In a world of gender fluidity where your birth, sex or gender identity is not necessarily that which you relate to, there are lessons for life insurers.  File picture: Mario Cruz/EPA African News Agency (ANA)
In a world of gender fluidity where your birth, sex or gender identity is not necessarily that which you relate to, there are lessons for life insurers. File picture: Mario Cruz/EPA African News Agency (ANA)

Consumer Watch: Change in gender identity throws life insurer a curveball

By Georgina Crouth Time of article published Feb 17, 2020

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It’s 2020 - children are learning to code before they’re barely able to count - but the human touch will never become obsolete.

Technology powered by artificial intelligence might be capable of operating home automation, driving cars, translating language, determining the adverts we see online, tagging our friends on social media, and replacing human labour, but it doesn’t fare as well in creative thinking, understanding the nuances of the spoken word, holding a meaningful conversation, replicating a dish from a recipe passed down through generations, or the gentle, reassuring pressure from a parent’s comforting touch.

Humans are simply better at more (human) tasks.

When it comes to life or death matters, people expect the human touch. Not to be treated like a binary number of ones and zeroes - or the sum of their combinations of X and Y chromosomes.

It’s a lesson life insurers need to consider, in a world of gender fluidity where your birth sex or gender identity is not necessarily that which you relate to.

For Joey from Pretoria, changing her gender identity was the culmination of a complex lengthy emotional and legal process.

Her state-issued IDs - reflecting her names, ID number and gender marker and driving licence - had to be amended. And with that, other formal documents such as bank and educational certificates. Among those was a funeral policy that she had taken out with Capitec two years ago.

At the time of her gender transition, she spoke to a branch manager about how that would affect her policy: she was told Capitec would issue a new policy, reflecting her new ID number and that it would waive the six-month waiting period.

Earlier this month, her uncle died in Warmbaths. As one of the listed dependants on the policy, Joey expected to be paid out within four hours of submitting the required documents. That didn’t happen. Instead, she was issued numerous reference/incident numbers, promised payment via SMS on Tuesday, which was withdrawn hours later.

The reason? This was a “new” policy with a waiting period attached and no payout, despite the fact that her uncle had been listed as a dependant for nine months.

Capitec’s call centre agent, Caroline, went above and beyond to assist, but blamed the payments department for the frustration and delay. So, too, did a branch manager, but he also couldn’t resolve the issue.

After numerous reference numbers and a body in the morgue to consider, Joey contacted the Pretoria News in desperation on Thursday afternoon.

“Tomorrow, I am supposed to have my uncle’s body released from the mortuary, but I have no money to pay them - or for the funeral on Saturday. What does Capitec expect me to do?” Joey asked.

The case evidently caught Capitec’s systems off-guard and it took top-level human intervention to resolve the matter, which was done within hours.

By 5pm on Thursday, the policy paid out.

When asked about the “new” policy and why matters escalated in that way, Francois Viviers, the marketing and communications executive at Capitec Bank, said: “The six-month waiting period is automatically triggered by the system. Capitec had to issue a new policy due to the ID number change. (We) are not able to update an ID number on an existing policy.

“It is a situation we have not experienced before but the bank is now able to take this into account.”

The change in ID number required it to cancel Joey’s existing funeral policy and activate the new one, registered with her updated ID number.

“This, unfortunately, triggered the six-month waiting period on a new policy, which we now have waived. The issue has been resolved and Joey has received the full payout,” Viviers said.

“A death in the family is an emotional experience and we take this very seriously. We commit to work hard to improve the experience of our clients.”

It’s an unusual case for the industry, which highlights the need for greater sensitivity towards a particularly vulnerable sector of society.

Deputy long-term insurance ombudsman Jennifer Preiss says: “When it comes to insurance products, this is a very different market - people need the money now, there is pressure from the family, you’ve just lost someone and you need to bury them. It’s not the best time to deal with bureaucracy.”

Over the past few years, her office has seen a steady growth in complaints about funeral policies.

“Complaints about funeral policies have consistently been our biggest growth category. That’s for a number of reasons. First, there’s often a huge number of people covered by these policies,” she says.

And because of the urgent need, people complain quickly: “Insurers often promise they will pay out within 48 hours, but people don’t realise that that’s only after you’ve submitted all the required documents.”

She says most of the complaints they receive are settled swiftly, before the insurer has declined the payout. With life, health and disability, complainants usually reach out to an intermediary like a broker. But with funeral insurance that’s not the case - people go from the insurer to their office.

“Often we find when there’s an insurer and administrator involved there can be delays and the service is very poor. A lot of complaints are about service.”

* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her at [email protected], tweet her @georginacrouth and follow her on Facebook.

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