Probe firm begins to retrain agents
COMBINED Insurance has begun retraining up to 500 of its sales agents as it awaits the outcome of a Financial Regulator investigation into practices at the company
The regulator has been investigating "sales and governance" issues at Combined for almost four months now and is believed to be nearing the end of its probe.
The niche insurer, which specialises in accident and illness policies, potentially faces fines of up to €5m and a variety of trading restrictions in the event that the regulator makes an adverse finding.
The regulator's investigation is believed to centre on the way Combined's sales agents market their products to prospective buyers, allegedly encouraging customers to buy products they don't need.
A case highlighted earlier in the year featured the family of a 77-year-old farmer who complaining to the Financial Ombudsman about their relative being sold nine unnecessary products over a 15-year period.
It is understood that several similar cases of alleged over-selling are being examined, while complaints have also been made about Combined's door-to-door sales tactics.
The Irish Independent has learned that Combined recently sent a text message to about 500 of its Irish sales agents, who work on a commission basis, signalling a retraining exercise. The sales agents have also been asked to sign a new charter.
A spokesman for Combined declined to comment on the staff efforts, while a spokeswoman for the Financial Regulator said she could make no comment on an open case.
It is understood, however, that the investigation is proceeding and that the regulator is keen to bring it to a conclusion.
Employing about 50 people direct, Combined has a relatively low profile in the areas where it doesn't operate, but is very well-known in pockets of the country.
The company's products include accident hospital plans, accident disability plans, sickness income plans and critical illness plans, which are sold throughout the country by the agents' network.
Combined's most recent set of Irish accounts shows premiums of €74m in 2008 and a dividend payment of €30m to parent company Ace.
Ace also has substantial Irish operations, including a branch of ACE Europe which provides property, liability and marine insurance as well as financial lines through a small brokerage net.