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Competency Issues Raised When Insuring the Elderly

Funeral cover is often the subject of complaints, and the one reported recently highlights the issue of competency among the often elderly purchasers. In this case the report was headlined "Family should know when elderly sign up for funeral insurance..." an article by Georgia Forrester from the Manawatu Standard.

The story talked about how the purchaser of the cover believed that it was a 'savings plan.' This must be the kind of case that makes people at CIGNA sigh. Personally I would have liked the reporter to tell us why they thought it was a savings plan, because nothing in the CIGNA marketing material or policy would suggest that it is. The policy document is really, really straightforward and says this, just to make sure there is no misunderstanding: 

Policy value

This Policy does not have any surrender or cash value.

You begin to wonder what else CIGNA could have done. You cannot spend a lot of time describing what a product is not - the field is simply too large, and it ends up being confusing. You cannot spend all your time trying to figure out ways your customer will misunderstand you, and clarify those, for the same reasons.

But the marketer in me reminds me that it is simply not okay to blame the customer.

As it happens there were clues to the problem in the article - although perhaps out of manners this was not tackled directly. The problem may have been one of competency. When the son of the applicant said that he felt the family should know when an elderly relative signs up for insurance this is because he must have had doubts about competence, and feel that the family could have helped.

Older people do not like to surrender their freedom, or necessarily admit when they may doubt their ability to manage. Even if it was agreed that insurers should advise family, they have no legal right to do so. The law does not cease to respect privacy simply because of age. There is another downside which must be avoided when involving family - the sad fact that some families are not the best guardians of the welfare of elderly relatives -- elder abuse occurs. 

Perhaps, if the volume of these complaints begins to look higher than the norm for other types of covers, then subtle and respectful ways to test the competence of the person applying may need to be found. 



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