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Methods sparked fury among clients

IN the summer of 2010, a lot of people hadn't heard of Combined Insurance. But the name was enough to produce an almost visceral reaction amongst many who were familiar with the insurer.

By then, online message boards were already alight with appalling stories about the way Combined's products were sold, stories that have many echoes in yesterday's Central Bank pronouncement.

There were stories about what could most kindly be called the "persistence" of Combined's agents -- but was more typically described as harassment -- as potential customers were allegedly pursued out of hours and with alarming frequency.

There were stories about the vast and often-confusing array of products offered, with vulnerable people encouraged to take out cover for the most specific (and extremely unlikely) eventualities.

Tellingly, the stories weren't just from customers (or people doing their best to avoid becoming customers). Some of these stories were also from those who professed to have worked with Combined as tied agents, and claimed to have been instructed to engage in the various complained-about practices.

When the Irish Independent began writing about the Combined investigation in June 2010, we got first-hand accounts of all of the above, and more. As the probe raged on, every article triggered a fresh flood of calls from current staff, former staff and customers.

It took the best part of a year-and-a-half for the Central Bank to romp home with yesterday's hard-fought result.

For about nine months after the probe started, Combined continued selling new policies, albeit under closer scrutiny from its regulator.

The insurer also spent some of the time trying to reinvent its offering, paying tied agents to attend training courses.

Those efforts may be reinvigorated at some point -- Combined's licence has not been revoked.

That could be a tall order though, given how well everyone knows Combined's name now.

Irish Independent