I have recently written about the significant impact that the forthcoming changes to the General Insurance Code of Practice will bring to the Australian Insurance Law and how those changes will be enforced.
It is therefore timely that the General Insurance Code Governance Committee has published its latest report on member performance against the existing code. (Remember that the existing code was launched in 2014 and will be updated on 1 July 2021).
That report not only highlights the level of compliance over the last twelve to eighteen months, more importantly, it gives some real insights into what role the Code and its Governance Committee will play going forward.
Since 1994, the Code has evolved into a powerful statement of self-regulation of the insurance industry in Australia. It is a statement about the standards of conduct to which the members of that industry have agreed to adhere.
One of the central planks of the 2014 version of the Code is Code Governance - how breaches of the Code are reported and corrected. The 2020 Code will give the national framework even greater muscle: -
Firstly, the 2020 Code will empower anyone to report a breach of the Code to the Code Governance Committee.
Secondly, the 2020 Code will empower the Code Governance Committee to punish breaches of the Code rather than just failures to correct breaches.
Thirdly there will be a wide range of sanctions which the Code Governance Committee can impose extending from taking particular action to compensating a party or paying a significant fine.
Overwhelming (and disappointingly), the five most reported breached areas of the Code were:
Claims - timeframe compliance and honesty in claims handling,
Complaints and disputes - timeframe compliance and communication with the complainant,
Buying insurance - efficient, honest, fair, and transparent sales and correcting errors in applications,
Access to information - giving access to information and the storage of that information; and
Financial hardship - the proper treatment of consumers experiencing financial hardship.
Across all these areas, the reported breaches have increased.
Hardly a pass mark. If anything, it is a statement that self-regulation may not be working as well as people might have hoped for.
And these results do not take into account the breaches which the Committee itself identified. According to the Report: -
As a result of its investigations, the Committee identified 172 breaches of the Code. This is 51 more breaches than in the previous year (42% increase) and almost twice as many as the 89 identified breaches in 2017–18 (Figure 21). The number of finalised investigations increased by 20% in 2019–20 compared with the previous year.
So, what is the Code Governance Committee saying about what the future holds for the Code?
One of the signature changes of the 2020 Code is the focus on the vulnerability of consumers particularly those who are exposed to domestic violence. A particular area of the Committee’s current focus is checking if members have published their respective family violence policies on their websites.
The Committee is well advanced in its preparations for, amongst other things, reviewing the extent to which members have implemented those parts of the 2020 Code which have already commenced and readied themselves to implement those parts which commence in a few months.
The compliance obligations are more onerous and the sanctions more serious. The Committee is currently developing and providing guidance on the sanctions which will be imposed for any failure to comply with the Code. The Committee’s attitude will be clear.
The 2020 Code presents insurers with a significant challenge to improve every aspect of its day-to-day operations.
The latest Report Card is in and reflects a disappointing picture. The members of the Australian Insurance Industry need to pick up their act or, if they are picking it up, pick it up more.
There is work to be done.
The name of the Report is General Insurance Code of Practice Annual Industry Data and Compliance Report 2019-2020 - Click Here