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State and federal officials to share consumer insurance complaints

An agreement among 18 states and the federal body that oversees national banks will allow officials to share consumer complaints about insurance policies bought from national banks.

States that will share complaints

North Carolina
North Dakota
West Virginia

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) regulates nationally chartered banks and sets policy on what products those banks can offer to consumers, including insurance.

"Eventually, we want an agreement with all 50 states and the District of Columbia," says Kevin Mukri, a spokesperson for the OCC. "It isn't a matter of whether or not any of the remaining states will participate, but just ironing out the small details that relate to specific state laws. So far, everything is going well with the agreement."

How it works

The agreement works this way: A person goes to a national bank, such as Wells Fargo or NationsBank, and buys life insurance, for example. The consumer then experiences some problem with the policy and tries to work it out with the bank, to no avail. So, the consumer calls the state's insurance department. The state insurance department then forwards the information to the OCC, which then contacts the bank in an attempt to resolve the complaint.

Likewise, if the OCC were to field the consumer's complaint initially, it would forward the information to the respective state insurance department.

"Banking is rapidly changing, there was no need previously for these ties," says Mukri. Prior to the agreement, if a complaint were forwarded to the OCC, it didn't necessarily have to act on it. But now, as Mukri explains, there is an official mechanism to allow for the exchange of information.

"So far, everything is going well with the agreement."

The agreement also calls for the parties to consult on "issues of common interest," including regulatory and policy initiatives and efforts to educate the public about the issues involved with insurance sales by national banks.

While Mukri says that, to the OCC's knowledge, the number of insurance complaints thus far is low, "the idea is to prevent a problem from occurring rather than answering an existing problem. We are acknowledging that, as banks sell insurance, a problem could arise."

Brad Bryant, the director of consumer assistance for the claims division of the Oklahoma Department of Insurance, says that Oklahoma was the first to sign the agreement and hasn't experienced any problems with the complaint-sharing system. However, only one complaint has passed through the system since Dec. 1, 1998.

"I don't think I'd care if the OCC or the state insurance department of insurance handled my complaint, I would just want to have it handled," says Mukri. "It's a good deal for the consumer."

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