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CommInsure pleads guilty to hawking, refunds $12 million

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CommInsure pleaded guilty today in a Sydney court to 87 counts of hawking and is refunding more than $12 million to customers who were incorrectly sold life insurance products.

Refunds will be paid to around 30,000 customers sold a range of products between 2010 and 2014 by telemarketing firm Aegon Insights Australia.

The bank-owned insurer has completed a majority of the payments and expects to finalise the program by the end of the year, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) says.

“ASIC is concerned that the way in which these products were sold was manifestly unfair, with customers given insufficient information to make an informed decision,” Deputy Chairman Daniel Crennan said.

The hawking charges announced last month relate to its Simple Life product and were referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions after an ASIC investigation.

Penalties against CommInsure will be determined on November 28 after the guilty plea was heard at the Downing Centre Local Court today before Magistrate Jennifer Atkinson.

The charges of offering to sell insurance products in the course of unlawful unsolicited telephone calls carry a combined maximum penalty of more than $1.8 million.

ASIC says that in all 87 calls CommInsure didn’t comply with a requirement to give customers the option of having product disclosure statement (PDS) information read to them before the offer to issue or sell the product.

In 14 calls, CommInsure failed to give the customer a PDS before being bound to buy the product and didn’t clearly inform them of the importance of PDS information in making a decision.

ASIC says issues around CommInsure’s accidental death product sales were flagged last year as part of a review of direct life insurance.

Sales were completed in as little as eight minutes, raising concerns about how someone could have made an informed decision on a complex product. Sales representatives often selected the level of cover for the consumer, and almost half the policies sold in 2012-13 were cancelled during the cooling-off period or within six months.

Inadequate or unclear descriptions were particularly concerning due to the extremely limited cover provided by the policy, ASIC says.

After the issues were highlighted, CommInsure identified similar concerns with the telemarketing of a range of other life products sold by Aegon.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia said in a statement its subsidiary had reported the alleged contraventions of the anti-hawking laws to ASIC and the telephone sales practices related to Simple Life insurance had ceased at the end of 2014.