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Thursday 29 October 2015

15-315MR ASIC report on funeral insurance highlights increasing premiums and high cancellation rates

ASIC has today released a report on funeral insurance, highlighting that funeral insurance premiums tend to rise steeply for the over-50s and that many people cancel their policy in the first few years, losing the benefit of premiums already paid.

ASIC collected data from nine insurers offering funeral insurance across some 40 brands. Although some funeral insurers have introduced new products in the past 12 months with improved features, many consumers are still being sold (and continue to hold) policies that expose them to the risks identified in ASIC's report.

ASIC Deputy Chair Peter Kell said, ‘The high rate of cancellations points to problems not only with cost, but the design, marketing and sales of funeral insurance. It appears that many consumers do not understand important features of the product until after they have signed up’.

ASIC found that the average premium for 80-84 year olds was four times the average cost for 50-54 year olds because most consumers held ‘stepped’ premiums which increase with age. Even so-called ‘fixed’ premiums often increase (along with the benefit payable) under ‘inflation protection’ measures, usually 5% annually.

In 2014, the number of policies cancelled was 80% of the number of policies sold. Nearly 55% of cancellations occurred during the first year of the policy. 65% of cancellations were initiated by consumers while 35% were made by insurers for non-payment of premiums. The main reason for cancelling was cost.

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While over half of consumers with funeral insurance were aged 50-74, policies held by Indigenous consumers had a much younger profile, with half (50%) aged under 20.

A higher proportion of Indigenous consumers also had their policies cancelled for non-payment of premiums, losing the value of premiums already paid.

'ASIC has made a number of recommendations for insurers to assist consumers better understand the product they are purchasing. We also urge buyers of funeral insurance to better inform themselves about the product and ensure they have a clear understanding of the premiums to be paid long-term', Mr Kell said.

Some of the report’s key recommendations for insurers are to:

  • provide an upfront estimate for consumers of the total cost of the policy;
  • clearly and prominently disclose where there is the possibility that the total premiums payable under a policy could exceed the benefit amount;
  • do more to ensure consumers understand key features of the policy when it is sold to them (whether by phone, in person or online), especially when selling to vulnerable groups like Indigenous consumers.

‘ASIC is encouraged by steps the industry has taken in response to increased scrutiny and urges insurers to carefully consider what additional measures they can put in place to assist their customers', Mr Kell said.

Background

Funeral insurance is a form of life insurance and is sold to consumers to cover the cost of funerals.

Report 454 Funeral insurance: A snapshot describes common features of policies and provides data about sales, claims and cancellations to better understand the benefits and risks associated with these products. It builds on our earlier report on consumer experience of funeral insurance, REP 292 Paying for funerals: How consumers decide to meet the costs.

ASIC has joined with other consumer protection agencies in the Avoid a funeral rip-off campaign which aims to improve awareness among Indigenous consumers of their options when it comes to paying for funerals. For more information, see 15-195MR ASIC helps Indigenous consumers avoid a funeral rip-off.

ASIC has also taken action in recent years on misleading advertising of funeral insurance and has produced research and information about alternative ways consumers can pay for their funeral, including superannuation, term deposits, funeral bonds and pre-paid funeral plans. Some of the pros and cons of each option are discussed on our MoneySmart website, www.moneysmart.gov.au

Download Report 454 Funeral insurance: A snapshot

Last updated: 23/03/2016 03:05