The government office is also putting the onus on chief executives for coronavirus claims determinations
Financial services regulator the Central Bank of Ireland has written to the chairs and chief executives of general insurance and life insurance firms in Ireland, requiring them to offer consumer-focused solutions, such as insurance payment breaks, policy rebates and claims, to take account of the coronavirus pandemic.
Derville Rowland, director general, financial conduct at the Central Bank of Ireland, said: “Our clear expectation is that firms should act honestly, fairly and professionally and in the best interests of their customers.
“In particular, firms need to be sensitive to changes in consumers’ circumstances due to the public health measures taken to counter the spread of Covid-19, which have left many in a financially vulnerable situation.
“We expect firms to provide reasonable arrangements to support such customers in their dealings with firms at this difficult time.’’
With this ethos in mind, the government body believes that the recent government advice to close businesses to help delay and prevent the spread of Covid-19 should be treated as a direction – this will impact claims around business closures. The Central Bank of Ireland said that insurers “must ensure that claims are properly assessed and where there is insurance cover in place, that claims are accepted and paid promptly.”
Communication is also vital at this time – the Central Bank of Ireland emphasised that insurers must engage with their intermediaries and partners to discuss the implications of coronavirus on new and existing policies, as well as clearly communicate to end customers about the level of cover provided by specific policies. This includes notifying customers about any coronavirus-related amendments at renewal.
Linked to this, the regulator further asked that insurers keep their customer-facing functions adequately resourced, to maintain a positive customer experience and ensure all queries are dealt with in a timely fashion.
For the Central Bank of Ireland, chief executives will need to step up and take overall responsibility when it comes to how their firms are managing claims determinations of whether Covid-19 is covered or not.
Where the firm is passporting into Ireland, senior management will be expected to take that responsibility.
Any claims must be fully compliant with the Central Bank’s Consumer Protection Code 2012, as well as other regulatory requirements. Any claim settlement offer made to a claimant must be fair, take into account all relevant factors and must represent the firm’s best estimate of the claimant’s reasonable entitlement under the policy.
Furthermore, insurers must ensure to handle claims effectively and properly. Where appropriate, the Central Bank of Ireland advised that firms should assist customers with the claims process, alerting them to policy terms and conditions that could be of benefit.
In terms of policy wordings, the regulator said that if there is any doubt regarding the meaning of a term, the “interpretation most favourable to the consumer should prevail”.
The Central Bank of Ireland’s deputy governor Ed Sibley added: “At all times, the Central Bank expects boards and firms to consider the consumer impact when making decisions and to engage with customers in an open, fair and transparent manner.
“This is of increased importance for the duration of the Covid-19 situation. That is why we are insisting that the [chief executives] of Irish authorised firms and senior management of firms passporting in to Ireland shall take responsibility for the oversight of how their firm is managing determinations of whether claims are covered or not in the context of Covid-19.’’