• Bryn Jones from funeral insurer ACBF outside the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry in Darwin. (AAP)Source: AAP
Cancelled policies, misleading premium claims, dodgy marketing and questionable credentials: Funeral insurer Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund continues to take a beating at the Banking Royal Commission for the second day.
By
Rachael Hocking

Source:
NITV News
4 Jul 2018 - 2:49 PM  UPDATED 4 Jul 2018 - 2:49 PM

Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund (ACBF) CEO Bryn Jones was grilled for a second day on Wednesday regarding his funeral insurance company's previous policy of not paying out in the event of a suicide, despite statistics proving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have some of the highest suicide rates in the world.

The commission heard an ACBF staff member asked their employer to reassess its suicide payout policy following community backlash. An internal document showed ACBF appeared to be the 'only company not to provide (suicide) coverage'. 

Rowena Orr QC read aloud the ACBF's view 'that many of its customers and community groups were strongly opposed to coverage in the event of suicide as it may be seen to condone it'. Ms Orr put it to Mr Jones that this was incorrect. 

"Is that correct Mr Jones?" Ms Orr asked.

"I was purely speaking from what I'd been told," Mr Bryn replied.

"I want to suggest to you that it was, in fact, the case that ACBF received backlash from the community in relation to its previous policy about suicide," Ms Orr proposed. 

The company has since changed its policy, and new members receive full payment of benefits in the case of suicide once they have paid premiums for 12 months. 

Misleading marketing 

ACBF CEO Bryn Jones was also interrogated on the way his non-Indigenous company advertised its policies to the public, which have been labelled ‘deceptive, unconscionable and misleading’ by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

The commission heard ACBF used Aboriginal-style advertising materials, containing images of the Rainbow Serpent, the colours of the Aboriginal flag and a slogan stating ACBF was ‘Australia’s only Aboriginal funeral plan’.

The funeral insurer has a requirement under Federal Court orders to publish a disclaimer on its marketing materials stating that it is not, in fact, an Indigenous organisation. Rowena Orr QC pointed to instances where this appeared to have been breached, such as in a banner published in the National Indigenous Times and a radio advertisement on the National Indigenous Radio Service. 

"I volunteered, I fed the homeless for seven years, and I also went out to Palm Island on mission trips," Mr Jones said.

Mr Jones also admitted he holds no formal qualifications in the sector, and that he got the job as head of the funeral insurer after a meeting with the owner in a coffee shop. Mr Jones told the commission the owner of ACBF was a client of his father.  

When Ms Orr questioned Mr Jones about his previous engagement with Indigenous communities, he pointed to ‘mission trips' on Palm Island. 

"I volunteered, I fed the homeless for seven years, and I also went out to Palm Island on mission trips," Mr Jones said.

"And other than that, had your work involved engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in any way?" Ms Orr asked. 

"No, it hasn't," Mr Jones answered. 

Banking inquiry begins focus on vulnerability of Indigenous customers
The Royal Commission is now in Darwin with a week-long investigation into how banking practices affect Indigenous Australians.

Cancelled policies and misleading premium claims

The commission also heard more than 13 thousand policy-holders had their plans cancelled over a five-year period due to non-payment of premiums, and that many of those policies were cancelled as a result of ACBF being removed from Centrepay in 2015. Centrelink had previously allowed the funeral insurer to deduct payments from customer's welfare payments through its Centrepay system. 

Mr Jones told the commission repeated attempts were made to try and switch customers to different payment methods.

The commission also heard many customers have already paid more than they could ever recover through their maximum possible benefit.

Wednesday's grilling by Rowena Orr QC followed tough questioning of Mr Jones on Tuesday about the funeral insurance ACBF sells to Indigenous people. 

Tears as woman attacks insurer claiming to be Indigenous organisation
A woman became emotional while giving evidence at the banking royal commission, saying that she was misled by a funeral insurer that preyed on Indigenous people

On Tuesday, the commission heard that a large number of ACBF’s policies are signed to customers under 30 years old, and also heard from a former customer who said she had believed the ACBF to be an Indigenous organisation during the 10 years she was signed up. 

Yorta Yorta woman Tracey Walsh said her community had also been conned into thinking the organisation was Indigenous, due to images of the rainbow serpent and Aboriginal families on its marketing materials.

"I've got Elders that have been in these funeral funds for years and they plan to give the money to their families so they can survive," she said.

Mr Jones was asked on Wednesday if he thought Ms Walsh was misled. Mr Jones answered no, saying the documentation she was provided made the situation clear. 

Narrow Indigenous focus for banking inquiry 'disappointing'
Indigenous consumer advocates are warning there are key issues missing from the banking royal commission's next hearing.