Superannuation trustees compensate members wrongly classified as ‘smokers’

Superannuation trustees that were classifying new members as ‘smokers’ by default and charging them higher life insurance premiums have ceased this practice, and some trustees have remediated members for the extra premiums paid.

Between 2017 to 2020, ASIC engaged with seven superannuation businesses, (comprising nine superannuation trustees) that had been, either at the time or historically, assigning ‘smoker’ status to members in specific products unless the member took active steps to opt out of the categorisation. They are AMP, Colonial First State, Equity Trustees, IOOF (including OnePath), Intrust, Netwealth, and Suncorp.

Following the engagement, ASIC was able to confirm that:

  • all seven superannuation businesses stopped charging new members life insurance premiums at smoker rates by default[1];
  • all seven superannuation businesses moved, or are in the process of moving, existing members paying premiums at ‘smoker’ rates by default onto non-smoker or blended rates; and
  • four superannuation businesses refunded or agreed to refund members for the extra premiums paid because of the default ‘smoker’ classification (refer Summary of remediation).

ASIC Commissioner Danielle Press said, “Generally, insurance premiums for smokers are substantially higher than for non-smokers.[2] Given the low prevalence of smoking among Australian adults[3], classifying members as smokers’ for insurance offered through superannuation unless the member takes active steps to confirm non-smoking status is contrary to community expectations.

“Insurance in super is complex. Many Australians may not realise that default classifications can impact the price of their cover and therefore, reduce their retirement benefits. In light of the low smoking rate, merely providing disclosure and putting the onus on members to act is not enough to support good member outcomes.

“All trustees we raised these concerns with have ended this practice with new members. Many have decided to refund affected members, in part or in full, for the higher insurance costs. When planned remediation is complete, more than 5,000 members will have received more than $3.6 million in compensation.

“Those trustees that have committed to remediation are heeding the lessons of the Financial Services Royal Commission – that trustees should seek to achieve outcomes for members in line with community standards and expectations,” she said.

Ms Press said, “Superannuation funds play an important role in meeting the insurance needs of Australians. For many Australians, insurance in superannuation offers quality coverage at a competitive price. Choosing appropriate default settings for insurance coverage is an important part of a trustee’s responsibilities in relation to group insurance.

“Trustees should ensure that members are not disadvantaged due to disengagement or inertia. I strongly encourage trustees to take into account the composition and needs of their membership and check whether their default settings for insurance coverage are reasonable,” she said.

If members believe they have been inappropriately classified as ‘smokers’, they should approach their fund in the first instance. Members can contact the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) for fair, free and independent dispute resolution if they have complaints.

[1] Three superannuation funds had ceased defaulting new members to smoker status before ASIC raised this issue, initially in 2017; the rest have ceased the conduct since.

[2] Refer 2020 data from Canstar.

[3] 14% and decreasing according to recent ABS data (Cat. No 4364.0.55.001).

View a summary of remediation here.

ASIC Media Release 07/08/2020