Subject: CCIR Issues Paper - Electronic Commerce in Insurance Products

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1 30 Eglinton Avenue West, Suite 306 Mississauga ON L5R 3E7 Tel: (905) Website: April 27, 2012 Mme Danielle Boulet CCIR Chair CCIR Secretariat 5160 Yonge Street, P.O. Box 85 Toronto ON M2N 6L9 Submitted by Dear Mme Boulet: Subject: CCIR Issues Paper - Electronic Commerce in Insurance Products Independent Financial Brokers of Canada (IFB) has prepared these comments in response to the CCIR s invitation to provide input to the above-noted issues paper. IFB is a national trade association representing approximately 4,000 independent financial professionals. They are self-employed men and women who generally operate sole proprietorships, or small financial businesses, in their local community. The majority of our members are licensed to provide consumers with advice and products related to life insurance and mutual funds. Many hold complementary financial licenses in associated sectors, such as property & casualty insurance, mortgages, securities, GICs, etc. Our members have specifically chosen to be independent so they can provide their clients with access to a range of products from various providers. IFB supports the professional standards of its members by offering a variety of continuing educations events at various locations across Canada, affordable and comprehensive errors and omissions insurance programs, compliance tools and information. It is a condition of membership to adhere to our code of ethics, which requires members to put the needs of their clients first. Another important function IFB provides is advocacy so that industry stakeholders,

2 the public and regulators better understand the perspective of those who have chosen the independent channel of sales distribution. We are pleased, therefore, to provide our comments to the CCIR on issues related to the electronic sale of insurance products. The increasing popularity and accessibility of the internet to consumers affords them ever increasing capability to conduct research and initiate on-line purchases. As noted in the CCIR paper, on-line purchases by consumers have dramatically escalated in the past few years. While this can be very convenient, and in some cases cheaper, it has also given rise to much greater risk for fraudulent transactions, including identity theft, where personal or credit information is illegally obtained. This potential risk must be managed for consumers seeking to obtain insurance over the internet, especially life and disability insurance, as it generally involves the disclosure of sensitive and highly personal information. The issues paper makes note that, at this time, property and casualty insurance (P&C) products are generally more widely accessible to consumers who wish to research the cost and coverage of such products using the internet, including obtaining a quote, than life insurance products. P&C products, like home and auto insurance, tend to be renewable on an annual basis. Auto insurance is mandated in many provinces. These are fundamental differences when compared to the purchase of life & health insurance products. Individual life insurance is generally a long term investment, intended to provide a financial backstop in the event of a major life altering event affecting the policyholder, such as death, critical illness or disability. It is a risk-based business dependent on individual factors related to the policyholder. Given these differences, our comments will primarily focus on issues related to the on-line purchase of life/health insurance products. Lack of advice In our view, the main consumer protection issue with purchasing insurance, particularly life/health insurance, over the internet is the increased risk of purchasing an unsuitable product, due to the consumer s lack of knowledge and lack of individualized guidance from a licensed advisor. There is a wide range of life insurance products designed to meet a variety of individual needs. While term insurance may be relatively straightforward, universal life and whole life products are more complex and contain investment features. Licensed insurance brokers are trained to understand the unique features of these products and are required to recommend a suitable product(s) based on the needs assessment they conduct with the client. Consumers may be attracted by the cheapest insurance premium, but this may not translate to the most suitable policy. Prior to recommending a product, the broker will help guide the client through the many questions s/he needs to consider in order to understand the client s personal and family situation. While the purchase of life insurance may be a single event, more often it forms a part of the client s overall financial plan which takes into account current circumstances, future goals, saving for education, saving for retirement, etc. Indeed, planning with the assistance of a broker is more likely to result in these other needs being addressed. Research has shown that 2 P a g e

3 consumers who seek professional advice are more likely to save on a regular basis and stick to their financial plan. The insurance application is another step where professional advice will reduce the potential for information to be incorrectly interpreted and reported to the insurer. Such errors increase the potential for an application to be rejected or a claim to be denied in the future. For example, a question such as have you ever been treated for, followed by a long list of medical conditions may pose a problem in that the consumer may not know or have forgotten that his/her doctor had treated some condition in the past, or the condition could have been suspected but later ruled out, although there may have been treatment. The consumer may well answer no in these circumstances, leaving him/her at risk of invalidating the contract and mistakenly believing that coverage exists. Similarly, former smokers who have not smoked in 25 or 30 years may answer that they do not smoke because they consider themselves to be non-smokers after so many years. Licensed advisors understand the underwriting process and can help to prevent interpretative mistakes like this which would lead to the denial of a claim in the future. Post-claim underwriting and claims denial have been major criticisms of incidental insurance products and the subject of previous study by the CCIR. While we believe that personalized advice from brokers like our members cannot be replaced, we also recognize that there will be some consumers who will want to utilize the internet to research and make their own purchase. To help reduce the potential for error, we suggest that on-line insurers provide an opening statement, similar to those found on some on-line brokerage accounts, to help consumers judge whether this means of acquiring life insurance is suitable for them (e.g., You have the time and the knowledge to research and choose suitable life insurance coverage, or you have access to professional advice. ) Insurers should provide examples and guidance to consumers on answering the questions in the application correctly. For example, they could include a side tab or arrow which if clicked would allow the consumer to get more detailed information. It should also be made clear to applicants - in a highly visible way - that incorrect answers may invalididate a claim in the future. At any point in the application process, consumers should have access to a licensed advisor who the consumer can contact and speak directly to with any questions. Servicing of the Policy Brokers who sell a life insurance policy have an obligation to service it over time. These policies may be in force for 10, 15, or 25 years or more. Addresses, contact information, beneficiary designations and insurance needs will change over that time. Servicing the policy provides the broker with the opportunity to address these changes and ensure the information is kept current and in compliance with the consumer s wishes. How this need will be met when the person purchases a policy on-line is less clear to us. At a minimum, the insurer should be required to and/or mail a reminder notice to the policyholder at least annually to notify the insurer of any changes that need to be made. Again, it should be a standard protocol in any communication between the consumer and insurer that contact information for the company and how to access a licensed advisor is provided. 3 P a g e

4 Knowing whether the consumer actually received the or physical mail presents a problem when the contact is not face-to-face as it would be in a broker situation. Steps will need to be taken for the insurer to verify delivery. No suitability advice If a consumer is purchasing life insurance on-line there should be clear disclosure that s/he is doing so without receiving suitability advice and the consumer should be required to acknowledge this. We agree that the consumer should be able to change this preference at any time in the future. Consumers can rely on the transaction Consumers need to be assured that a valid transaction and contractual arrangement is in place. The risk is that applications returned by , or completed on the internet, may get lost. can be an imprecise method of communication. s can have typing errors in them that could send them to another address, potentially creating a security gap. Also, addresses change over time and if undeliverable s are not investigated, the insurer could wrongly assume the documentation has been received. On-line insurers will need to examine how to manage these difficulties so consumers are not disadvantaged. Dispute resolution The consumer should have clear understanding of how to contact the insurer and who to contact at the insurer in the event of a dispute or question. Companies should provide customer support information and a physical mailing address for consumers on their websites. For consumers who deal with a licensed broker there are clear guidelines and disclosure on the dispute resolution process. Access to this process is a valuable consumer protection tool. In addition, brokers are required to maintain errors and omissions insurance in the event of a mistake. How will consumers be protected when an error occurs in a transaction conducted on-line? For example, how will the consumer be protected if the application is not approved on a timely basis and a catastrophic event occurs? Consumer s personal information is secure As with any personal on-line transaction, companies must be accountable for privacy and security breaches. Life insurance applications contain a great deal of personal, financial and medical information which must be transmitted under the most secure circumstances to avoid this information being accessed by unintended users or circulated on the internet. Beneficiary designations The CCIR has asked for comment on whether electronic beneficiary designations should be permitted, including changing an original designation. We agree that the statistics quoted from two large direct sellers of life insurance on the number of life insurance policies (in excess of 60%) where the beneficiary is the estate by default, not by choice, is shocking and needs to be addressed. Clearly, the current system is leaving many beneficiaries, often family members, at risk of not receiving the protection that was intended. This gap represents a significant 4 P a g e

5 disadvantage for consumers who contract for life insurance on-line and one that is not present in a broker led application process. On-line insurers need to prioritize this gap through targeted consumer education and follow up when invalid beneficiary designations are received. Termination of Insurance Contracts We support the continued practice of insurers giving notice of the termination of a life insurance contract by registered mail or personal delivery. This does not preclude the insurer from also using notification. Social Media The issues paper makes reference to social media as an on-line tool for insurers and advisors to communicate with the public. IFB recently introduced a series of modules teaching our members how to use social media tools as a way to connect with clients and build a community. In preparation for this, we surveyed our members and found those who have a web presence do so only to advertise their services. They do not use it to promote a product or for sales advice. In fact, we advise them against doing this as it may have regulatory consequences. We support the view that the same regulatory rules when communicating with clients apply whether the conversation takes place in person, on social networks or in writing. Conclusion We agree with the CCIR that consumers should enjoy the same level of protection, regardless of the method through which they acquire their insurance. Some insurance products lend themselves more readily to research, quote comparison and purchase on the internet. These products will generally be less complex life insurance products, such as term insurance, or home and auto insurance. In our view, the traditional broker-client relationship works best to protect consumers who purchase life and disability insurance products. Consumers who deal with a licensed life insurance advisor have the benefit of knowing that their advisor is knowledgeable, must adhere to certain principles related to the advice and sale of such products and the consumer has recourse to various resources and restitution in the event of an error or complaint. We note that the CCIR and AMF have shared interest in this topic and expect that more information will become available as these discussions proceed. Should you have any questions or wish to discuss any of the above in greater detail, please contact the undersigned. Yours truly, John Whaley Executive Director 5 P a g e

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