A Letter to a Life Insurance Company

The following is a letter I want to send to a life insurance company regarding their service.  Identities are anonymous to avoid complications. 

Dear Chief Executive Officer of Life Insurance Company,

I received your letter dated August 25, 2020 which arrived February 16, 2021.  Your letter stated that you did not receive payment for past due premiums for my life insurance policy.  Thus, you are notifying me that you have classified my unpaid premiums as a “Premium Loan” and that I owe the balance of PhP 7,415.45 ($USD 148.31) as of June 23, 2020. 

You also notified me that the Premium Loan will be charged an interest rate per annum of 9.00%.  You urge me to repay the loan at the soonest time to ensure I will enjoy the benefits of my policy.

In response, please be informed that the latest billing statement you sent me (dated June 21, 2020) says I have zero balance to pay.  The billing statement said the dividends I had earned from my policy paid for my past due premiums.

I ask, therefore, what do I owe your company?  Do I owe PhP 7,415.45 for a “Premium Loan” because you said I haven’t been paying my premiums or do I owe nothing because your latest billing statement says zero balance to pay?

I showed the two (2) letters to one of your agents who is a friend of mine and he said I should call your hotline or visit one of your offices. 

Rather than risk getting a CoVid virus infection going to one of your crowded offices, I called your hotline.  The very nice call centre agent at the other end of the line said I owed your company for the Premium Loan because I didn’t pay my premiums in 2019.  I asked about the billing statement of June 2020 and he just reiterated that I owe your company money. 

Fine, I said.  I won’t argue.  Please tell me how much I owe, I asked the agent.  The call centre agent said he will email me an updated statement in one week. 

I didn’t get an email.  I called again two weeks later. 

Another very nice call centre agent answered and he said I owed PhP 12,164.27 ($USD 253.42) for three missed premium payments.  I should pay it right away so there’ll be no more interest charges, he added. 

Even though I never received the billing statements, the very nice agent said I was just as responsible to know how much I owe as much as the insurance company was in sending me bills. 

I decided not to think about that very confusing statement.  Instead, I went online and immediately paid the bill. Never mind that the amount owed was much higher than what the letter dated August 25, 2020 said. 

To put it bluntly, your company is a mess.  Well, at least, it’s a mess for life insurance policy holders like me. 

I’ve had my life insurance policy from your company since 1998.  When I receive your bills, I pay immediately whatever amount is due.  I’ve paid religiously but only didn’t when your bill said I owed nothing. 

Your latest bill dated June 21, 2020 said I owed nothing.  Therefore, I didn’t pay. 

It reflects badly on your company when it says I haven’t been paying my premiums and that I have to pay an interest of 9.00% for the unpaid balance while your billing statement says I don’t owe anything. 

Your letter said I should repay the loan to continue enjoying the benefits.  What benefits are you talking about?  Please note that for me to enjoy my life insurance benefits in full, I would have to die or wait till the policy’s Termination Date, which is sometime in 2062, or a few months before my 100th birthday.  Unless technology by that time succeeds in extending my life span, I doubt I would be able to enjoy any of my life insurance’s benefits whatsoever either in this life or in the after-life. 

When I started the life insurance policy, your agent assured me that I will not have to pay for premiums after 10 years.  Your company would invest my premiums and the dividends from my life insurance investment would pay for future premiums due. 

It therefore came as a surprise that after a few years, your company’s then chairman and CEO wrote that you will be unable to meet that promise because of lower earnings from your company’s investments.  Your agent then told me it was in the fine print of the policy that your company can rescind that promise and that I have to continue paying premiums.  Too bad for me, in other words. 

Your agent handling my policy disappeared a few years after.  She vanished one day and I didn’t know who’d replace her.  There was no notice.  A temporary agent appeared once but she also disappeared.  But your company kept sending me bills; that seemed the only thing that remained consistent in the last 23 years.

The latest bill was dated June 21, 2020.  I got that bill last September 2020.  Whenever I receive a bill that says I owe something, I pay it.  The only trouble is your bills arrive late, if they arrive at all. 

The bills arrive usually six (6) months after they’re dated which indicate you have a problem with the local post office or with your couriers.  Maybe you should try carrier pigeons, they’re probably much faster than what you’re using now to send mail. 

You send bills that say I owe nothing but say in separate letters that I do with interest added.  If that’s how your accounting department computes bills, heaven forbid how much your actuarial department will calculate my life insurance benefits for my family when I die. 

You should avoid making promises you can’t keep.  I know you drive your agents to sell, sell, sell as many policies as possible and that you dangle juicy incentives for them so you can meet your revenue targets.  But please don’t commit stuff like no-premiums-to-pay after 10 years when in reality that’s not going to happen, never mind if it’s in the fine print.  Speaking of fine print, please note I’m not a linguist that can understand the legal gobbledygook which you call English to write your policies with. 

I trusted your agent at the beginning.  Unfortunately, she vanished into thin air. It would be nice if you can somehow have some sort of succession system for your agents.  It would also be nice if you can tell us if and when my agent is going to disappear, that is, if you ever assign me one for my policy.  I notice you’ve been pushing your clients to use your web portal.  I tried getting into it.  It kept giving me an error message so I gave up.  My agent friend told me that your website is being repaired.  Is it possible your information technology employees can post error messages in plain English?  That error message I saw gave me the impression that your IT employees use a language from an alien world.  Or maybe your IT department is the same one that writes the fine print in your policies? 

error message when trying to register in web portal of insurance company

I like to keep my life insurance policy until I die.  But with your kind of billing system that doesn’t tell me what I owe, the promises you don’t keep, agents who vanish, and an IT department that seems to communicate in an alien language, I don’t know if I’ll have a policy that actually pays something when I expire. 

Then again, I won’t enjoy the benefits since by then I will be either dead or senile, perhaps indirectly due to the stress your company has caused me. 

Sincerely,

E. S. Lim

P.S. I received an email that had an attachment which supposedly is the official receipt for my PhP 12,164.27 online payment.  I say “supposedly” because I couldn’t open it; the email server says the attachment is “corrupted,” which can probably be the best one-word description of your company’s services. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Four (4) Suggestions for a Client-Convenient Website

The phone company needs a password whenever I want to look at my bill. 

I enrolled into the phone company’s “paperless billing” system more than a year ago.  Before, the “paper” bills were arriving late such that when I received them, they were already past the due date.  With paperless billing, the phone company notifies me via email and SMS that the bills are ready for viewing (although the email arrives a few days after the bill date or when the bill had already been posted on the website). 

To view my bills, I have to log on with a user name and password and select the bills I want to see and save. 

It was simple as all I had to do was click on the bills I want to download.  But now, the phone company added a step in which I had to enter a 10-digit password for every bill. 

It turns out that the password is the 10-digit account number of the phone number which is displayed on the website menu.  So, what’s the logic of having to enter a password which is the same as the account number, in which anyone can see it? 

I’m already securely logged on and I still have to type a password that’s already displayed on my bill.  There’s no reason for it other than adding another layer of secrecy which doesn’t make sense.  Is the phone company afraid that someone else will maliciously pay my bills?  (I won’t mind).

Some corporations go overboard when it comes to cyber-security.  They encourage people to enrol into their websites but at the same time make it hard to get in.  It’s as if there were two people at the doors of company websites:  one who merrily welcomes you and a grouchy gatekeeper who wants to throw you out.   

I can understand the need for security given the number of high-profile hacks one sees in the news.  But does the phone company want me to get my bill or not?

Corporations also try to save money when it comes to website access. 

A large bank in the Philippines has a website which allows clients to pay taxes online to the government’s Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).  The only problem: the bank’s BIR portal closes at 5pm and opens again the next morning, and it is only accessible Mondays to Fridays.  I can’t pay my taxes at night or on weekends.  The bank advertises that its site is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year; it just didn’t say that you can’t use it to pay one’s taxes after office hours. 

The bank probably is trying to save money by turning off the portal’s server after daylight hours and on weekends.  Clients just have to schedule their tax payments during working hours in sync with the bank’s.  Meanwhile, its competitors don’t have such limits.  One can pay anytime any day on other banks’ portals.  One wonders if and when clients will migrate to other banks to pay their taxes.  I already warn friends and peers from opening accounts with this bank because of this quirky online limitation. 

One can understand the need to save money but should one do it at the expense of convenience of clients?  Especially if clients will migrate to the competition to avail of better services?   

I don’t believe it entails so much cost to make a website more convenient for clients.  At the same time, I think websites can still be compliant to data privacy and security standards. 

The following are some areas which I (a layman in information technology) propose companies focus on to make their Internet sites user-friendly and convenient:

  1.  User Interface

A mobile phone company has a website in which the log-in menu is located on a very small corner on the screen.  If one has bad eyesight (like me), one won’t be able to see it.  It took me eternity to find it the first time I was logging in.  I eventually found it after scouring every pixel of my computer screen. 

User interfaces are what are displayed on a website for users (you and I) to interact with.  It’s supposed to provide ease of access, that is, easy to see, understand, and navigate.  Making it hard for users to even see where to click defeats the purpose of a user-friendly interface. 

  •  Accessibility Anytime

It’s not only keeping a web portal open nights and weekends.  It’s also avoiding the unscheduled and scheduled downtimes at the times when clients need them most.  Some banks schedule “maintenance” of websites on weekends and holidays.  As much as I understand the value of maintenance, I suspect some banks use the pretext of “maintenance” on holidays and weekends so they don’t have to pay people to be on duty to watch their systems.  It’s convenient for them but inconvenient for some clients and goes against the intent of an online website:  24/7 availability, 365 days a year.   

  •  Availability on Any Platform

Many banks and companies offer access to their sites via personal computers, mobile phones, and tablets.  They also make sure the sites can be accessed on any of the three (3) most popular operating systems, i.e., Apple’s iOS, Alphabet’s (Google) Android, and Microsoft’s Windows. 

A few companies, however, spoil the convenience by designing their web portals for mobile phones the same way they do for desktop computers.  For example, a mobile phone company (the same one that has a lousy user interface descried above) re-routes users to desktop-designed websites.  If one is using a mobile phone, this can be a hassle as one has to go to a web browser made for a desktop computer and squint at the tiny words and letters not designed for a cell-phone. 

A very large bank, on the other hand, customised online websites for mobile phones, tablets, and personal computers respectively.  Displays and buttons are designed exclusively for whatever device and platform.  I’ve moved more of my hard-earned money to this bank because of the convenience of access. 

  •  Security That Would Let Us In, Not Keep Us Out

Of course, security is important to us.  Of course, we don’t want our data hacked and displayed for all the world to see.  But can’t companies have websites where we don’t have to spend 80% of our time entering passwords in letters, numbers, & symbols, wait for an SMS confirmation which sometimes never comes, declare we’re not robots by encoding undecipherable curved letters, and having to enter new passwords to read our own bills?  Can’t companies welcome clients without treating them as presumed-guilty-until-proven-innocent criminals?  

We as customers or clients want to be served with convenience and with the assurance our transactions will be secure.  But sometimes, enterprises do too much for security or try to save on cost by sacrificing convenience. 

They forget that whom they try to protect or the costs they want to save can backfire on the clients, who are the people who’re providing their business in the first place. 

I don’t believe it requires rocket science to tweak web pages to have friendly user-interfaces, wide availability, anytime access, and reasonable security.  A little understanding for clients can go a long way in serving them even via a virtual online website. 

About Overtimers Anonymous