Old Mutual Ltd. is in the spotlight again for all the wrong reasons.
The 174-year-old insurer was forced to apologize after a grieving family brought a corpse to one of its branches so the company would process a claim for funeral payments. The episode comes as a public spat with the company’s fired chief executive officer drags on.
“We are deeply sorry for the delay,” Old Mutual said in a statement on Wednesday after a video of the incident was widely circulated on social media. “The claim was not delayed because Old Mutual doubted that a death had occurred. It was delayed because it was referred for further individual assessment.”
The incident — still trending on social media on Thursday — is a further embarrassment for Old Mutual, which has had a tough year. It suspended CEO Peter Moyo in May, which kick-started a public legal battle in Johannesburg’s High Court. The court has ruled that Old Mutual dismissal of Moyo was unlawful. The company is appealing the judgment.
“The court of public opinion is clearly against Old Mutual,” said Wayne McCurrie, a portfolio manager at FirstRand Ltd.’s wealth and investments unit. “They have definitively not handled it well and they certainly have major issues to sort out in respect of their corporate identity.”
South Africa’s Financial Sector Conduct Authority said in a statement on Thursday it is investigating the matter and will take action, if needed. It also warned Old Mutual customers threatening to cancel their insurance policies on social media against the risks involved, such as not qualifying for alternative and adequate cover and cancellation charges.
Last year, another local insurer, Momentum Metropolitan Holdings Ltd., was forced to backtrack after it rejected a claim from the family of a murdered man following an outcry on social media. Spur Corporation Ltd.’s earnings were impacted last year after a public backlash following a racist incident in one of its restaurants.
With social media, “you can’t act after it’s already gone viral and hit the news,” McCurrie said. “Corporate South Africa must take heed of what’s happened and be a lot more proactive in their response.”
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