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Insurers offer SME help as ACCC clears way

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Suncorp, QBE and Allianz have outlined assistance measures for small businesses, following action by IAG, after receiving regulatory approval that also clears the way for other insurers and brokers to provide similar support for customers during the coronavirus outbreak.

Suncorp CEO Insurance Gary Dransfield, QBE Australia Pacific CEO Vivek Bhatia and Allianz Australia CEO Richard Feledy say the measures will provide financial relief while maintaining coverage.

“We have laid a platform for the industry to sustainably support the tens of thousands of small businesses who have been heavily impacted by this crisis, which follows the summer of bushfires, floods and storms across the country,” they say in a joint statement.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) interim authorisation approves a package that includes the deferral of premium payments for up to six months and continuing cover when premises are left vacant due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Unused premiums will be refunded where an SME customer has to cancel cover, while all policyholders will be able to receive refunds on travel insurance premiums if they can no longer make the journey.

Insurers have also committed to reducing payment times for SME suppliers and contractors involved in servicing claims to no more than 15 days.

The approved assistance measures are open to other insurers or brokers who choose to take part, as long as they notify the regulator.

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) has been working with members on measures that will give crucial support to customers. IAG moved ahead independently, but the ACCC ruling addresses concerns that development of a widely offered package may have been considered anti-competitive.

“The ACCC understands that at least some insurers are individually implementing their existing hardship programs; however, enabling insurers to co-ordinate so that there is a minimum standard of relief provided will assist with small businesses during this time,” the regulator says.

The interim authorisation, following an urgent application from Suncorp on behalf of the insurers, took effect immediately. The regulator says it will hold a consultation before issuing its final decision.

Suncorp, QBE and Allianz say in the joint statement they will “continue working closely with our broker partners on a range of hardship measures to support businesses, and acknowledge the critical role intermediaries play in commercial insurance”.

SMEs covered by the ACCC approval include businesses that employ fewer than 20 people, or 100 if a manufacturer, and have an annual turnover of less than $10 million.