The Commonwealth Bank’s insurance business may have committed a crime by running misleading ads about trauma coverage for heart attacks, banking royal commission lawyers say.
The barristers have recommended possible criminal findings against CBA’s CommInsure and life insurer ClearView despite the regulator effectively closing their cases, while AMP and Allianz have been accused of offences involving late breach reports.
CommInsure faced up to $8 million in fines over the misleading ads but walked away with a $300,000 community benefit payment with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s blessing.
Senior counsel assisting the royal commission Rowena Orr QC on Friday recommended misconduct findings against CommInsure over the trauma policy ads, which may have left people believing they would be covered for a heart attack when that was not necessarily the case.
Ms Orr said CommInsure may have made false and misleading representations in the advertising and promotional material.
That can be a civil or criminal offence.
ASIC did not take enforcement action over the misleading ads that ran from December 2012 to March 2016, agreeing that CommInsure make a $300,000 community benefit payment.
The advertising issue was connected to ASIC’s investigation into the 2016 scandal over CommInsure using out-of-date medical definitions.
Financial services company ClearView may also face criminal charges for committing 300,000 offences by making unsolicited cold calls to sell life insurance, if royal commissioner Kenneth Hayne QC makes findings against it.
Ms Orr has recommended formal findings that ClearView breached anti-hawking laws between 300,000 and 303,000 times over a three-year period, which the company has admitted.
That means the ASX-listed company could still face a criminal prosecution, despite the inquiry hearing there was no indication that ASIC planned to recommend such action.
Ms Orr said ClearView also breached other financial services laws.
“ClearView’s systemic failures in its sales processes meant that policyholders were frequently being sold policies in circumstances where ClearView was not behaving honestly and fairly,” she said.
“ClearView sales agents were encouraged to sell aggressively, to sign up customers immediately, and to use other inappropriate methods of obtaining sales.”
ClearView has stopped selling life insurance directly to consumers after the regulator found it used unfair and high pressure sales practices to sell life insurance policies by phone.
It is refunding $1.5 million to 16,000 consumers over its direct sales practices, but the remediation is expected to ultimately cover 32,000 life insurance policies sold between 2014 and mid-2017.
Counsel assisting outlined numerous possible findings of misconduct and conduct falling below community standards against the companies questioned in its two-week insurance hearing.
In the case of Australia’s largest wealth manager AMP and insurer Allianz, the barristers said the firms may have committed criminal offences by failing to comply with their breach reporting obligations.
AMP said it strenuously rejected the assertion.