• AFCA has found funeral insurance provider Youpla guilty of misleading Aboriginal policyholders. (Youpla)Source: Youpla
Aboriginal consumers were disproportionately affected because of the cultural significance of "sorry business".
By
Douglas Smith

Source:
NITV News
5 Apr 2019 - 8:00 AM  UPDATED 5 Apr 2019 - 9:08 AM

A funeral insurer accused of ripping off and misleading Indigenous people has re-branded under new ownership almost a year after it was scrutinised by the banking royal commission.

The Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund (ACBF) has a reputation for aggressively selling almost exclusively to Indigenous people, including children, and falsely presenting itself as an Indigenous corporation.

The Gold Coast-based private business previously deducted money from Centrelink payments before people received them – an activity which has since been made illegal – and denied payouts for suicides.

The royal commission heard that more than half of its 13,500 funeral plan holders were aged under 25. The majority were under 18 and signed up by their families.

The company has continued to directly target Aboriginal customers – and even gave away toys with its branding to children at the Koori Knockout rugby tournament.

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The company’s 33-year-old chief executive, Bryn Jones, is a former sports teacher who has no relevant qualifications or past experience working in insurance.

He got the job because his father knew the company’s founder.

Mr Jones joined ACBF in 2017 and told the royal commission he was brought in to rectify media “misrepresentations” of the company.

The inquiry heard the company's average policy value was well below the industry average and that 600 customers paid more than their benefit.

Mr Jones said he appeared before the investigation voluntarily because he believed in the services the company provides.

"Obviously it was pretty traumatic for myself and my family and friends and it came at a huge personal cost but that was the cost I was willing to shoulder for the people that we represent," he told NITV News.

“Did I know everything about the company? No, I did not."

For years ACBF represented itself as an “Aboriginal” funeral insurer even though none of its managers or directors were Indigenous.

It even used images of the rainbow serpent and photos of Aboriginal families in its publicity material.

Following a “management buyout” in December, Mr Jones and Worimi man Isaac Simon each purchased a 50 per cent stake in the company.

The company has re-branded as Youpla and recruited Mr Simon’s brother, former NRL star Jamal Idris, to be its ambassador.

It currently claims to have over 17,000 members with 47 per cent in Queensland and 41 per cent in New South Wales.

The company also said it will “launch new and revamped culturally relevant funeral products” for Indigenous communities.

“We are turning it around from some of the issues that it had in the past,” Mr Simon said.

“We do have an obligation to pay for funerals.”

Financial advocates warn that funeral policies are often poor value for customers and that they can lapse or fail to pay at the moment of need.

Alternatives include joint savings accounts, superannuation death benefits or prepaid funerals.

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