7 March 2017

Why insurers need to shout louder about what's NOT covered

Matthew Brady

By Matthew Brady LinkedIn

Insurers have a duty to give clear information to their customers. Why are some still finding it so difficult?

It sounds counter-intuitive, but I think customers should often be more concerned about what isn’t covered by an insurance policy than what is.

Sure, you need to know that there’s enough cover to protect you if things go wrong. But insurers are often overly keen to wave large cover limits in your face while you’re buying the product. 

At the same time, they’re sometimes keeping shtum about really important restrictions.

There’s a big risk that these are never noticed by many consumers – which could leave them without vital protection if things go wrong.

The FCA is pushing for more transparency in financial services. And the Financial Ombudsman Service frequently upholds complaints against insurers because exclusions weren't made clear – or when exclusions lead to claims being unfairly rejected.

But some insurers just aren’t getting the message.

Travel troubles

My girlfriend and I have joint travel insurance. I'm the policyholder, and she is a 'Family Adult', according to the schedule. We hadn't had an issue with the policy, until recently when she needed to travel to Europe without me.

We had a travel policy that we were both named on. So we didn’t think it would be a problem.

But after calling American Express, I was surprised to learn that she wouldn’t be covered if she travelled without me – because she was not the policyholder.

American Express Travel Insurance Screenshot 1

This wasn’t made clear at all before I bought the policy. In fact, I can’t find this information on Amex’s website at all. And there’s no mention of this restriction in the policy summary.

American Express Travel Insurance Screenshot 2

It is only listed as condition 9 on page 17 of the policy wording, under the less-than-enlightening heading ‘Policy Information’.

That’s really not good enough – they should be waving a red flag about such an important restriction.

I showed this exclusion to Fairer Finance Director Melissa Collett, who now leads our new complaints service following 11 years with the Financial Ombudsman Service.

She told me that has never seen a restriction like this before, and felt that American Express should definitely be bringing it to a customer's attention before purchase.

“It's difficult to understand why one adult travelling alone would not be covered if the whole family is covered”, she added. “There is a serious risk that family members would unknowingly travel without cover under this policy.”

Make restrictions clearer

Restricting cover in this way isn’t a very common practice. So I can’t say that I could have reasonably expected it to be in my policy.

And thinking about the restriction itself, it doesn't seem to make much sense.

No insurer would try to reject claims because a couple was a kilometre apart while on holiday and one person got hurt. They don’t expect you to be glued at the hip the whole time. So what difference does it make, in reality, if we are abroad together or not?

What would Amex have done if I hadn’t double-checked and we had needed to make a claim?

This goes for all insurers who have unusual restrictions: it’s not fair to expect customers to pick up the pieces when you don't make things clear in the first place.