New complaints bureau may boost appeal of Hong Kong’s insurance products

Improved consumer confidence could help Hong Kong’s insurance market recover after mainland capital controls dented sales

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 January, 2018, 7:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 January, 2018, 7:33am

Hong Kong’s insurance industry has revamped its complaints body, expanding its scope to deal with a greater variety of grievances in a bid to enhance consumer protection and confidence.

While its new name may seem similar to the old one – formerly the Insurance Claims Complaint Bureau (ICCB), it will now be known as the Insurance Complaint Bureau (ICB) – the change is significant; its remit has been widened beyond the realm of “claims” to include mediation in disputes over services and other non-claim related issues. This might cover cases such as insurance companies failing to issue medical cards to policyholders, for example, or medical services not matching a policyholder’s expectations.

We want everyone – mainlanders and people from all over the world – to buy insurance products in Hong Kong
Peter Tam, Hong Kong Federation of Insurers

The city, once a mainlander’s first choice for buying insurance, lost its shine somewhat last year after China brought in strict capital controls to stem a flow of cash out of the country. The improvement of governance and an improved apparatus for handling complaints could help to reignite sales.

Hong Kong Federation of Insurers chief executive Peter Tam said the revamped ICB shows the insurance industry is voluntarily working to seek better ways to settle disputes – a different role from the Insurance Authority, which is a statutory regulator.

“Both the insurance sector and the government want to work together to improve governance of the industry and give policyholders more confidence,” Tam said. “We want everyone – mainlanders and people from all over the world – to buy insurance products in Hong Kong.”

The ICB also has a new chairwoman: Pamela Chan Wong-shui, who was chief executive of the Consumer Council from 1985 to 2007.

“Given the importance of insurance to our everyday life, we want the ICB to be a one-stop complaint unit for policyholders to revolve their disputes with the insurance companies,” Wong said during a media briefing on Wednesday.

“We hope the revamp could give more confidence to all policyholders, encouraging them to buy insurance products in Hong Kong and hence strengthen the city’s position as an insurance centre.”

The bureau was formed by 107 insurance companies after the government set up the powerful, independent Insurance Authority six months ago to regulate all insurers and license the city’s 90,000 agents.

Disputes involving claims above HK$1 million will still be handled by the Insurance Claims Complaints Panel, chaired by Michael Tusi.

Its seven directors will now include four members from outside the industry, including chairwoman Wong. The remaining three are insurance executives. Previously, the board was composed entirely of members from the insurance industry.

“We believe this will increase governance and bring a more independent voice to the board,” said Wong.