold and create systems that picked up when people were paying more than the policy was worth, she said.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the government would scrap sales incentives which drove behaviour that was not in consumers' interests.

He said he hoped to have legislation in place before the end of the year.

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