My excellent sister-in-law commented on my AOL horror story. Her comment reminded me of yet another serious injury inflicted by a company called Midland Life Insurance.
We were investigating the cost of life insurance last year (I dunno, maybe we were bored or something) and had an agent come to the house to talk to us. After helping us select coverage through Midland Life, one of several companies he represented, we asked for a rate quote. Apparently, when you buy life insurance, you can't just get a quote. They base the rates on how likely you are to die (or, conversely, how healthily you are). In order to get an actual quote, you have to have a mini-medical exam, give a urine sample, have blood drawn, etc.
The agent asked for our bank account information so he could set up the exam. I hesitated. Do we have to pay for the exam? No, no. He explained that the insurance company would not order the exam unless we were serious about purchasing coverage. So, the paperwork needed to be fully completed, including the account information. It was really for my convenience, he insisted, so that he didn't have to bother us with more paperwork down the road.
I still hesitated. What if we change our minds? What if I'm so close to death that the coverage is horribly expensive and we can't afford it. I didn't want to give permission for them to zap an unknown and possibly huge amount of money from our tight budget.
Oh no... it's not like that at all, he laughed. After the exam, the policy would be written and he would personally deliver it to us for acceptance and signature. Once we approved the policy and the associated rate, the monthly deductions would start.
Well, ok. We signed the papers and gave this total stranger our bank account information.
For various reasons, in the two weeks it took for Midland to rate us and write our policy, we decided purchasing life insurance for two relatively healthy adults without children was a pretty stupid thing to do. When the agent called to tell us we had been approved, we told him we weren't interested after all.
"OoooOOhhh!" he squeaked after a long pause. "Okay, uh, that's not a problem. I'll just have the company cancel the policy. Shouldn't be a problem since it hasn't been, uh, signed or anything. You, uh, might want to check your bank account to make sure they haven't deducted the first month's premium already, though."
"What?!" I fired the word at him like a needle-tippped dart. "That's not what we talked about."
"Yeah, well, sometimes they get, uh, when they think all the paperwork is done... you see, I'm an agent for the company, so I don't really get a say in how they do things. They have their own procedures. I, uh, have never had anyone cancel before so I don't know exactly when the premium gets deducted. You should check your account right away and let me know so I can talk to Midland about it."
I checked right away. The first month's premium had indeed been deducted. As a matter of fact, it had deducted the previous day.
I let him know. He apologized profusely and stammered some more about how the company has its own procedures. but he was sure they could just zap the money back into our account. He would check on it right away.
He was wrong.
Apparently, it was a one-way door. Midland could take all the money they wanted but were powerless to put it back. They would have to cut an actual check and mail it to us. But first, they wanted me to fax them proof that the money had been deducted.
Proof, you say... hmmm.... let me think.... for proof what about the fact that you have my money. You! It's in your grubby paw right now. Just open your hand and look. Those shiny coins and crisp dollar bills you see, they are mine. Give them back.
The agent apologized again and again. He said he would insist that the check be cut right away and that they overnight it to us. I reminded him that the company "has their own procedures" and that he might not want to promise something he had no control over.
His next words were crucial. "If they can't overnight you a check, I will drive to your house and write you a check from my personal account. I'll just trust that you will reimburse me when you do receive their check. I don't want this to be any more of an inconvenience than it already is. Will that be acceptable to you?"
I could see he was trying to make it right, so I agreed.
A day went by and I didn't hear from him. I left messages. He finally called me back at 4:00 on Friday afternoon.
"Sorry I haven't gotten back to you. I've been working on the problem. I'm afraid I don't have good news for you."
"Midland won't be cutting checks for another 10 days. They won't cut a check special for you and even when it is cut, they won't overnight it for you. You might not get reimbursed for another 3 weeks or so."
"That sucks, but it's not unexpected. So, do you want to bring us your personal check tonight? We'll be home."
*deep breath* "Uh, that's the other thing. I guess... well as I was discussing your situation at the office... it seems that I can't give you any of my own money... there's a law.... it's absolutely forbidden for agents to co-mingle their own funds... no personal money can change hands otherwise it's big trouble... it's a licensing thing... I want to, I really, really do, but I can't. It's against the law."
At this point, I found it necessary to recap for him all the things he had said to us which were incorrect. No money would be taken without our approval. Incorrect. Midland would refund the money by zapping it back into our account. Wrong. Midland would cut a check and overnight it to us. Not so. He would personally reimburse us until the check arrived. No, it's illegal.
This made him a little defensive. He insinuated that we had not been serious customers from the start (lucky guess). He rattled off all the (unsuccessful) things he had done to try to make the situation right. He firmly stated that he had done everything in his power and there was nothing more he could do.
"I do believe you can't do anything more. I think it's time I talk to your supervisor."
I could hear him do a double-take over the phone. "I don't have one. I work for myself. If you mean someone at Midland Life, they're not my bosses. I'm a independent licensed agent. They don't even know who I am."
"I realize that. I want to talk to the person that you work for. Who pays you?"
He huffed and hawed. "I get commissions directly from the company. I'm independently licensed. I own my own business."
"So there's no one that is responsible for your actions? No one to complain to?"
"If you want to file a complaint, you can talk to the California insurance commissioner's office. But they aren't going to help you get your money back faster. It's on its way. It's just going to take a month. I haven't done anything unethical or illegal, so they won't be able to do anything for you."
"Okay, smarty-pants. When you went back to your office to 'discuss the situation,' who did you discuss it with? Who told you that you weren't allowed to write us a personal check? When you were all sitting around at your office and you said, 'I'm going to cut a personal check for these clients,' someone bolted out of his seat, grabbed your arm and hissed in your ear, 'That's illegal!' That's the person I want to talk to, because he obviously knows more about the laws governing the sale of insurance than you. You were absent on the 'don't co-mingle funds' day."
He was in a corner now. He had no choice but to cough it up. "Well, you want to talk to Scott then. He's the broker for the office. You can reach him at xxx-xxxx."
I eventually talked to Scott, the broker. The person under whose broker license all the agents work. The person who is 100% responsible for the actions of the agents in his office. The person who also goes to jail if one of his agents does something illegal on his watch.
Illegal. Like co-mingling funds.
Everyone reports to someone. Even if they tell you they own their own business, everyone reports to someone.
The agent was right about one thing: Scott wasn't able to help me. He used his active listening skills to reshape what I was telling him into a version of events that took the blame off his office personnel and chalked it up to a 'misunderstanding' and 'lack of communication.'
After the sixth time he said 'misunderstanding' to me, I cut him off and said, "There was no misunderstanding. There was misrepresentation, for sure, but I didn't misunderstand anything. I'll be calling Midland Life directly to let them know that their licensed representative who works for you is out there misrepresenting their company."
He finally shut up and started making calls. We had a check 3 days later, not due to the efforts of Scott or his agent, but due to the calls I personally made to their accounting department.
Ironically, Midland sent me a survey a month later asking me to rate my satisfaction with their company. Ha! Am I allowed to use negative numbers?