By Diana Clement*
Nine current and former Youi employees have come forward to tell their stories since Interest.co.nz published its investigation into the insurer last week. Youi’s New Zealand sales floor has been described as “feral”.
Among many allegations they claim:
► Manipulation of data, the worst allegation faced by Youi, was so common there was in-house jargon with staff calling the practice “maniping”;
► Team leaders and sales managers earned bonuses on their staff’s performance and therefore some encouraged the bad behaviour;
► Staff we spoke to say they were schooled by their superiors into how to hard sell to customers and to manipulate the system to get a sale;
► Some who didn’t break the rules to get sales were bullied by direct superiors into doing so. And;
► Elderly people were seen as fair game for a hard sell sometimes because they were easily confused.
Interest.co.nz asked Youi a series of questions about the issues raised with us by current and former Youi staff. In response to the questions Youi marketing manager Trevor Devitt, said: "We have previously provided our stance relating to similar issues raised. We are extremely concerned about these serious allegations as they are in stark contrast to our company’s processes, core values and culture. We would like to reiterate that we have a robust compliance framework and under no circumstances do we train, condone nor encourage conduct of this or a similar nature. We are currently investigating these allegations."
Meanwhile, the Commerce Commission, which has been investigating Youi since mid-2015, has asked interest.co.nz to pass on letters to the former Youi staff members who have approached us and we will be doing so.
Interest.co.nz heard from the original three whistleblowers, who featured in our first article, that it was a common practice to manipulate data going into Youi's system. The aim, we were told, is to lower premiums to a point where the customer will agree to buy on the spot. That means, for example, changing the sum insured on a house from say $300,000 to $200,000, or leading customers into dropping the replacement cost themselves. In total 12 current and former staff members have approached Interest.co.nz.
The issue for customers is that come claim time the claim will be declined on the basis that false/incorrect information was given to Youi and therefore not enough premium paid rendering the policy void because of a breach of the doctrine of “utmost good faith”.
Devitt told Interest.co.nz previously that if it was proven that staff had manipulated data, Youi would pay out. Proving that, however, can be difficult because customers have reported that requests under the Privacy Act to be supplied with their recorded calls have been routinely ignored. What’s more anyone who didn’t realise their legal rights, know how insurance complaints systems work, or questioned whether they may have genuinely made the mistake themselves, could well not be aware that they could make a complaint.
Interest.co.nz has been told that data manipulation was so common at Youi that staff have in house slang for it: “maniping”. Almost all of the current and former staff members we have spoken to say that they routinely “maniped” data being entered into the system in order to clinch the sale.
“That is what we were taught to do and told to do (by some) operations managers,” one said.
The whistleblowers who have spoken to Interest.co.nz said they didn’t necessarily want to “manip” data, but were desperate for sales in order to earn performance bonuses, which they refer to as "commission", although Youi is at pains to avoid the c-word.
“If you didn’t get enough sales every day (managers would say) ‘what’s the point of you being here if you are not selling’,” one said. “If you didn’t data manipulate, the premiums are ridiculously expensive. If you were an honest person you didn’t sell anything.” One of the highest earning staff members allegedly advised him: “manip your data man”.
One of the problems for staff, as customer complainants have said, is that the premiums could be far too high for customers to consider if they ran the data through the system legitimately.
“If you didn’t have any discount (to give) you would start to manip the data,” one former retentions staff member claims.
$11,400 versus $686
One of the new ex-Youi employees to approach us had arranged when she worked at Youi for a colleague run a quote on her parents’ house, which is in a natural hazard zone. The premium on the modest home came out as $11,400 a year compared to $686, which they were paying to State Insurance. We asked other former Youi staff if this was conceivable and they said that it was not uncommon because Youi only wanted to insure in areas that were low risk for natural hazards.
Where policies aren't competitive sales staff members have a discretionary 15% discount they can apply to policies with the touch of a button, but say they are reluctant to do so because giving discounts affected their commission. However when premiums are that high it was impossible to lower them sufficiently without manipulation.
'The sales staff that are honest are the people who suffer'
Many of the current and former staff who have approached Interest.co.nz say that the business model encouraged bad behaviour. The system had a pool of money that staff competed for leaving some with huge incomes and others with simply their base salary. “The people (sales staff) that are honest are the people who suffer.”
The whistleblowers say that the worst excesses aren’t taught in the company’s initial training. What happens, however is that staff members see that one person is scooping the commission pool by manipulating the data or other practices and getting away with it. “So then other staff members start doing it as everyone is getting away with it," one said.
Another added: “As the sales money pool was every one's wage it became really competitive. So when someone cheated and took all the money out of the pool, other reps started doing the same as they were not pulled up on it.“
People who previously prided themselves on having high moral ethics became “scammers” because everyone was doing it, she claimed. “If you did not do it you would be on a take home pay of 35k.”
Interest.co.nz has been told that there were two different types of data manipulation used. Staff tried where possible to lead the customer into agreeing with a statement so that they could manipulate the data but still fly under the radar of the company’s compliance department. If they couldn't entice the customer to get it wrong they simply changed the information themselves. The preference was for leading the customer into providing incorrect information because although claims wouldn’t be paid, “it was done in a sort of a way so that we could argue the point with compliance”.
The compliance team was a constant fear for staff. If they were picked up too many times they could risk losing their job.
The same former employee cited two examples of common manipulation. One example was where the home owner answered that there may be asbestos in the house. In that case the staff member tried to talk the customer out of it because asbestos ramped up the premium making it less likely for the person to buy a policy. Or if the house was sitting on concrete piles she would ask: “Are they foundations, or is that just a concrete slab?” The latter had a lower premium.
“Almost anything can be manipulated”, she claims.
Another example, she said, was when customers were looking to insure a black car, which resulted in a higher premium than other colours. “We would say: ‘is that black or dark grey?’”. If they could enter “grey” into the system the premium would be lower. “Charcoal” was another colour suggestion by agents.
One retention department staff member told Interest.co.nz that he would reduce car insurance premium to a level where customers would buy by telling them it was an agreed value motor vehicle policy (which is considered better cover) but set the policy up as market value, which had a lower premium. “They would only notice once they received their documents or (if) they checked their documents”.
Customer Victor complained that when he checked the details of his policy the model of his motorcycle was incorrect: The problem is your inability to recognise you have a problem. I was told that Youi, by the Registration Plate number would, through the NZTA, correctly define my motorcycle model. This is demonstrably untrue. The policy said my bike was a KLE500. The FACT is that it registered as an ER500C.Three approaches to you failed to resolve the issue and I was uncomfortable with a policy that is incorrect in a significant detail.
One manipulation that has appeared in online complaints from customers about Youi relates to young drivers or those with bad driving records. In that instance former staff members say they did their utmost to get an adult and/or someone with a clean driving record on the policy and list them as the main driver. “Having an adult on the policy reduces the premium dramatically,” said a former agent. “Sometimes by $500 a year. We would try and convince them to say (the adult used the car) 50% of the time".
“Occasionally I would see the person with the bad driving record removed from the policy altogether”.
In that circumstance if the owner had an accident they would have to pay between $1,000 and $2,500 unlisted driver excess over and above the standard excess, even though they were the owner of the car, arranged the insurance and paid the premiums. It’s not uncommon for insurance companies to decline claims and void the policy from inception where a parent has insured a car in their name that is mainly driven by the child.
'Pumping drivers to change their story'
The whistleblower also claimed Youi staff routinely “pumped” drivers who had demerit points to “change their story” in order to reduce the premium. “Obviously come to claim time, (the policy) would be null and void. (But) it was the only way to get premiums even remotely at a market friendly price”.
When asked how this would benefit Youi as a company, the former employee said: “They wouldn’t have to pay the claims in some instances and it meant (Youi) were writing more business”.
When claims were turned down, one former employee said, “(customers) usually put it down to giving the adviser the wrong info”. Another said: “We led them into a question (but) you know for a fact if this person claims they are going to get nothing.”
Many other customers have found they weren't covered for risks they considered to be the basis of their insurance because they weren’t told about “optional extras” that are standard at other companies. For example George wrote on Youi’s Wall, where only customers can post:
Very disappointed to realise that the clause making cover for accidental damage an add-on to my contents policy had not been drawn to my attention by the eager Aussie Youi salesman. No wonder Youi boast about lower premiums. Small comfort to be told first that given this lapse, Youi might reconsider my claim for accidental damage, and then that they now make a point of explaining this glaring gap in their no frills contents policy before sign-up but in my case the strict wording must apply.
Youi is the worst company I have ever dealt with, they pretend they are asking questions to get the right Insurance for you but all it is, is to put as many clauses in and opt outs so when you come to claim ...You can not. The first message I got was I did not have accidental cover...what the hell! I would never buy Insurance without accidental cover. That is the whole point of Insurance for when things are damaged accidentally, some tricky dicky salesperson hid that one and I never heard about the sales call that you checked back so you were obviously at fault on that one. How can accidental cover be an opt in, on an Insurance policy...what a con! Next I am not covered for cleaning accidents!!
Disappointed that certain important details not explained during set up of contents policy. I never realised that NO jewellery covered away from home UNLESS specified. I lost a watch (a gift from my daughter). I only realised following loss that watch not covered away from home. Worse still, apart from sentimental value the watch on investigation was worth $5000. I was not entitled to gain a cent! A very expensive lesson. Be warned jewellery is only insured if lost at home unless otherwise specified! If I lost it at home I would have hoped to find it, however, I lost it 8km away.
Ashleigh Connor wrote on Youi's former Australia/New Zealand Facebook.com/Youi page, which has since been geoblocked so that New Zealanders can no longer visit it and a new page launched:
So angry and I’m so glad that I’m now with State. I can’t believe that we have to opt in and pay extra for accidental damage cover?? Isn't this why most people take out insurance in the first place? I only realised this when I tried to lodge a claim...the sales person that convinced me to sign up totally failed to mention this critical fact. Additional cost of insuring against accidental damage on my house and contents means the savings he promised me have now gone out the window! I then spent 15 minutes on the phone trying to cancel my policy because he felt that my reason for leaving was "a bit silly".
John JP also posted on Youi’s Facebook page before Kiwis were geoblocked from seeing it in February:
BEWARE ALL! Check your policy wording through and through so you don't get caught out like me!! Your call centre rep just advised me that "unlike most New Zealand insurance companies, Youi doesn't cover accidental damage or mobile phones unless you ask". Disappointed in this slimy way to get out of claims. When I phoned up, I was under the pretence that "contents insurance" meant "contents insurance" and not theft, fire, tsunamis for most items excluding phones. I thought you advertised a "no surprises" policy. In another couple of months I would have been taking out house insurance - you've just lost a customer who would have stayed with you for a lifetime over your slimy wording.
'Data manipulation completely unacceptable'
As reported in last week's article Devitt described data manipulation as completely unacceptable, dishonest and, if identified, dealt with decisively. He said Youi would both honour the premiums offered even once the data had been corrected and honour claims. "Any former staff members who have provided you with information may therefore be disgruntled and could very well have been subject to disciplinary action," said Devitt.
Devitt also said some disgruntled customers have mis-represented what happened in their phone calls with Youi staff, although the insurer had taken customer feedback onboard and made changes to specific processes and systems to ensure clarity, compliance and alignment with customer expectations. Additionally Devitt said Youi's sales advisors were not paid on a commission basis.
A Commerce Commission spokesman told Interest.co.nz after last week's story was published that the regulator's current investigation into Youi was in its final stages. And a spokesman for the Reserve Bank, which as prudential regulator of insurers licences Youi, described the issues and allegations raised in last week's article as "important and serious." The Insurance Council of New Zealand told Interest.co.nz that a "please explain" letter had been sent to Youi following our article and the response would be discussed by the board when it is received.
Youi’s own website has a section called the “Wall” where customers’ comments are posted under their first name only. Unlike the other sources used for interest.co.nz's articles, there is no link to their social media profiles to identify the people and verify their story. Devitt has said the satisfaction rating on the “Wall” is 86%.
The 'Q word'
Many of the complaints being investigated by the Commerce Commission relate to customers who went online looking for quotes. Youi’s website prompts them to enter a phone number and they are called immediately by the next available agent. Time and time again customers have complained that they only wanted a quote, but were convinced to hand over payment details “in order to complete the quote” or for other excuses.
Former staff members have told Interest.co.nz that requests for quotes were referred in house as the “Q word”. “Shopping (around) was also a dirty word,” one said. No matter what, employees were expected to turn requests for quotes into sales. That, we're told, often means bamboozling the client until they handed over credit card or bank details. In order to do this sales and retention staff were schooled by their line managers or fellow staff in how to turn requests for quotes into sales, which matches many of the complaints posted on social media by unhappy customers.
One said: “We were told (by team leaders or others) ‘we don’t give quotes. We give you an insurance policy’. This was drilled in.”
Another former employee said: “Youi fears people reading the PDS (policy disclosure statement) terms and conditions; if someone takes out the policy they are less likely to change their mind later. (We did this) by slowly transitioning them to the payment stage, "setting up" the policy making it ready to go. If the customer even slightly hint(ed) towards buying the policy it would be set up to start in 21 days.”
Many customers failed to realise that they’d signed up for the policy, believing that they’ve handed over their payment details to “finalise a quote” because they were told that Youi’s IT system didn’t spit out quotes without payment details.
One former staff member said it was common to tell customers that to “unlock the quote for you I am going to need your visa card details."
“It’s scary how many customers fell for that.” He would also say: “We can unlock your quote (and) any discounts you might be entitled to.” This former staff member claims around 70% of clients he dealt with fell for that line and failed to realise they were being misled. Customers trusted Youi because of its television adverts, which made it out to be a trustworthy company.
When he questioned the sales method this staff member claims he was taken into a room and told he was being ‘insubordinate’.
'It’s okay we are not going to take any money out’
Staff members were schooled in overcoming objections from customers who just wanted a quote. “We were told (by team leaders): ‘If you push them once more they will give you their credit card details or bank account details’. We would say (to the customer): ‘it’s okay we are not going to take any money out’ or (we) would say ‘this price is only valid for one day’, or ‘you are not going to get a better deal than this’. I have heard (sales staff) absolutely bully people into giving their credit card details. People got so flustered that they gave credit card details.”
Customer Brian Bowmar wrote on Youi’s Wall: I am a person who likes to check policies apples for apples and I rang up 4 companies plus a broker for a quote. While your policies were better than the ones we had, they weren't the best in the end. What annoyed me about your company, and I have not come across this before, was that you insisted on getting all my bank details and setting up the policy when all I wanted was a quote.
People who didn’t agree to hand over their payment details on the spot were sometimes hounded by phone calls. For example FitSTCSA posted on Reddit: I phoned them up for car insurance got quoted a price higher than my current one, told them that. Then over the next three weeks got spam called by them asking if I had changed my mind. Takes getting mad with them to stop them calling.
Many of those that did acquiesce and hand over their payment details believed that they could either email in a cancellation (which did not result in cancellation), make a quick call to cancel, or that the policy wouldn’t be activated. Some have found that not to be the case.
Zareth Mulvay posted on Youi’s Facebook page: I bought some high priced insurance from you guys because I was told I could cancel it any time. I emailed a week after I bought insurance happy to pay for the month and asked if I could cancel. I received a response saying I would be directed to the correct department. No response. No answer on the phone line within 15 minutes of waiting on the line. Emailed again. Same response. Rang again during biz hours, and could not wait the ten minutes plus of wait time.
Trina Le’aana Wilkinson wrote: This is one of the worst companies. Cancelled my insurance with you in August. You continued to take money from my account, I rang 3 times. Have sent 4 emails and I am now stuck with over $280 bank fees, from you taking money out of an account I told you not too.
And Sabine Kreukel wrote on Youi’s Facebook page:
I was on the phone with the rep for 50 minutes, answering heaps of questions. At the end I had to talk him into sending me the quote via email because I wanted to compare it with other insurers' quotes. He thought it was 'silly' to not sign up straight away over the phone if they offered everything I wanted for my contents insurance. He tried getting bank account details out of me but I refused. Luckily, because reading other reviews here it would have meant they deduct the first payment straight away without consent.
Covered for hitting a kangaroo in Auckland
Another former employee said reps tried to talk customers “out of shopping around, make Youi seem awesome and get them to buy immediately”. He would “trash talk” other companies.
Ruth Withers wrote on Youi’s Facebook page: “You also spend an inordinate amount of time deriding my current insurer without facts to back it up.”
Former staff members say the sales and retention methods were learned in the first place from Australian managers from Youi’s headquarters on the Sunshine Coast who were shipped here to train the founding New Zealand staff.
“I don’t think there is any way management could have had no idea about what was happening”, one said.
Interest.co.nz has noticed that complaints online from both Australian and New Zealand customers are often similar suggesting similar sales methods are used in both countries. What's more New Zealand customers report dealing with Australian-based sales reps when the call centre in New Zealand was closed or overloaded.
Amusingly Ruth Withers wrote on Youi’s Facebook page that the sales person told her she would be covered if she hit a Kangaroo. !I live in Auckland not Australia as illustrated in the details I told your company twice!!!!
'Sheep, dogs & wolves'
One former staff member posted online and subsequently told Interest.co.nz in a recorded interview that elderly customers were considered fair game at Youi because they were easily confused. “It was subtle at times, but as soon as we got someone who we could tell were a little off, it was no holds barred”.
“They often didn't give any opposition to pricing or policy detail, they just wanted it done”.
Another said customers were classified into sheep, who could be easily led into a sale, dogs that could be trained, and wolves who they wouldn’t convince no matter what. Older people were considered to fall into the sheep category.
“My manager would listen to my calls (live). If they sounded older or the date of birth was before 1950 my manager would tap me on the shoulder and mouth the word ‘sheep’ and give me the thumbs up”, he said. He also said he was also encouraged to sell added extras to older customers they didn’t need.
“My manager would look me in the side of the head and say: ‘extras, extras, extras’,” he said.
Another former staff member added that building up the trust to get a credit card or payment details was a lot easier with older people. “They want to talk”. The staff members knew the more they continued the conversation with an older person the more likely they were of getting the credit card details from them. (Older people) were a lot easier”.
'Fictitious email accounts'
A fellow staff member said Youi’s IT system only allows for paperwork to be emailed, not posted by mail. Therefore elderly people needed email addresses to complete quotes. Some staff members, she said, would set up fictitious email accounts for such customers who didn’t have a computer or email. “I have seen people set up email addresses for older people who have no idea what they are doing.”
The policy details that the elderly person may or may not have realised they’d agreed to, were then emailed to that email address even though the customer would never receive the paperwork. “The older person has no idea how to check the paper work or documents or anything like that.”
The staff member who said that older people liked to talk also said this practice of setting up fictitious email addresses for elderly customers did happen. Sometimes, he said, instead of creating a fictitious email address the staff member would type in their own email address for the documentation to be sent to. The elderly customer, who may not have realised they’d signed up for a policy, wouldn’t receive any documentation, but the sale was made and the direct debits started.
When said customers found that they’d signed up to a policy after money started coming out of their accounts, some would call the retention department to cancel, but would be hung up on as much as ten times in a row, he claimed.
“A lot of them didn’t have the energy. It’s kind of like an argument. They just give up.” The staff member says they earned more money for calls that didn’t result in a cancellation so had a vested interest in ending calls early without actioning the cancellation request.
Mary Ouwerkerk complained on Youi’s wall that her father was not given what he was promised by sales staff:
I recently talked my father into getting a quote from Youi and your premium was a considerable saving. Dad spoke to someone over the phone and was promised free road side assist and free glass windscreen under his 'comprehensive' cover BUT I see that Dad has to pay a $50 excess on windscreen glass claims. Could you please explain? This only came to light 'after' he had paid the premium over the phone and 'after' I accessed the printable email response from Youi. I hope this can be cleared up. A Youi representative posted online that she had contacted Ourwerkerk's father and explained the coverage to him.
Kate Hodgins emailed Interest.co.nz at the beginning of April and said:
My elderly father in law rang and asked Youi for a quote last year and gave his card details to "unlock the quote" having been assured they would not take money out. He did not sign anything and, having seen the quote, rang back to say he was not interested. This conversation was recorded and acknowledged by Youi.
Since then, he has had almost $2,000 taken from his account in two separate withdrawals. One of $970 this time last year after the initial conversation and one over $1000 at the same time this year. I am confused at how any organisation can take money from an account multiple times without a signed contract, never mind the morality. He has supplied them with details of his current insurer, but has still not been paid back.
In our earlier article we outlined how the “retention” (cancellations) team members were remunerated on the basis of how many policies they "saved" and customers have talked about how they have found it almost impossible to cancel.
Neil wrote on the Youi Wall: I went to cancel a policy and the guy I talked to was so rude and got mad at me when I tried to cancel my policy because of a difficult financial situation at the moment and hung up on me sooooo rude!
Indra Wills posted on Facebook:
Youi is not only a waste of time, you guys ripped me off!!! I never wanted to activate the new policies anyway and sent an email 9 days before it got activated. No reply, then realised my credit card was charged! Spoke to someone about it and asked to cancel my policies (3 policies) and a full refund. The policies were cancelled but amt refunded was only $23.87 of $165.09 paid! Emailed Youi again but it has been 2 weeks and NO one even bothered to contact or reply to my email. WHAT A RIP OFF!!! Is this how you guys do business??? Never again and buyer beware.
Customer Fraser posted on Youi’s Wall: Spent 45 minutes on the phone to cancel my policy which resulted in my policy not actually being cancelled and my account debited $230. A lot of my time has been wasted and money also. Very annoying that Youi tries selling you another policy when you clearly just want it cancelled. In addition to hanging up on customers who wanted to cancel, staff members say they would put “customers” on hold for extended periods of time in the hope they went away.
They were also told to “talk the customer out of leaving the company. To do whatever was in your power to (make the customer) stay". One former staff member said she and her colleagues were both schooled by team leaders and others in phrases designed to stop the customer cancelling, or learned them by listening to other staff in action.
A customer who kept insisting they wanted to cancel might be told to think about it overnight. She would say: “We just want to give you a bit more time to think about it.” The customer would then need to run the gauntlet of another retention agent the next day. Many customers have said that Youi’s retention staff simply wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and continued to upsell come what may.
“We needed to try and talk them into a review of their policies. That was the time to go back and manip the data.” Staff members would also drone on about how Youi’s customer service and/or claims department was second to none, even though they had no evidence of this. “We would go on and on and on about the ‘service we will give you’. All that Ra Ra sort of stuff. Then you go through the policy again.”
Some customers running the gauntlet of retentions would also have their data manipulated, interest.co.nz has been told. “It is very common in retention where we have to save customers. So you manip data or you lead them into an answer. When you are on that floor doing it you learn all the tricks.”
Customers trying to cancel multiple policies often had the most problem cancelling because the staff members would be penalised for each cancelled policy. “They are going to hang up on that phone call because you get penalised for four cancellations with one call.”
One employee said that she was aware of customers who had gone overseas and thought they had cancelled, only to find that premiums had continued to be deducted and/or honour and dishonour fees were mounting up in their bank accounts.
The retentions team was able to give discounts of up 50% on most policies and 75% on a few to retain the business. Another staff member said the same. But like sales people they only did that as a last resort because it affected their performance base pay.
Youi customer “N” posted on Youi's "Wall":
Really disappointing experience of call centre staff constantly pushing for why we are leaving, and then adding insult by suggesting we could save a further $512yr if we stay - how about you be upfront with your best price from the outset. Incredibly pushy staff who are obviously paid on commission basis and do not listen to a direct request to simply cancel our policies - our mind was already made up, and this experience has reinforced our negative perception of Youi.
'Team leaders actively encouraged the behaviour'
Interest.co.nz has been told that some team leaders actively encouraged the behaviour because they received performance based pay according to the performance of their staff. One staff member claimed it was in the team leader and sales manager’s favour for staff to manipulate data to get sales.
Another said: “Our managers told us to do it (sales) this way. We were actively told to do half these things.” Other dubious sales methods were learned by listening to the most successful sales people.
The staff member, who left because he didn’t agree with the company’s ethics, says he was routinely bullied. “(Staff members) are pushed into doing things ethically the wrong way,” he said. “It got to the point I got so distressed because I didn’t want to cheat (customers) into a policy that was way too expensive.”
He added: “If you didn’t get that sale they would say ‘(name removed) could you come to me for training. They would throw me into a room, sit me down with a team leader and would put the phone call on blast. They would then stop and tell me what I did wrong. After the training you have to go back out and keep selling. When the phone rings you get anxiety. If you get it wrong you will be forced to listen to your own voice for that whole 40 minutes.”
A former colleague added: “The reps retainer was only 35k and the managers of Youi said that it's ‘easy' to make commission but when you get on the floor it is a different story. (Reps) are desperate to make the sale. The team leader (can turn) a blind eye as it lines their pockets also. (Some) area managers turn a blind eye as it makes him look great to Head Office in Australia. So since this is not punished really they keep doing it and it’s a cycle.”
One former retention agent even said his team leader even manipulated the data for him. “My team manager would come to my computer and manip my customer for me so I could save them.”
When a team leader, who has spoken to Interest.co.nz alerted the compliance department to a particular subordinate's calls, she was reprimanded by her own manager. “It was very much a matter of you turn a blind eye to anything you see. The bullying was huge. I was in tears when I read your article.”
'Do you really take that much stuff away from home?'
One former employee said staff members were aware of shortcomings in Youi’s policies pointed out by Interest.co.nz in our previous article. The home contents policy doesn’t as standard cover accidental damage or goods away from home cover, which has been the norm in New Zealand insurance since the 1980s.
Although most contents policies in New Zealand come automatically with cover away from home and accidental damage cover as standard, this wasn’t the case with the policies they were selling. “With cover for jewellery, for electronics, for accidental damage, if you were getting a policy from State or AA or Tower you would get this. (At Youi) it is an optional extra. There would be people with $15,000 diamond rings. We would say to the customer: ‘It is on your finger all the time. Why do you need it covered away from home?’
“We would say: ‘do you really take that much stuff away from home? Have you really had an accident in your home? Do you still have this much stuff?’ just to put the fear into customers and take as much stuff off (the cover) as you can."
Clients had to pay the added extras, but the staff tried not to tell them about it because it would increase the premium beyond a “viable” level, meaning they didn’t buy, she said.
Ironically the same staff member mentioned above who was told to sell extras to older people was also encouraged not to mention added extras to customers who might not buy if the cost of the extras was added to the premium. An accidental damage extension, for example, could add 30% to the cost of the policy.
One such customer wrote on Reddit: After getting prices which seems suspiciously cheap, I asked what the procedure was if my TV fell over. Was it new for old, have to find same model somewhere, store vouchers etc. Dude on the phone paused "oooooohhhhhhh, so you want cover for accidents as well”. “Um yeah, that's half of what contents cover is" and ended the call.
Another customer wrote on Youi’s Wall:
I am OLD!! So I have been doing this insurance **** for a lot of years. When I first contacted you people I was rang back by one (name removed) who I enjoyed talking with. She presented herself knowledgeably and professionally and I was impressed with the savings over my current cover. BUT For god’s sake there was a heap of stuff left out. For example - how the hell can you offer contents cover BUT ONLY IF IT IS IN THE HOUSE????? Everybody who dares to live will go outside their house but not be covered by you lot. AND I didn't ****** know that!! So I have been travelling around as normal peeps do, with $2000 of camera and maybe $1000 tools and coats and **** in my car - without cover. Is this sort of short changing that allows you lot to front onto TV with ... that 'we are cheaper" ****** I am now seeking other options - you lot are a not good to know!
'When do you have something away from home that you need covered?'
Former staff members say they would try to convince customers not to take away from home cover. “I would say: ‘actually when do you have something away from home that you need covered?” one said. When she looked at her own handbag, which contained a phone, Kindle, perfume, makeup and keys, the statement was ridiculous. But it sometimes convinced customers to agree to the policy.
Many customers have expressed surprise on Youi’s Wall on its website and elsewhere on social media to find that their claims for anything from jewellery lost away from home to smashed iPads aren’t covered in their policies.
Staff members in both sales and compliance say they were schooled in focussing on the minutiae detail of policies and repeating the same thing over and over again to draw attention away from the short comings. “Customers were told three or four things about the policy and those are the ones we focussed on. The purpose of that is to try and put doubt in people’s mind about what they are being covered for by their current insurer. (Staff) would find something they think is going to emotionally get to the person they are selling to."
One said: “We used to prey on people’s kids. We would cover (child) car seats (for example) and if there was any sort of accident and there was a car seat we would automatically replace them. It was emotionally pulling on the heart strings. We would ask: ‘how old are your kids and what are their names?' We would say: ‘what say you had a crash and little Billy’s car seat was damaged? You can’t afford to pay for that on top of everything else. We would get Billy a new car seat’. There was nothing legally wrong with that, (but) it is ethically wrong.”
At the end of a very lengthy sales process customers who just wanted quotes would often fold and hand over their payment details. “People came off the phone flummoxed saying: ‘what just happened?’. Then a month later saying ‘why did all this money come out of my (credit) card'. They had no intention of buying,” she said.
'Gaming the compliance system'
Former staff members spoken to by Interest.co.nz say they gamed the compliance system, which in theory should have picked up rogue behaviour and stopped it. “In terms of compliance not really anything gets picked up. It is very easy to get away in terms of the quality process,” one said.
“Top performing staff were clearly breaking laws in their selling but management didn't care.”
Another said: “The disciplinary processes are not robust enough to stop them.” And a third said to Interest.co.nz: “I never witnessed someone getting a slap on the wrist for it.”
One former staff member said that only three calls per month per agent were audited by the compliance department. When compliance staff did pick up issues, they were passed to sales managers to do the disciplining. Because the team leaders and their bosses earned performance bonuses from staff’s sales they brushed it under the carpet where possible. “Sometimes a sales manager would manage to (handle) the warnings in such a way they would go away,” she said. Staff members didn’t lose their jobs as often they should have.
Interest.co.nz has been told that there were two types of compliance breeches. If one sales or retention staff member was picked up twice in a set period on one type of breach such as a key contract information (KCI) breach and had received written warnings or final written warnings, they would switch to other types of data manipulation until the KCI breaches had dropped off their record.
“If you have two KCIs and you do a data manipulation (breech) they don’t add up. It is really easy to get around compliance,” interest.co.nz was told.
*Have you had a claim with Youi? Freelance journalist Diana Clement can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.