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Read the fine print
May 23, 2013 COMMENT comment
     
Read the fine print
By Niku Siddhu
 
'Don't mis-sell, devise simple products' the finance minister recently told insurers. Are you being a victim of mis-sold investment plans?
 
What the insurance companies have done is to reverse the business so that the public at large insures the insurance companies," says Gerry Spence, trial lawyer and member of American Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame. Isn't that so?

Like a crowded Mumbai local train, city life pushes us around our daily routines with a deadline looming here, an appointment there; the proverbial sword of Damocles threatening to throw our life into disarray if
we don't achieve daily targets in our personal and professional life. And it's this thing that wily insurance agents are looking to exploit.

Below is a list of dos and dont's that borders on the simplistic but the statistics reveal 90 per cent falling into the basic common-sense-switched-off hoodwinks. Recognise the name of the company with whom you are going to sign a contract. The company should be licensed to operate; their company forms should give details of the product. Never sign a blank form or buy insurance over the phone. Meet the salesperson to know them. If bogus offers and scams are bombarding your inbox, put them where they belong: Trash. No confidential information should be shared with unknown text and email operatives. In fact, keep it from agents too till you decide what company you would like to do business with. If you can't read it, don't sign it. Write down the facts so you are in a position to evaluate the different policies at a later date. Any insurance too cheap should instantly raise a red flag.

Unveiling a new brand recently, finance minister P. Chidambaram said the insurance industry can make rapid inroads into India if they met two key conditions: Sell simple products and avoid mis-selling. The sector that opened to private participation in 2001 has lagged due to mis-selling.

It is common knowledge that increasingly representatives are paid a low salary and a bulk of their earnings has to come from commissions. Nothing wrong with that till those giving advice or selling policies get motivated mainly by the rewards on off er to them, and not by misleading the consumer. Regulators are looking to change this culture. The intrinsic eccentricities of the nation are challenging circumstances too. Although we speak and write in over 20 languages, agents may want your signature on a form in English with the intention of non-disclosure of details. Retail customers may be at a disadvantage due this issue alone. The language we speak turns into our vulnerability in the hands of devious operators.

Cross selling, deemed an unfair practice by the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority (IRDA), is rampant. It's not unusual to come across a 'mandatory' home insurance policy when applying to a bank for a home loan. Prof Rahul Sahgal, for instance, while applying for a home loan from HSBC was asked to buy an annual home insurance policy during the disbursal of loan. Jittery that the property deal worth a few crore rupees may fall through due to an additional five thousand bucks, he signed on the policy document.

In subsequent years, neither the bank nor the home insurance company contacted the professor for a renewal of the policy leading him to believe that genuine interest in his welfare was not the intention of either party. "One of the major concerns is bringing in transparency to prevent unfair commercial practices. At the same time, cross selling facilitates service providers to use existing channels to reach out to those who are looking to buy insurance products. It is, however, necessary to ensure that the consumer is not put to any kind of disadvantage because of the packaging," says J Hari Narayan, chairman, IRDA. "Further, bundling that is packaging two or more products could become unfair to the consumer when it impedes his or her choice or makes price comparison difficult or impossible," he adds.

YOUR OPTIONS
The Right to Information Act of 2005 (RTI) gives each citizen a right to access information. The procedure to lodge a complaint is available at the IRDA site. Go to www.policyholder.gov.in/ Report.aspx#.

The fear that it may be time- consuming is a deterrent. Engage with the company and inform them of the rules. A low level verbal threat that you plan to file an RTI enquiry may warn them that they cannot mess with you. Either option may be exercised by a wronged citizen.

Even if you're desperate, don't let the bank know. Reject the 'bundling', informing them that you know it's against the law. More likely than not, they will revert with the legal alternative. It is to their advantage, nay their need, to disburse the loan.

Ask the bank to put in writing that the loan and insurance is a combined product that cannot be bought separately. Pretend you are going to write to the ombudsman or the complaint cell and take the name, employee number and designation of the employee.

If all of the above tactics fail, take the policy but return it within the free look period. Remember the free look period of 15 days starts from the day you receive the policy in your hand, not the day you sign the policy. Stay safe!

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