National

Insurer hangs up on cancelling customers

By AAP Newswire

Freedom Insurance staff have hung up on customers trying to cancel their policies and generally do not like taking no for an answer.

One father was labelled a "bloody whinger" after complaining about insurance sold to his intellectually-disabled son with Down syndrome.

Freedom gets an average of 70 calls a day from customers trying to cancel policies, mostly about its biggest money-earner, funeral insurance.

But most calls did not actually result in a policy cancellation.

Freedom's chief operating officer Craig Orton admits the company has been "too strong" in its customer retention process.

"I think there's difficulty in cancelling at the moment that needs to be sorted," he told the banking royal commission on Wednesday.

Mr Orton admitted that in some cases it was far too difficult for customers to cancel policies.

"The key problems that I heard were not taking no for an answer on certain calls, and that cannot be the case.

"That's something that I will not allow to happen in the future."

Sometimes Freedom representatives simply hung up on customers trying to cancel their policies.

Customers complained about being told they could only cancel a policy over the phone, not in writing, and being put on hold for a long time.

Customers wanting to cancel funeral or accidental death cover were asked what plans they had if they died.

Mr Orton agreed it was an intrusive and inappropriate line of questioning.

Melbourne man Grant Stewart told the inquiry he struggled to get Freedom to cancel a policy sold in a cold call to his son, who clearly did not understand what he took out.

The then 26-year-old, who is intellectually disabled and has Down syndrome, felt distressed and apprehensive about answering his phone after the 2016 sale.

A customer service consultant who was asked to check the sales call refused, prompting a colleague to respond with 25 sad face emoticons.

The sales call clearly showed Mr Stewart's son did not understand, although a consultant who listened to it argued Freedom did not take advantage of him because he said nothing about being disabled.

The consultant described Mr Stewart as a "bloody whinger" in an instant messenger conversation with a colleague, which Mr Orton said was totally inappropriate.

The messages noted "the son sounds not normal" and questioned what Mr Stewart "expects to get out of it lol".

Mr Orton agreed it was a fairly damning indictment of the culture of Freedom at the time.

In a statement, Freedom said it was deeply sorry for the unacceptable behaviour highlighted by the royal commission.

"We acknowledge we did not meet the standards expected of us and that to have any instance of failure to meet our regulatory obligations or community expectations is completely unacceptable," its founder and managing director Keith Cohen said.

The ASX-listed company said it had made a number of changes to its policies and procedures, including in staff training and improving its sales targeting to better protect vulnerable customers.