You will never win an argument for charging the dead

Insight

The Royal Commission has tarnished if not burned some reputations that will now start the slow path to reputation recovery.

Reputation can be rebuilt but there is a right way and a wrong way; trying to argue it’s OK to charge the dead insurance premiums must surely rank at the very end of the scale of the wrong way to do it.

In its submission to the Royal Commission, AMP described the process of charging dead customers life insurance premiums as “inevitable and appropriate”. In their defence, in these instances and once AMP was informed and the claim was finalised, premiums were refunded. But that’s not the point and herein lies the reputation lesson for all – it’s the optics of what you say and how you say it that drives perceptions.

Of course no life insurer can know a customer has passed until informed by family or other contacts, but even so, don’t hide behind process or a legal position to say it’s ‘appropriate’ – any common sense barometer would tell you it is never OK to say that.

Often it’s not about saying it as it is but instead applying a human lens to how things may appear if you do. In many instances this will require a bit of humility, unfortunately a characteristic the public typically don’t associate with the banking and financial services sector.

Context is everything when responding to an issue publically, an approach along the lines of “we have done nothing wrong” may be legally defensible but matters of reputation don’t rest solely on that approach. In fact, often this approach is not morally defensible in the context of what has happened and this is an important if not critical nuance many corporations seem to miss.

Given the benefit of hindsight of how the AMP issue has played out, the obvious question is could they have avoided this? The first step was to apply the common sense rule i.e. if we say this, no matter how right we are, how will it look in public? It’s a simple question but it’s amazing how often common sense goes out the window in times of crisis.

Second, explore how you can say the same thing but differently e.g. “We admit the process is not ideal, however, the death of one of our members is a sensitive matter and we often don’t know they have passed until we are informed by a third party. Only once this is confirmed are we able to reimburse the family which we typically do within x days.” Same thing but said with more sensitivity and authenticity and ultimately a very different optic.

Curiously AMP actually did say something very similar. The problem was it was entirely passed over because of these three words which accompanied the submission: “inevitable and appropriate” – it’s amazing the difference a few words can make.