A monumental language mistake for Momentum

A monumental language mistake for Momentum

by Natasha Ndlebe

“At Momentum we strive to eliminate pitfalls through dependable advice, informed assessments and compassionate service,” says Momentum Life Insurance on its website.

In a single sentence Momentum makes a number of promises that it recently failed to keep – with disastrous consequences for its reputation.

Let’s start with the first promise. The Collins Dictionary describes a pitfall as “a hidden or unsuspected danger or difficulty”.

In March last year, the Ganas family experienced an unexpected tragedy. Nathan Ganas was shot and killed in a hijacking attempt at his home in Durban. The family lost a breadwinner. Mrs Ganas placed an insurance claim of R2.4 million with Momentum, expecting the insurer to support her during this difficult time through dependable advice and compassionate service.

But Momentum refused to honour its commitment to this client on the basis that Mr Ganas had an undisclosed pre-existing condition. According to the insurer, Mr Ganas had not informed the insurer that he had high blood sugar levels at the time he sought life cover. Disturbingly, the Ombudsman for Long-Term Insurance agreed with Momentum.

For over a year, Mrs Ganas suffered in silence until she made her experience with the insurer public. South Africa heard a great deal about Momentum’s own understanding of “dependable advice, informed assessments and compassionate service”.

The public rightly asked Momentum, what does a violent crime have to do with high blood sugar levels? Their standard response was to brand the late Mr Ganas as a dishonest client. “At the start of a policy, we rely on the quality of information that is provided by the client when completing the medical questionnaire, which determines whether or not further medical information is required, and whether there are any pre-existing conditions which could lead to a decision not to extend cover at all. The strict requirement for full disclosure is a fundamental principle of insurance, and a breach of this duty, however innocent, obliges the insurer to decline the claim and to deal with the policy as if the non-disclosed information had in fact been disclosed.”

In simple terms, this corporate puff suggests that the honesty of Momentum’s clients can only be determined upon death. Until then, Momentum is happy to receive monthly premiums. This is a far cry from the compassionate service they pledge.

Momentum was rightly taken to task. The brand took a battering and clients began to flee. In tweets and interviews, Momentum was utterly tone deaf. The chief executive officer told a radio talk show that Momentum will not pay the claim irrespective of how the client died, saying “No, we will not pay out. We need to stick to our policy and protect the integrity of our company.”  So much for “informed assessment”.

Momentum only changed its tune when the Ganas crisis became a threat to its business: “It is clear from market reaction over the last two days that under certain circumstances, current industry practice creates the impression that the insurers are looking for reasons not to pay a claim. Momentum is in the business of paying claims and we have therefore taken the criticism to heart.” Note the defensive tone and word choice. Unfortunately, this very wording again undermines Momentum’s promise of “dependability” as they seem more interested in market reaction than serving their clients.

The fact is that Momentum spent over a year avoiding paying Mrs Ganas what was owed to her. This is the company that claims to be “in the business of paying clients”.

The pressure from sympathetic South Africans ensured the cries of the Ganas family were heard and resolved, while also teaching corporates that talk starts with the language you choose.