Tata AIA Life refunds Rs2.5 lakh after Moneylife proved contradictory policy terms

Prakash Saxena (name changed), age 59 years was mis-sold Tata AIG (now called Tata AIA) InvestAssure Gold Whole life ULIP policy in March 2008 for investment purposes. Mr Saxena had paid five premiums with last payment in March 2012. The policy got auto-surrendered in May 2013 as the fund value was lesser than one year of premium of Rs50,000. Tata AIA letter dated 30 May 2013 states that there was non-receipt of premium towards due date of March 2013. Tata AIA sent cheque of Rs33,759 to Mr Saxena as a full and final settlement of all claims and demands under the policy.

Mr Saxena wrote to Moneylife Foundation Insurance Helpline as he had no clue what happened with his policy. He was even willing to pay premium to restart the policy, but the insurer had already mailed him the cheque after closing the policy. Moneylife Foundation Insurance Helpline found that something was inconsistent in the policy terms. The Schedule of Benefits and Premiums document clearly states Number of years premium payable is five and Last premium due date as 30 March 2012 and Policy term of 41 years. Mr Saxena had paid five premiums with last payment in March 2012. He did everything as was told by the policy to do. How did the fund value fall below the one premium amount mark? Was it the equity fund option that made the difference?

The answer was actually in the charges which ate over 80% of the annual premium payment. Old ULIPs (pre September 2010) had heavy front loaded charges. Moreover, the mortality charges are steep for older age and it differs with every insurance company. The product which was purchased for investment purposes of Rs50,000 per annum was actually giving insurance cover with only a small amount for investment purposes. It explains why the fund value was only Rs33,759 after five years.

But, did Tata AIA sell the right product to the customer or did they have policy terms that clearly benefitted them? Does Tata AIA benefit from not covering the policyholder who today is nearly 65 years for Rs15 lakh sum assured after enjoying the premium payment for five years? We can t say. But, the policy terms had contradictions. If Number of years premium payable is five and Last premium due date is 30 March 2012, why was Tata AIA expecting the policyholder to pay sixth premium on 30 March 2013? If Number of years premium payable is five, then why is Policy term of 41 years knowing fully well that policy will auto surrender the moment the premium payment is stopped. This is due to the fact that over 80% of the premium payment was going towards the charges. There were clear underwriting errors.

Mr Saxena was under impression that he is buying a whole-life policy and Tata AIA knew that policy will be over after five years. Moneylife Foundation Insurance Helpline highlighted the discrepancies to the insurer. Tata AIA swiftly made a decision to refund the entire premium amount of Rs2.5 lakh to Mr Saxena and they have made the payment. It proves that if there is a genuine case that can be logically proved, the insurance company will have to make amends.

Moneylife has written to Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) stating that the case is not just of mis-selling, but flawed underwriting and hence a toxic product. We requested IRDA to find out from Tata AIA about how many such policies were fraudulently sold and auto-surrendered. Mr Saxena case should not be looked as one-off case, but IRDA help is needed to get justice to all the policyholders who had to suffer.

Moneylife had written about how one senior citizen relied on the misleading benefit illustration of HDFC Life Young Star product that conveniently ignored the steep mortality charges, which made up for 80% of the premium. The insurance company benefited by keeping the customer in the dark about how much part of the premium really goes towards mortality charges. It is certainly an ingenious way for a life insurance company as they benefit with hefty mortality charges due to higher age of the insured as well as from the expensive Waiver of Premium (WoP) feature. After all the other charges of premium allocation and policy administration charges are deducted, what goes into investment is negligible and hence the corpus after seven years was dismal. HDFC Life child plan sold to senior citizen erodes 96% of investment amount!

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