Monthly Archives: September 2014

Hong Kong’s Notorious Insurance Industry Should Not Be Given Exemptions from the New Competition Law

In its latest annual report, the Hong Kong Federation of Insurers (HKFI) announced that it is contemplating seeking exemptions from the Competition Ordinance, which will go into effect next year. The ordinance will “prohibit conduct that prevents, restricts or distorts competition”.

HKFI Seeks for Permission to Break the Law

Excerpt from HKFI’s 2013-2014 annual report

If the Competition Ordinance is to serve its purpose, then the Competition Commission should not grant any exemptions requested by the insurance industry. The reason why Hong Kong insurers currently overcharge for most of their services and do not offer better products is because players in the industry engage in very limited competition.

One of the major factors contributing to this phenomenon is the fact that the industry has been allowed to form cartel-like bodies (HKFI, PIBA, CIB) for the purpose of pseudo-regulating itself.

Output Restriction

Output Restriction - HKCC

Image from the Hong Kong Competition Commission’s website.

Currently, Hong Kong insurers do not sell commission-free ILAS products directly to consumers. As a result, all ILAS products have extremely high fees, which in part finance large sales commissions. Any consumer who might wish to purchase ILAS is forced to go through an agent or broker and to pay a massive commission, even if the consumer doesn’t need the service of an intermediary.

The reason why insurers do not offer ILAS products directly to consumers is probably because the vast majority of Hong Kong consumers have no reason to buy these products (even if the fees were low). Packaging funds in an insurance policy does nothing except expose consumers to unnecessary risks that do not exist when buying funds directly or through a fund platform like Fundsupermart. For example, consumers who buy ILAS lose all SFC regulatory protection; they typically have a much lower-qualified intermediary; and they are exposed to the credit risks of the policy issuer. Due to these severe drawbacks, insurers must pay large commissions to motivate an unethical/unqualified sales force to trick consumers into buying products which they are better off not owning.

Although ILAS is bad for most Hong Kongers, it could potentially be useful to some foreigners, assuming the fees were reasonable. This is because some countries give favorable tax treatment to investment products which are issued by insurance companies. Thus, some foreigners might be interested in purchasing cheap commission-free ILAS products. 

So why don’t insurers offer such products?

It may be because the market is too small for such an initiative to be profitable, but more likely it is because a cartel of insurance brokers would boycott the products of any insurance company who tried to do this.

iFAST (a leading fund platform provider) was subjected to such treatment last year when it offered Singapore consumers a 50% rebate on commissions for term and whole life insurance. [See here.]

Price Fixing

Price Fixing - HKCC

Image from the Hong Kong Competition Commission’s website.

iFAST Central is a fund platform which is very similar to ILAS, except it is cheaper, better, and not offered by an insurance company.

iFAST’s platform fee is a maximum of 0.3% per year, but it can be as low as 0.1% for individuals who invest large sums.

The platform fee for ILAS products is multiples higher, usually 1% to 1.5% per year (in addition to other outrageous fees which finance commissions).

Insurance companies should be able to offer their service at a price which is competitive with iFAST’s price, but they are not doing it. They seem to have agreed with each other (either explicitly or implicitly) to not wage a price war.

In a fair marketplace, they would be forced to compete with iFAST’s prices, but instead, all of them play dirty by literally bribing brokers with obscenely large commissions that are not fully disclosed to consumers. iFAST does not play this deceptive corruption game, since its fees are transparent.

It is probably no coincidence that all insurers offer brokers roughly the same unconscionable commission rates. These standardized rates are likely the result of “price fixing”, and the high costs are ultimately passed on to consumers.

As soon as the Competition Law goes into effect, the Competition Commission should eradicate this corrupt, anti-competitive practice of bribing brokers with ever larger commissions.

Ideally, commissions should be banned altogether. A growing number of developed countries have decided to do this, including the UK and Australia.

Why ILAS Commissions Violate the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance

Brokers have a duty to act in their clients’ best interests. If insurance companies offer obscene undisclosed commissions to induce brokers to rip off their clients by selling them exploitative ILAS products, then both insurers and brokers violate Section 9 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance (PBO). The punishment for this offense is up to 7 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $500,000 HKD.

Commissions only become compliant with the PBO if clients give permission to their brokers to receive commissions, andbefore giving such permission, [clients] have regard to the circumstances in which [permission] is sought.

In other words, if clients are not told all the facts which they’d need to make an informed decision, then any permission they give is meaningless as far as the PBO is concerned.

This means brokers are breaking the law if they fail to disclose pertinent facts about the commission payments they receive.

Anyone with common sense will immediately realize that ILAS victims were not adequately informed about their brokers’ remuneration, because if they were informed, they wouldn’t have bought ripoff products or permitted their brokers to receive outrageous commissions at their expense.

Prevention of Bribery Ordinance - Highlighted

The key sentence is circled in red. Note that insurance brokers are the agents of their clients (the principals), not the agents of insurance companies. The PBO does not apply to the relationship between consumers and insurance agents, because insurance agents are the agents of their employer (an insurance company), not the agent of their client.

“Regard to the Circumstances”

Clients need to have “regard to the circumstances” in which their brokers are asking for permission to receive a commission. This phrase is not very specific, but it would obviously include any “circumstances” that give rise to conflicts of interest or are essential to a client’s understanding of the product being sold.

For example, if a broker introduces a contractual ILAS savings plan, the client should be made aware that the broker’s commission depends on the length of the contract signed. (A 5-year plan will pay 5 years of upfront commissions. A 10-year plan will pay 10 years of upfront commissions, and a 25-year plan will pay 25 years of upfront commissions.)

This arrangement creates a conflict of interest in which the broker has a financial incentive to advise his client to sign the longest possible contract, even though longer contracts are extremely dangerous and end in disaster nearly 100% of the time.

Moreover, because the broker will be paid for decades of service before he provides it, he won’t have a strong financial incentive to actually provide the service. He could just take the money and run. Clients need to know this.

Clients should also be informed that their brokers’ upfront commissions are paid for with their “initial contributions”. This means, in effect, that clients’ first years of savings are not really saved. Most units purchased in the initial period are guaranteed to be reabsorbed by fees to pay for brokers’ commissions (among other expenses incurred by the insurer).

Clients would also need to know that selling funds within ILAS pays commissions which are multiple times higher than selling funds directly. This “circumstance” creates a conflict of interest in which brokers have a financial incentive to recommend ILAS instead of “direct” funds, even though ILAS is far more expensive and dangerous.

If a broker who recommends ILAS is not licensed to sell funds directly, then the client should be made aware of this fact, since it is another conflict of interest which could bias the advice being given.

If a client gives a broker permission to receive commissions for selling a 25-year ILAS savings plan, for example, but the broker has not informed the client about all the important “circumstances” as described above, then the broker has breached the PBO and faces serious penalties.

Commission Disclosure in the Past

Many brokers have historically disclosed that they receive a commission for selling ILAS products. However, this disclosure was often just a single sentence written in fine print buried somewhere in the middle of 30 to 40 pages of densely-worded forms that needed to be signed (forms that few people had the time or patience to read thoroughly).

Here is Convoy Financial Services’ disclosure in 2012:

Convoy Commission Disclosure

This an excerpt from an ILAS application form issued by Convoy Financial Services in 2012. The commission disclosure is a single sentence accompanied by zero elaboration regarding conflicts of interest arising from the commission structure of the savings product being sold. This is the only disclosure within dozens of similar-looking forms.

The above disclosure is so minimal that it obviously does not satisfy the requirements laid out in subsections (4) and (5) of Section 9 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance.

Even though the above form has been signed, it is totally meaningless as far as the PBO is concerned.

Commission Disclosure Now

Recently, insurance regulators started requiring brokers to more clearly disclose that they receive a commission for selling ILAS products. However, these new disclosures are just as minimal as the disclosures of the past. The only thing really new is a statement which says clients may ask their broker about the amount of commissions the broker will receive.

This disclosure is pitifully inadequate because clients wouldn’t know to ask about other conflicts of interest inherent in the commission structure, such as the fact that brokers have an incentive to recommend toxic long-term contracts and to recommend ILAS over direct purchase of funds.

Brokers would have to decide for themselves whether to disclose this extremely important information. However, it’s unlikely that many would do it because it would almost certainly result in the client rejecting their recommendation.

Below is an example of the new commission disclosure required by regulators. It is still not compliant with the PBO.

Harvest 105 Commission Disclosure

Excerpted from a Standard Life ILAS brochure.

The Truth about HKFI’s ILAS Propaganda Campaign

The Hong Kong Federation of Insurers (HKFI), the industry’s so-called self-regulatory body, launched a media campaign last year to misinform the public about ILAS. This was mentioned in HFKI’s latest annual report:

HKFI's ILAS Propaganda

Excerpt from HKFI’s 2013-2014 annual report

HKFI outrageously and falsely claimed that ILAS “is a simple and effective vehicle for regular saving”. The truth is that ILAS is one of the most complex and deceptive investment products ever invented. Most ILAS savings plans are scams, which defraud investors out of their first years of savings. The products are only “effective” as a means of destroying savings, not accumulating it.

HKFI also touted the “death benefit” as one of the attractive features of ILAS. This so-called death benefit is usually no more than an extra 1% of the account value, which is a mere fraction of the annual fees. (Fees can exceed 13% in a single year.) This meager death benefit is a complete ripoff for consumers seeking life protection.

HKFI also mentioned that ILAS offers “enhanced consumer protection”. This is certainly the worst of all the lies. Real consumer protection would mean outlawing these products, imprisoning the executives who are responsible for creating and distributing them, and then refunding all the victims who have been scammed.

Coverage in International Adviser

Last year, when HKFI’s propaganda campaign was launched, International Adviser (the industry’s mouthpiece) wrote a story entitled, “HKFI campaign counter attacks on ILAS“. It said:

The Hong Kong Federation of Insurers has launched a media campaign to counter recent “unbalanced and negative” attacks on Investment Linked Assurance Schemes by regulators and the media.

The article quoted Rosetta Fong, CEO of Convoy Financial Services, a large predatory advisory firm which earns 90% of its revenue from ripping off consumers (by flogging ILAS products for obscene commissions). Rosetta Fong is on the intermediary panel of International Adviser, which allows her to “provide guidance in the editorial direction of the magazine.” She said:

“The HKFI campaign is needed to educate the public about the whole picture of ILAS by including its benefits rather than just focusing on the negative or risk side of the product.

“In the first place, the nature of ILAS itself is actually neutral and it is only one of the investment tools that could be considered for managing one’s investment portfolio.”

Both of her sentences were false.

Most ILAS products are scams and therefore not “neutral”. They are criminal.

HKFI’s misinformation campaign was definitely not needed. Consumers are already bombarded with a never-ending stream of lies from the marketing departments of the evil companies that sell ILAS (e.g., Convoy). The regulators and media were doing the right thing by warning consumers about the overwhelming “negative or risk side of the product”, since the crooks who sell it definitely are not.

Shocking ILAS Statistics (#6): PIBA Imposed Zero Disciplinary Actions In the First Half of 2014

PIBA Logo

To Serve & To Protect Crooks

PIBA is one of the two self-regulatory bodies for insurance brokers. During the first half of 2014, PIBA punished zero brokers for misconduct. If an outsider had no other information, he might be tempted to believe that this is an industry of angels.

He would be mistaken. Most brokers are swindlers (or else extremely ignorant, inexperienced, and naive). The ILAS products they sell are so horrific that no informed, rational human being would ever consider buying them.

The least bad ILAS products are exploitative (due to unjustifiably high fees), and the worst ILAS products are criminal (due to fraudulent design).

Every sale necessarily requires multiple violations of PIBA’s own Code of Conduct, which states that brokers should offer objective advice and act in the best interests of clients.

This Code is obviously unenforced and totally meaningless. It’s primary purpose is to deceive the public into believing that the industry is being regulated according to high principles, when in fact, the industry is largely an unregulated pack of thieves.

PIBA - Zero Disciplinary Actions Imposed

A screenshot from PIBA’s website showing that zero disciplinary actions were imposed in the first half of 2014. Data is not published for previous years.

History of the ILAS Ripoff

Several decades ago, ILAS was invented in the UK as a clever way to exploit a feature of the UK tax code. By packaging funds within an insurance policy, it resulted in a 15% tax break which was not available when investing in funds directly. Due to this favorable tax treatment, ILAS products were attractive, despite their extortionate hidden charges.

In March 1984, the UK government changed the tax rules for insurance, and the huge tax benefits of ILAS ceased to exist. These products should have disappeared. However, because the products paid such obscenely high commissions, they had become extremely popular with brokers. Since the majority of brokers were unscrupulous and greedy, they did not stop selling the products, even though the products were no longer good for consumers.

ILAS products eventually spread across the globe, becoming especially concentrated in places that were both wealthy and poorly regulated, i.e., Asia and the Middle East.

In Hong Kong, ILAS products were originally sold mainly to expats by expat brokers, but it eventually morphed into a giant scam with locals ripping off locals (and foreign insurers reaping most of the rewards).

ILAS never offered tax benefits to Hong Kongers, so it never should have been sold to them. The unscrupulous/ignorant people who now sell it claim that the outrageous fees are justified because the products offer so-called “free” fund-switching.

This is nonsense. Non-insurance fund platforms, such as Fundsupermart and iFAST Central, offer free switching, access to more funds, better due diligence of funds, and fees which are only a small fraction of ILAS fees.

iFAST offers a better service at a much lower cost, not because it has superior technology, but because it charges a fairer price.

Insurance companies are able to grossly overcharge only because they deceive consumers, buy off the brokers, and (non)regulate themselves.

PIBA’s Unenforced Code of Conduct

Excerpts of PIBA’s Code of Conduct have been copied below. Each excerpt is followed by a brief explanation of how brokers have trashed that section of the Code.

Treat Your Client Fairly

Brokers are supposed to “protect the interests of clients”, yet recommending ILAS products, especially contractual savings plans, is never in the interests of clients.

Brokers are also supposed to “uphold the integrity fostered by PIBA”, but since PIBA fosters zero integrity, there’s no integrity for brokers to uphold.

Honesty and Fairness

Because of extortionate fees, ILAS products are always unfair to consumers. If brokers told the truth to clients, then clients would not buy the products. This means every broker who sells ILAS is being dishonest.

Broker Must Know the Product and Disclose All Material Facts

If some brokers are not dishonest, then, at the very least, they are negligent. PIBA’s code of conduct requires brokers to “know the product” and to “disclose all material facts”.

If brokers did their research, they’d know that most ILAS savings plans are scams, and the rest are just plain awful. Brokers have no justification for recommending ILAS when better and much cheaper investment options are available.

Advice Must Be Appropriate and in Clients' Best Interests

ILAS is not appropriate for Hong Kongers and definitely not in their best interests. Brokers are clearly giving bad, self-serving advice.

Information Provided to Client Should Be Accurate and Non-Misleading

ILAS products are ripoffs, so no broker can sell them without being inaccurate and misleading.

Recommendation Should Be Appropriate and Client Must Understand Nature of Product and Recommendations

ILAS is never appropriate for Hong Kongers. Obviously, brokers are not ensuring that clients understand the products. If clients understood, they wouldn’t buy them.

Fees and Remuneration Must Be Fair and Reasonable and Charachterized by Good Faith

ILAS products pay significantly higher commissions than every other investment product on the market, yet the people who sell this toxic waste are generally the least qualified people in the financial industry. This crazy remuneration system is neither fair nor reasonable.

25-year ILAS savings scams pay upfront commissions which are literally hundreds of times higher than other savings plans. This is not just insane; it is criminal.

If a broker accepts 25 years of commissions upfront, it is extremely “disproportionate to the service rendered to the client”. Brokers rarely provide more than a few years of service, and the service is always poor, evidenced by the fact that ILAS shouldn’t have been recommended in the first place.

Conflicts of Interest Must Be Avoided or Disclosed

If conflicts of interest should be avoided, then brokers should not accept commissions from insurance companies. Brokers should instead charge clients a fee for service.

Commissions are a huge conflict of interest (a type of legalized bribery), and this must be disclosed if it can’t be avoided. Presumably, most brokers have been disclosing that they receive a commission for selling ILAS products (usually in very fine print buried in pages of legalese that few people have time to read).

However, brokers have not been disclosing ALL of the conflicts of interest, such as the fact they they receive MULTIPLE TIMES MORE UPFRONT COMMISSION when they recommend highly toxic 25-year savings scams, as opposed to 5-year savings plans or non-contractual savings plans.

This lack of disclosure not only breaches PIBA’s Code of Conduct, but it also clearly violates Section 9 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance. According to paragraph (5), commissions are regarded as a criminal offense unless clients give brokers permission to receive commissions, and “before giving such permission, have regard to the circumstances in which it is sought.”

No clients would give a broker permission to accept 25 years worth of commissions upfront if they knew that other plans paid much less (or even nothing) in advance. They especially wouldn’t grant permission if they knew that the commissions were financed by defrauding them out of their first years of savings.

Brokers will be lucky if the ICAC doesn’t eventually fine them and throw them in prison.

Shocking ILAS Statistics (#5): ILAS Policies Are Being Surrendered Almost Twice as Fast as They Are Being Sold

ILAS Policies Sold vs. ILAS Policies Lapsed or Surrendered

Data was obtained from OCI’s website here and here.

The yellow row in the chart shows that ILAS policies are being surrendered nearly twice as fast as they are being sold. Sales are the lowest they’ve been since the 1990s, and surrender rates have never been higher.

The Hobbins Lawsuit Was the Catalyst

Sales began plummeting in 2012, in the wake of the historic Hobbins lawsuit, which threatened to wipe out the entire crooked industry.

Hobbins was mis-sold a handful of ILAS products with 5 to 8 year contracts (not any 25-year savings scams, the worst kind). Hobbins argued that the commissions paid by the insurance companies to his broker were so obscenely high (and not fully disclosed) that those commissions were actually a form of bribery intended to induce his broker to screw him for the benefit of itself and the insurers.

Anyone who reads Section 9 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance will see that Hobbins’ argument was clearly correct. However, Hobbins lost his case because the judge was too cowardly to challenge the status quo and to potentially destroy a multi-billion dollar predatory industry which never should have existed.

Despite his personal loss, Hobbins inadvertently performed an invaluable public service. His lawsuit set in motion a chain of events which are still impacting the industry to this day.

Because everyone knew that his bribery argument was correct, insurance regulators were forced to react. They introduced a set of very weak commission disclosure rules which they thought were just barely adequate enough (maybe) to prevent the industry from being subjected to more bribery lawsuits, while still allowing the industry to easily rip off unsuspecting consumers. These new regulations were a joke, but the increased scrutiny of ILAS products, especially in the media, have put a major dent in sales. 

The biggest blow came from HKMA, the bank regulator. It implemented much stricter rules than the self-serving insurance regulators. These rules have completely annihilated ILAS sales in banks. As of June 2014, sales were negative, due to customer refunds.

Exit Penalties Are a Major Injustice

The chart at the top of this post shows that hundreds of thousands of ILAS policies are being terminated every year.

Tragically, when polices are terminated, investors are hit with extortionate exit penalties which are as high as 100%. This is a major injustice, since the vast majority of investors should have never been sold these products in the first place.

At the same time that investors are being penalized, the unscrupulous individuals who exploited these investors are walking away with a fortune, penalty-free. 

This is disgusting, shameful, and unbelievably scandalous. The police, the ICAC, the regulators, the legislators, the courts—at least one of them needs to step up and put a stop to this.

ILAS Policies Terminated - 2001 to June 2014

Data was obtained on OCI’s website here.

Shocking ILAS Statistics (#4): Insurers Collected Over Half a Trillion Dollars in ILAS Premiums Since 1997

ILAS In-Force Business 1997 to Mid 2014

Annual data was collected from OCI’s website here. Provisional data was collected from here. Dollars are in HKD. Data prior to 1997 is not available. If a policy is “in-force”, it has not been terminated, and insurers are still collecting their unjustifiably high fees. According to OCI, “office premiums” means (a) for policies with the single payment of premium, the premiums paid by the policy holders during the financial year; or (b) for policies with regular mode of payment, the annualized premiums of the policies. “Annualize” means to calculate as for an entire year. Office premiums is to be distinguished from revenue premiums. “Revenue premiums” means the premiums paid and payable to the insurer during the financial year. “Net liabilities” means the policy reserve set aside by the insurer before reinsurance as at the end of the financial year. The policy reserve will include the amount provided for the value of the units held for policy holders and the amount required to be provided for claims and expenses, etc.

The yellow section of the chart shows that insurers reported over half a trillion HK dollars in office premiums since 1997. Data isn’t available yet for 2013 and 2014, but it would probably push the figure near $600 billion.

The amount of fees insurers have collected is definitely in the tens and maybe in the hundreds of billions.

The #1 bestselling ILAS product is 25-year savings scams. When insurers sell these, they typically steal the first two years of savings, and then they collect at least 1.5% annually on the rest (in addition to the fund managers’ fees).

In the book, “The Great Expat Financial Planning Ripoff“, savings plans were called a “multi-million dollar worldwide scam”. Maybe this statistic was correct at the time the book was written, but now, the industry has seemingly grown into a multi-billion dollar scam (even if calculated in USD).

The above chart shows that nearly 1.7 million ILAS policies were still in-force as of two months ago. This is truly horrifying, given that 99% of people in Hong Kong should not own an ILAS policy.

Clearly, the quality of investment advice in Hong Kong is abysmal. Regulators need to wake up and address the root of the problem: the commission-based advisory model. The UK has banned this corrupt system, and Hong Kong should do likewise.

Shocking ILAS Statistics (#3): Over Two Million ILAS Savings Plans Have Been Sold Since 2001

Number of ILAS Policies Sold in Hong Kong 2001 to Mid 2004

Data was obtained here and here from OCI’s website. Dollars are in HKD. Statistics for 2013 and 2014 are provision and could be revised in the near future. Data is not available for years prior to 2001.

The yellow section in the chart shows that more than 2 million “regular premium” ILAS policies have been sold in Hong Kong since 2001. These products are commonly known as “savings plans”. Most of them are scams. The few which are not scams are rarely sold, since they pay significantly lower upfront commissions.

What Percentage of the Local Population Has Been Scammed?

According to the Census and Statistics Department, Hong Kong has approximately 7.2 million people and 2.5 million households.

Some ILAS victims are foreigners; some are mainland Chinese; and some victims have been scammed multiple times. This means that the number of Hong Kongers who have been scammed is probably a bit less than 2 million.

But even if the number of local victims were much lower, just 0.75 million, this would still represent 10.4% of the population and as much as 30% of families.

If any politicians were to attempt to raise public awareness about this issue—and fight for justice—it would surely pay off at the ballot box.

Hypothetical Number of Families Who Were Scammed

Hypothetical Number of People Who Were Scammed

Shocking ILAS Statistics (#2): 25-Year Savings Scams Dominate the ILAS Market

Contract Length of ILAS Policies Sold in First Half of 2014

Data was obtained here from OCI’s website. Dollars are in HKD.

Contract Length of ILAS Policies Sold in 2013

Data was obtained here from OCI’s website. Dollars are in HKD.

The charts above show that more than 65% of all new ILAS premiums paid in the first half of 2014 went into 25-year savings plans (or worse). The number was 47% in 2013. This is a major scandal, given that these plans defraud investors out of their first years of savings. (See here.)

The police and regulators would be negligent if they didn’t put an immediate stop to this.

5-Year Plans vs. 25-Year Plans

An adviser receives 5 years’ worth of commissions upfront when he sells a 5-year plan. He receives 25 years’ worth of commissions upfront when he sells a 25-year plan.

As the above data shows, advisers have a strong bias towards selling 25-year plans. This is unsurprising, given that the total upfront commission payout is five times larger.

The reason 25-year plans can pay five times more commission is because these plans defraud investors out of five times more money.

Given that advisers have a legal obligation to act in the best interests of their clients, advisers would almost certainly be screwed if a client ever tried to sue them for selling this toxic waste.

It’s also a miracle that the ICAC hasn’t yet started imposing fines and dishing out prison sentences, as the structure of these commission payments clearly violate the Section 9 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance.

Non-Contractual Plans

A 5-year plan isn’t nearly as bad as a 25-year plan, but it is still a ripoff.

Non-contractual plans, like this one, do not defraud investors out of their first months or years of savings. It is the only type of ILAS product that should ever be sold, yet almost no advisers sell it, because it doesn’t pay several years of commissions upfront. Instead, these products pay commissions on a month-by-month basis. If a client decides to terminate such a plan, then the adviser stops receiving commissions. This commission structure forces advisers to earn their pay.

When an adviser sells a contractual plan, he locks in as much as 25 years worth of commissions immediately. The commission is financed by defrauding investors out of their first years of savings. 99.9% of advisers will never perform the service they were paid for. Most of them move to a different company or leave the industry within a few years. Even if they did stick around at the same advisory firm for 25 years, they are still virtually guaranteed to not have to do the work they were paid for. Nearly 100% of investors surrender 25-year plans early.

Index Funds & Fundsupermart

Non-contractual ILAS plans aren’t a scam, but they are still a rotten deal for most investors. The annual fees are unjustifiably high.

Hong Kongers have absolutely no good reason to buy funds through an insurance company. It just forces them to pay an additional and completely unnecessary set of outrageous middleman fees. Hong Kongers should always buy funds directnot inside an insurance policy.

The vast majority of investors should buy low-cost index funds. The fees are literally just a tiny, tiny fraction of the fees charged in a non-contractual ILAS plan. Index funds also outperform the majority of actively managed funds (the type of funds offered in an ILAS).

For up-to-date information about index funds, investors can browse through Andrew Hallam’s website. This article is a good place to start.

If investors think they are smart enough to find the smartest fund manager, and they are determined to invest in actively managed funds, then they should use Fundsupermart—not ILAS.

Fundsupermart is similar to ILAS products in that it offers access to hundreds of funds with free fund-switching. However, Fundsupermart provides its service at a small fraction of the cost of ILAS. To learn more, see here.

TheRapeOfHongKong.com – Translated into Chinese

The vast majority of ILAS victims in Hong Kong read and speak Chinese—not English. Consequently, they can’t utilize the information in this blog, simply because they can’t read it.

In order to address this problem, some friends are translating several of my blog posts into Chinese. I will be publishing these as soon as they are ready.

I have also added a Chinese tab (‘中文‘) to the blog menu. Chinese ILAS victims can use it to find links to resources, blog posts, news articles, discussion forums, and other information related to ILAS which is written in Chinese. This webpage will be updated continuously.

投資相連保險的騙局﹕保險公司敲詐投資者多年儲蓄,他們可以、而且應當被捕

翻查字典,「欺詐」的定義是「欺騙、哄騙、不誠實的手段,或失信、為利益犯罪或獲得一些不公平或不誠實的利益。」

欺詐屬於盜竊的一種,是違法的。根據《盜竊罪條例》第16A條,觸犯欺詐罪最高可被判處監禁14年。

Chinese Translation of Section 16A of the Theft Ordinance

由於欺詐是違法的,按此邏輯﹕保險公司使用似是而非的收費結構、促銷、廣告及術語,誘使消費者達成協議而消費者並不察覺會因此失去數以月計以至年計的儲蓄,即屬違法。

若承保人觸犯欺詐罪,他們便必須承擔後果。無人擁有偷竊的權利。

罪有應得

本文篇幅很長,並將詳細涵蓋幾個議題,因此筆者先在開始前概括幾個要點﹕

  • 有一種叫「合約儲蓄計劃」的投資相連保險計劃完全是一個騙局。這些產品敲詐消費者多達兩年的儲蓄。
  • 合約儲蓄計劃的保單文件充滿敲詐及哄騙,以隱藏極高的收費,營造吸引的假象。舉例來說,很多計劃聲稱不含前期費用,這是騙人的,因為多達首兩年的儲蓄早就預設會被收費蠶食。很多計劃均提供大百分比的「獎賞」單位,這是假的,因為大部分的單位均肯定會循收費被索回。
  • 保險公司明顯違法,應該被告欺詐。數以十萬計的合約保單應被廢止,而承保人應歸還他們從保單持有人身上盜取的所有金錢。

甚麼是合約儲蓄計劃﹖

以行業術語形容,合約儲蓄計劃是一種「定期保費」的投資相連保險計劃(ILAS)。投資者簽約供款530年,保險公司將供款投放到投資者(或無能而渴求佣金的「顧問」)所挑選的互惠基金。當中的費用及條款與搶劫無異,但承保人卻以骯髒的手段來隱藏事實。

投資者毫無理由要透過合約儲蓄計劃來投資。市場上提供非合約儲蓄計劃的承保人最少有一個,就是Royal Skandia(萊斯基亞),其計劃並無隱藏的前期收費。另外,投資者亦可直接(即不透過承保人)投資基金,或者使用基金選擇更多、收費更低,而且沒有隱藏費用的基金平台(例如Fundsupermart),。

由於合約儲蓄計劃毫無吸引力,保險公司便從投資者首數月或數年的儲蓄中抽取震人的前期佣金,以鼓勵銷售團隊推銷產品。銷售人員的佣金完全取決於他們成功欺騙投資者供款多少年。一份25年期合約的佣金是5年期合約的5倍,而承保人從投資者身上所騙取的金錢亦多五倍,以支付更高的佣金。在以前的文章中,筆者解釋過這些佣金違反了香港的防止賄賂法律,刑罰最高可監禁7年。

在過去14年,在港售出的定期保費ILAS產品已超過200萬份。即使它們並非全是騙局,但大部分都是。由於香港人口只有700萬,可以肯定每10個成年人當中最少有1個被騙,而實際數字可能多達兩倍。

一團糟( ‘A Crock of Shit’

最近筆者與一個資深的理財顧問傾談,他指合約儲蓄計劃完全是一團糟(a crock of shit)。Dictionary.com網站指,「a crock of shit」的意思是「比糞便更惡劣的謊言和敲詐」。另一位顧問則寫了一本名為《The Great Expat Financial Planning Ripoff(中譯﹕僑民理財計劃大騙局)》的書去踢爆這些產品。在該書的序言,他指合約儲蓄計劃是「數量驚人的世界騙局」,其影響廣泛,連「臭名遠播的尼日利亞騙徒也眼紅」。

不要只看表面

Harvest 101 Investment Plan

標準人壽的「盈聚101」投資騙局

承保人銷售這些產品時,會將它們包裝為「儲蓄計劃」或「投資計劃」。這是撒謊,將兩年儲蓄倒進大海完全不是甚麼「儲蓄」或「投資」。

很多合約儲蓄計劃的名稱浮誇,顯示它們以高學歷或財政充裕的人士為目標。當中隱含的信息是「購買這些產品的都是聰明人,而且會變得更富有。」

以下是幾個可笑的產品名稱﹕

忠利的「前景(Vision)」(為有遠見的人而設)
RL360
的「量子
(Quantum)(為核子物理學家而設)
英國友誠的「首相(Premier)」(為國家元首而設)

若投資者受騙相信這些垃圾,這會是他們一生中最差的決定之一,非但不會讓他們踏上富裕之路,反而令他們立即變窮。

複雜得顧問也無法解釋

Zurich Vista Brochure Cover

蘇黎世「豐盛人生」﹕全世界最「聞名」的儲蓄騙局

 ILAS介紹冊的封面設計帶來信任和舒適感,但內容則含糊不清。

內頁的文字密密麻麻,充斥術語和難明的方程式,聲稱用以「闡明」故作複雜又似是而非的收費結構。這些介紹冊令人不安,不僅難以明白,更極易令人誤解。其設計就是要令缺乏經驗的投資者不察覺自己被騙。

在香港電台最近的一個訪問中,《南華早報》記者Jasper Moisewitsch說﹕「我們分析過ILAS介紹冊,向讀者解釋內容,但根本無從入手。我們甚至找了一位獨立理財顧問來剖釋這些小冊子,嘗試重組當中的內容,但真的不行。這是不可能的,它們實在是極之複雜。」

為了闡明這一點,請看一看下列這一段蘇黎世「豐盛人生」介紹冊的引文﹕

 Zurich Vista Surrender Charge Calculation

Chinese Translation of Zurich Vista Surrender Penalty Calculation

雖然這是計算懲罰性費用的方程式,但它是影響投資計劃真正價值的關鍵。即使有些人懂得計算,但很少人明白答案的意義。你必須很精明才能透析這些似是而非的術語。

魯布·戈德堡機械

根據維基百科,「魯布·戈德堡機械(Rube Goldberg machine)是一種被過度設計的複雜機械組合,以迂迴曲折的方法去完成一些其實非常簡單的工作。」這個詞語源於漫畫家魯布·戈德堡的一幅漫畫。

Rube Goldberg Alarm Clock

Chinese Translation - Rube Goldberg - Simple Alarm Clock

合約儲蓄計劃就像魯布·戈德堡機械,故作複雜,唯一不同的是這些計劃旨在蒙混欺騙,而不是提供娛樂。將之「反設計」的關鍵是找出種種複雜背後的「極簡單任務」。而這個任務就是在不知不覺中從投資者身上把大筆金錢奪走。

魯布·戈德堡式前期費用

合約儲蓄計劃的所有複雜之處,說穿了就是故弄玄虛的前期費用。它複雜得令人幾乎無法準確計算費用,同時又令投資者以為自己真的在儲蓄,甚至賺得可觀的「免費」獎賞單位。事實上他們只是被騙。前期費用隱藏得極佳,以致很多承保人大膽聲稱有關費用並不存在。以下是蘇黎世「豐盛人生」的一段引文﹕

Zurich Vista - No Upfront Charges (Highlighted)

Chinese Translation - Zurich Vista - No Upfront Charges

更混帳的是,幾乎每家保險公司均使用不同的收費結構及獨創詞彙來形容自己的計劃。

不過,這些都是表面上的差異,大部分計劃的核心結構基本相同。

複雜結構的總結
(
我完全明白某些讀者可能想跳過這一部分
)

很多投資產品只有一個賬戶價值,以及一個容易理解的管理費。相反地,合約儲蓄計劃則異常複雜,以下列這些東西來取代透明度高的前期費用﹕

初始供款期(當中所有供款均肯定會被費用蠶食)、初始供款賬戶(其價值是誤導的,並被嚴重誇大)、初始單位 (實際上屬於承保人,對投資者來說完全沒有、或只有很小的價值)、獎賞單位(假的)、行政費用(從無價值的初始單位中扣除)、退保罰款(即是入場費),以及目標供款期(有如剝削的鎖定期)。

初始供款期(ICP)由幾個月至幾年不等,取決於鎖定期的長度。所有在這段期間的保費均被稱為初始供款。一般而言,這筆錢應該投資於實際的基金單位,亦即指定存放於初始供款賬戶中的初始單位。通常,「免費」的獎賞單位會同時存於初始供款賬戶。所有在初始賬戶的單位均須支付非常高的年度行政費用,有時亦要支付其它費用。若保單持有人在目標供款期完結前要求套現初始供款賬戶中的單位,便要付上一大筆退保罰款,並可高達100%

除了這些騙人的前期特點,還有累積單位(在ICP之後用保費買入)、累積賬戶(持有累積單位)、投資行政費(適用於累積賬戶的單位,並有時適用於初始賬戶的單位)、保單費用(即類似於持續的前期費用、適用於每月供款)、相關基金收費(即由基金經理或有時由保險公司收取)及身故賠償(少得無意義)。

這些複雜的東西亳無必要,除了帶來混淆和誤解便一無是處,但這正是其設計目的。

騙人的賬戶結單

ILAS的賬戶結單一般不會說明費用或其影響。結單上顯示的僅僅是一個虛假的賬戶結餘。由於保單的介紹冊超出投資者的理解能力範圍,因此大部分投資者只會查閱及嘗試理解結單上的結餘。

以下是筆者女友的「盈聚101」投資計劃年度結單。上面顯示她的利潤約為18.5%,主要貢獻來自「免費」的獎賞單位(她投資了$12,000,標準人壽看似投資了$2,400)。

Harvest 101 Statement - April 2013 [Redacted]

Chinese Translation - Fraudulent Account Statement - Sample

她的投資表面上看似很棒,利潤達18.5%!!!

事實是,她的所有金錢幾乎都已被敲詐。即使她的賬戶結餘超過$14,000,但實際價值卻不足$1,700。若她套現「她的」基金單位,標準人壽會索回她的「免費」獎賞單位,並在剩餘的初始單位上施加86%的退保費用。

在此年度結單發出前的一個月,她的投資更是零價值,因為標準人壽在計劃滿一週年之前會施加100%的退保費用。

「鎖定」初始單位並不是保障你的利益

很多ILAS保單持有人及ILAS銷售人員誤以為初始單位的「鎖定」就如同強積金基金(香港的強制性退休儲蓄計劃)。

銷售人員通常會將「鎖定」形容為強迫性儲蓄,用以防止投資者在有真正需要(例如退休或孩子的大學支出)之前把錢花掉。他們認為,投資者如果在鎖定期完結時套現基金,便不會損失任何金錢。

這並不正確。

「鎖定」初始單位並非是要鼓勵儲蓄。它們之所以被「鎖定」,是要確保被行政收費完全(或幾乎完全)耗盡。這是讓承保人「鎖定」他們的利潤。

由於高得嚇人的退保費用分散了大部分人的注意力,而且人們對虛假的賬戶結餘深信不疑,因此通常不會注意到到自己正被慢慢敲詐。

退又慘,不退又慘

ILAS的鎖定期很長,使承保人可以透過年度行政費,去累積收取起碼相當於一次性退保費的金額。不論保單持有人是否持有保單直至鎖定期完結,承保人肯定可保留全部或大部分的初始供款。表面上這一點很難察覺,筆者只曾見過在忠利「前景」計劃的一份ILAS介紹冊中有所披露。然而,忠利的產品資料概要並無該披露聲明。該聲明只有數句,而且隱藏於大堆艱澀難明的文字當中,很多投資者可能會看漏,即使看到也未必明白。

其它筆者看過的ILAS介紹冊均比「前景」披露得更少。投資者被告知一堆費用,但其意思、目的及全面影響則被糊混過去。包括銷售人員在內,大部分人均未必有時間、動機或能力去理解這些東西。

筆者會嘗試拆解箇中謎團和西洋鏡,以簡單的文字解釋幾份保單。由於忠利的「前景」計劃半披露了瘋狂收費的嚴重影響,因此就由它開始。

例子一﹕忠利的「前景」計劃

「前景」保單為期30年,首28個月的保費須「投資」於初始單位。在保單的設定下,剛好100%的初始單位會被收費完全耗盡,包括被行政費慢慢啃掉,或者被退保罰款吞掉。這意味着所有的初始單位實際上屬於忠利。而對於投資者來說,首28個月的供款就如同倒進大海,被收費和佣金吃掉。

這是「前景」計劃小冊子中的解說﹕

Generali Vision Contract - Initial Units (1)

Generali Vision Contract - Initial Units (2)

Chinese Translation - Generali Administration Fees

例子二﹕「盈聚101

標準人壽的「盈聚101」比忠利的「前景」更狡猾。

有別於「前景」,「盈聚101」的費用結構並不會耗盡所有初始單位。取而代之,它會在鎖定期完結時或退保罰款後,餘下小部分的初始單位。剩餘的初始單位價值增幅夠快,原則上投資者有可能(但機會很微)得到相當於或高於他們在初始供款期間支付的金額的投資回報。這令初始單位似乎比較接近強積金的「鎖定」,但實際上不然。

此乃「盈聚101」保單介紹冊對行政費用及退保費用的描述﹕

Harvest 101 Administration and Exit Charge

Chinese Translation - Harvest 101 Admin and Exit Fees

要快速計算在「盈聚101」計劃中,投資者在這25年內支付的6%行政費的總數,可簡單地將6%乘以25年,即是初始供款的150%,相當於3年的儲蓄。(此估算假設初始賬戶價值的增長率為0%

另一個評估6%行政費影響的方法,是比較退保罰款的年度遞減幅度(34%)。

換個角度思考,即是每「取回」34%的初始單位,便有 6%行政費被奪去。

不論投資者做甚麼,結果也是輸。最佳的選擇是一了百了儘快退保。將中間人(承保人)除去,把剩餘的金錢直接投資單位信托或低成本的指數基金,肯定可以得到較佳的回報。

初始單位不是你的

在「前景」的情況下,所有初始單位均屬於忠利是顯而易見的。而在「盈聚101」的25年計劃中,雖然要花點時間計算,但仍可知道超過75%的初始單位(包括所謂的「獎賞」單位)是屬於標準人壽的。下圖便可加以說明﹕

Harvest 101 Reabsorption of Initial Units

Chinese Translation - Harvest 101 - Reabsorption of Units

上圖顯示即使投資者避得過退保罰款,在25年鎖定期完結後亦只會餘下不足25%的初始單位。不論賬戶結餘是甚麼,只有這些剩餘的單位才真正屬於投資者。

筆者製作上圖時以「盈聚101」計劃為本,但其它收費與其相似的保單數字應該大致相同。

舉例來說,友誠的「優裕」計劃同樣有6%的行政費用。唯一的分別是初始供款期為18個月,而非24個月。

蘇黎世的「豐盛人生」計劃較複雜,因為初始單位面臨三種不同的收費,其中兩種透過賣出單位來收取,另外一種透過扣減單位價值來收取。這些費用加起來為每年5.5%,因此會帶來跟「盈聚101」計劃的6%行政費用差不多的損失。

骯髒而欺詐的會計詭計

由於承保人透過收費吸去了大部分(有時全部)的初始單位,這引申出一個問題﹕為甚麼他們要大費周章去買入這些單位﹖若承保人簡單地以高透明度的前期費用,將初始供款直接放到他們的口袋中,不是更有效率嗎﹖為甚麼要進行惱人的行政及額外的開支去購入基金單位,追蹤其價值,並每月出售一小部分直至大部分或全部消失,以達至相同的結果﹖

對於任何正常人來說,把單位弄得支離破碎似乎很費時失事,但正如魯布·戈德堡所畫的卡通一樣(某人請來畫一下﹗),這顯然有背後目的。

透過將初始單位放在投資者的賬戶,承保人營造出「單位屬於投資者」的假象。投資者賬戶的價值增加,令投資者誤以為自己真的在儲蓄,甚至相信可以從不屬於自己的單位的增長中獲利。由於對虛假的賬戶結單深信不疑,而且不能理解複雜的保單文件,投資者從不發現自己被騙。 

承保人秘密地把初始供款據為己有﹖
(有些內幕人士認為如此)

數月前,筆者收到一個匿名訊息,聲稱有些承保人實際上袋起了初始供款,而沒有將錢投資於投資者選擇的基金之中。如果屬實的話,這意味着投資者的賬戶結單比筆者所想象的更虛假。此乃消息人士所述的內容﹕

ILAS供應商在賬戶結單中顯示他們為您持有的單位數目(包括獎賞單位),這些結單完全是虛假/錯誤/誤導的。供應商蓄意向你及其他客戶發出虛假/錯誤/誤導的結單,因為實際上他們並無持有結餘所描述的數目。事實上,他們持有一個低得多的百分比(只有25-40%)。你要做的只是向供應商查詢,要求確認結餘上的內容。若你得不到明確的答案,你便可以接觸保險業監理處或法庭(因為在香港,發出虛假/錯誤/誤導的結果觸犯罪行)。」

事實上,筆者並不肯定他/她所指的是不是只有初始單位。他/她可能亦指累積單位。不過,筆者假設他/她指的是初始單位,因為這說法完全有理。作為解說,可再參看忠利的「前景」計劃﹕

我們知道,所有的初始供款最終均會落入忠利的口袋。除了在少數情況下,若保單持有人身故,忠利則必須支付身故賠償(金額等於賬戶價值+1%)。因此,若忠利有心的話,它可假裝聲稱用了投資者的初始供款購買基金,而實際上把錢用於其它用途,例如支付佣金。若忠利這樣做,它依然能夠向投資者歸還欠款,因為它只須留起少量金錢以支付偶有的身故賠償,以及所謂的長期投資獎賞。

在筆者認識的人當中,有一位連月來聯絡忠利,不斷向他們查詢是否有以初始供款認購真正的基金單位。忠利迄今拒絕給他直接的答案。

筆者自己則聯絡了標準人壽,要他們確認100%的初始供款均用於購買真正的基金單位。在電話中,那人告訴筆者「是,所有金錢均用於購買真正的基金單位」。因此,要不就是那人(或許不知情地)說謊,要不就是筆者的匿名消息來源不知所云。

筆者亦曾致電蘇黎世保險,並向兩名代表查詢:「Zurich如何能夠支付25年的前期佣金,同時仍可將初始供款用作投資,再對相關基金加上125%的獎賞?從數學的角度,這似乎是不可能的!」兩名代表最終承認他們都不知道答案。

於是筆者聯絡保險業監督,希望該會的職員會知道真相。然而,他們卻表示即使知道,都不可以透露。如有興趣進一步了解,以下是他們的回覆:

「由於《保險公司條例》的保密條款有所規定,本會不得就個別的保險公司作評論。然而,請注意根據現時的法律及監管規定,獲認可保險公司必須保留充裕的儲備,以履行他們需要承擔由保單引起的保險責任。他們亦需根據良好的精算原則及慣例,持有足夠的資產以(在幣種、金額、年期等方面)配合這些責任。一份保單是保險公司與投保人之間訂立的合約。保險公司必須根據保單的條款及條件,履行合約責任。就投資相連保險計劃而言,保險公司負有合約責任,須就受保人身故而向特定的受益人支付特定的賠償,或就退保/保單到期而向投保人支付退保金/期滿保險金。」

保險業監督的回覆所見,保險公司的行為跟保單文件內容在各方面都必須言行一致。幾乎全部保單的冊子均表明保險公司購買的實際基金單位,乃相當於賬戶內的所有單位。如果保險公司並無投資初始供款,便違反了合約條款,合約必須作廢。

以下是忠利「前景」冊子的摘錄,當中忠利聲稱會對所有供款作投資,包括初始供款: 

Generali Definition of Initial and Notional Units

Explanation: “Initial Units” are “Notional Units”. Generali buys underlying funds corresponding to all “Notional Units”, which includes “Initial Units”.

Chinese Translation - Generali Definitions of Units

解說:「最初供款單位」即是「名義單位」。忠利認購相當於所有「名義單位」的相關基金,當中包括「最初供款單位」。

之前,筆者以為投資相連保險計劃的保單中,將單位稱為「名義」,是為了強調這些保單是由保險公司擁有,而非由投資者擁有的意思。然而真相卻是,它們被稱為「名義」,是名副其實屬名義性質,是想像出來而根本不屬於任何人的單位。最近,筆者跟一位友人談及此事,他便有如此精闢的見解:

個人認為保險公司並無投資初始供款-—他們需要支付那些前期佣金,那是人所周知的開支,相等於首年的供款額。試想像,他們在2007年利用該筆供款投資,然後看著其價值下跌一半,甚至更多,因為不少出售基金的顧問都揀選極為進取的投資組合,包括破產的基金。顧問的佣金當然袋袋平安,而保險公司卻要承擔虧損?這不可能吧!保險公司都有專家管理風險,而他們最不希望的就是將他們的錢,交予一群拙劣的顧問亂擲資金隨意投資。

我同意他的觀點,但我無法證明他是正確。如有任何人知道真相,並能夠提供證明支持,請聯絡筆者。

微不足道的身故賠償,不足以令具欺詐成份的賬戶結單成為合法

投資相連保險計劃的身故賠償通常是等於「賬戶價值的101%」。很多投資相連保險計劃的投保人誤以為如果他們身故,其親人便將獲得其賬戶內的所有款額,再加一筆「賬戶價值的101%」的額外身故賠償。他們有這個誤解實在無可厚非,因為真相是如此令人吃驚。

如果投保人身故,他們的親人將可獲得投保人賬戶內的所有款額,再加1%少得可憐的賠償。當保險公司說身故賠償達101%時,我想他們是刻意含糊其辭誤導人。

下文顯示「盈聚101」投資計劃如何闡述身故賠償的意思:

Harvest 101 Death BenefitChinese Translation - Harvest 101 - Death Benefit

顧名思義,「盈聚101」投資計劃是一個投資計劃。它並非一個真正的人壽保險產品。沒有人會為了區區1%的人壽保險保障而購買它,1%只佔年費的極小部份。(筆者的女友在首年供款時支付了超過13%的費用)。

投資者唯一關心的是投資的價值,並預期賬戶結單會準確列出這項數據。不過,正如筆者所指,合約儲蓄計劃的賬戶結單全然是一個騙局。

所以我相信,為了合理解釋詐騙行為,保險公司便將身故賠償表達成大致等於虛假的賬戶價值。這樣他們便可辯稱,保單戶口的價值並不虛假,那是身故賠償的準確陳述。

問題是,既然無人關心那筆微不足道的身故賠償,而且無人會為了取得這筆賠償而尋死,那麼賬戶價值便應告訴投資者,他們現時的投資價值有多少,而不是他們身故後值多少。

如果保險公司希望加強透明度,大可利用多種方法計算身故賠償,而無需利用虛假的賬戶價值表達。

例如,身故賠償可等於:

A) 供款 + 1%
B)真實的賬戶價值 + 1%
C)AB項的較大者

這幾個計算身故賠償的方法產生的賠償額,大致相當於難懂的101%賠償額,但不會在投資者的實際投資價值上誤導他們。

保險公司根本沒有藉口為自己在會計方法上施行的把戲辯護。101%的身故賠償只是一塊遮羞布,但卻掩蓋不了這個騙局,更令它成為騙局的一部份。

騙人的退保罰款,嚇倒投資者進一步送錢給保險公司

投資相連保險計劃的「退保罰款」並不真正是退保的罰款,那只是濫用語言描述。首先,由於供款會由各項收費消耗殆盡,故罰款並非在投保人退保時產生的,而是在簽訂合約後開始供款時早已預定。其次,因為保險公司難免要徵收費用,所以他們沒有更多的手段「懲罰」投資者。在大多的情況下,投資者退保不會有任何損失,亦無什麼可怕。他們可以將剩下的資金轉移至沒有各項收費蠶食表現增長的投資工具,達致豐厚回報。

筆者認為保險公司要製造所謂的「退保罰款」有兩個原因:(1)配合行政費,掩飾這些費用已在前期徵收。(2)當保險公司解釋損失是因為退保而引致,而並非將損失說成是投保的條件,他們便可利用人性傾向規避損失的強大特點來控制投保人。

研究指人們害怕損失的恐懼,是渴求利潤的慾望之兩倍。這表示保險公司只要令投資者感受到懲罰的威脅,即使是虛構出來的威脅,都遠比利用其他謀略,例如誘導他們爭取長期投資獎賞,更能有效地操控他們。    

退保罰款透過蒙騙投資者,令他們陷入提早退保便會損失初始單位的恐懼而發揮效力,但他們實際上從不擁有那些初始單位。為防蒙受這個想像出來的損失,投資者便將資金交予保險公司管理,讓保險公司每年繼續收取高昂的管理費。在最過份的情況下,保險公司利用投資者希望避免損失的心態,操控他們進一步向公司送錢。 

蘇黎世保險「豐盛人生」計劃為例,如投資者連續3年停止供款,便會自動觸發退保「罰款」。防止「受罰」的唯一方法就是繼續向蘇黎世保險投入更多款項。

Zurich Vista - Stopping Premiums - Highlighted

Chinese Translation - Zurich - Must Keep Paying to Avoid Penalty

促銷騙局:以虛假的獎賞單位吸引投資者墮入陷阱

不少保險公司免費送贈基金單位予投資者,作為誘使他們投保、簽訂較長期的合約,及加大供款的獎勵。

蘇黎世保險「豐盛人生」計劃給予投資者的獎賞高達首年供款的125%。下文是「豐盛人生」計劃介紹冊的摘錄,顯示蘇黎世保險的標準收費。蘇黎世保險不時(可能是經常)提供比介紹冊所載的標準收費較高的獎賞,從而令投資者覺得他們正享有特別的限時優惠。

Vista Bonus

Chinese Translation - Zurich - Bonus Units

驟眼看,這些推廣看似是向客戶送錢的大酬賓,因為那些獎賞單位可在鎖定期結束後套現。但如果我們算一下,便發現世上沒有免費午餐,這是以優惠掩飾的騙局。

獎賞單位一般都存置在初始賬戶。誠如筆者已在前文解釋,這些單位中,約75%會在25年間由行政費(或退保罰款)索回,即是投資者從來不曾擁有過這些獎賞單位。

為了方便說明,假設投資者認購了100個單位,因為保險公司告訴他,他將會免費獲得額外20個獎賞單位。於是在投資者的心目中,還有根據賬戶結單的顯示,他是擁有120個單位。不過,當中90個(75%)已預定由各項收費消耗。這表示他實際上擁有約30個單位。那些免費送給他的20個單位只是流於紙上的虛幻資產。只要算一下,實際上他被騙去70個單位!

較大的獎賞表示較大的前期虧損,並加大提早停保的風險

保險公司會告訴投資者簽署較長的合約會比較划算,因為他們將會獲得更多的獎賞。這是騙人的。 

較長的合約表示相應地給予中介機構更多的佣金,即是客戶須被困在較長的最初供款期、較多的初始單位、較長的鎖定期和更高所謂的退保罰款,以支付那些額外佣金。換言之,客戶完全是在受騙下將更多的錢倒進大海。

根據最近的媒體報導,93%的投資者並無完成任何年期的投資相連保險計劃,更有99% 並無完成長達25年的合約(但筆者懷疑其實有關數字應接近100%)。

當投資者被騙簽署較長期的合約時,他們提早退保的可能性便倍增,卻在未來數十年沒有得到自己不知不覺已預先付費的服務。

保險公司是計算風險定價的專家,所以當他們以虛構的獎賞換取投資者簽署較長的合約並承擔異常高的風險時,他們絕對知道自己巧取豪奪投資者的錢財。

期望有人對任何事作出25年的承諾已經不合理,更何況是每月支付保費給依靠客戶為生的保險公司。人生之中大都難免會遇上困難,例如失業或出現緊急的醫療需要,而需動用所有的閒錢應付。然而很多時,投保人發現被騙了,故終止保險計劃,並將尚餘的資金轉移他處。

獎賞單位促成誘換保單

對於某些銷售人員而言,蒙騙客戶一次是不夠的。誘換保單是行內術語,形容說服客戶出售一份保單,以籌集資金購買另一份保單的利為。此舉可為銷售人員帶來第二筆佣金,而獎賞單位是非常方便的工具來實現這項壯舉。我曾聽說,有顧問聲稱購買新保單可獲豐厚獎賞單位,足以抵銷賣掉舊保單而產生虛假的退保罰款有餘。因為保單文件、收費結構及賬戶結單都暗藏騙局,投資者墮入陷阱時根本意識不到會被如何敲詐。     

獎賞單位隱藏一直下跌的賬戶價值,所以投資者一點都不慌張,也不急於退保

筆者女友在她的盈聚101計劃首年供款期內,便因多於13%的收費而蒙受沉重損失。她要支付:

  • 6% 的保費
  • 6% 的行政費
  • 多於1%的相關基金費用

這情況在投資相連保險計劃中其實並不罕見。

因為這些過高的收費,投資者虛假的賬戶價值幾乎都在首年下跌,因為股票的價值極少會有13%以上的升幅。不少投資者在首數月供款後,因已看到即時的虧損,便萌生終止計劃的念頭。

為防投資者慌張然後退保,或至少能夠預防他們投訴,保險公司通常都會在初始供款期給予他們足夠的獎賞單位,足以抵銷由費用產生的下行壓力有餘。此舉令投資者以為他們輕鬆獲利。一旦初始供款期完結,投資者已完全被「鎖定」,提供獎賞的「水龍頭」便即時關閉。

現實的情況往往都要數年才會顯現。 

收買投資顧問,誘使投資者換保單:
「目標供款期」不為人知的秘密目的

目標供款期一般介乎530年。有時目標供款期稱為「供款年期」。保險公司假裝有不同的「目標」年期,以便滿足投資者的不同願景。

一個30年的計劃似乎是年輕人的最佳選擇,而5年計劃便適合尚有5年便退休的人士。

標準人壽告訴投資者「您可以自行選擇由525年的不同供款年期,以滿足您的投資需要。」

To Suit Your Advisers Greed for Commission - Harvest 101 Contribution Payment Term

Chinese Translation - Harvest 101 - Target Contribution Period

然而真相卻告訴我們,較長的付款期並非為了年輕人的投資需要而設,而是為了更快地騙取受害人投入更多款額,滿足保險公司渴求利潤的的慾望。

「目標」供款期只是「鎖定期」的暗語。較長的鎖定期保證保險公司可透過行政費,或透過較高的退保罰款(通常是後者)而獲取更多利潤。較長的鎖定期會產生較高的毛利,但他們的主要目的是為了推高銷售額。保險公司通過給予龐大的前期佣金的形式,將大多的利潤轉移至銷售人員來達致這個目標。這樣為銷售人員締造極大的動力推銷儲蓄計劃,尤其是那些供款期最長的計劃。     

南華早報》近日報導合約儲蓄計劃的經紀佣金,相當於客戶在目標供款期內應該投入的全部供款的4.2%。 

因此,25年的目標供款期產生的佣金,是5年目標供款期所產生的5,更比非合約計劃產生的前期佣金高出數百倍

筆者做了下圖來說明保險公司及經紀公司如何從不同的目標供款期賺取利潤。明顯地,除了客戶外,較長的目標供款期對所有人都會產生較大的即時利潤。筆者編製此圖時曾對某些數字作揍整,亦作出了數個估算,但相信內容大致準確。 

Target Contribution Period Illustration - Harvest 101

Chinest Translation - Harvest 101 - Breakdown of Commissions

註:較長的標準供款期的初始供款期也會較長。筆者利用盈聚101冊子內所列的標準獎賞率計算。假設所有未來供款的佣金率都是4.2%。「實際為受保人作投資的初始供款及獎賞」一欄相當於不受行政費或退保罰款蠶食的款額。「標準人壽所得」是指在支付佣金及買入不受費用再次蒸發的單位後的餘款。

當保險公司和銷售人員賺取了較大的前期利潤時,那些利潤是直接取自投資者的初始供款。因此,目標供款期只是一個用以欺騙投資者將財富轉移至騙徒的工具。

正如筆者在文首所述,保險公司在投資者尚未支付一個月以上的保費時,便已提前向顧問支付價值數十年佣金,保險公司及顧問明顯違反了香港防止賄賂的法律。

顧問有法律責任將客戶的利益優先放於其自身利益之上。因此,他們根本沒有恰當的理由利用較長的目標供款期去欺騙客戶。如果他們這樣做,並從中接受較多的佣金,則顧問和保險公司便從事了《防止賄賂條例》第9禁止的交易,最高刑罰可達監禁7年及罰款$500,000港元。

筆者相信廉政公署遲早會嚴厲打擊這些行為,或者他們已開始展開打撃行動。

不實的廣告宣傳

不論是保險的宣傳冊,還是公司網站,保險公司一般都誇大或歪曲投資相連保險計劃的好處,卻盡量減少,甚至隻字不提計劃的弊處。     

下圖是標準人壽網站的截屏。筆者將看來帶操縱或誤導成份之處,特意圈起及編上號碼。

Misleading Marketing Material by Standard Life - Numbered

Chinese Translation - Standard Life - Misleading Marketing

筆者將從上至下解釋為何以上的網站聲稱的內容具誤導性:

  1. 透過投資相連保險投資對香港人而言其實並無「好處」。即使有,那極其量只是少量好處,但弊處卻多得鋪天蓋地。絕大多數的人都沒任何理由涉獵這些產品。
  2. 投資兼享人壽保」是龐大的騙局,因為它讓保險公司以完全不能為產品增值而且毫無必要的「管理」服務之名義,敲詐高昂的中介費。此外,大多投資相連保險提供的人壽保障極少(一般只是賬戶價值的1%),根本毫無意義。
  3. 聲稱投資相連保險能夠「靈活投資」,簡直就是厚顏無恥的謊言。大多這些產品綑綁投資者530年,而且提早退保會觸發高昂罰款。(事實上,正如筆者在前文已解說,鎖定期及退保罰款都是虛假。它們的目的是為了掩飾前期費用。)
  4. 聲稱投資相連保險擁有「投資透明度」是另一個厚顏無恥的謊言。投資者都不清楚保險公司是否利用他們的供款購買真正的基金單位。
  5. 聲稱投資相連保險提供「清晰的投資成本資料」亦是無恥的謊言。賬戶結單是騙人的,而且費用詳情非常複雜,只有數學家才懂計算。
  6. 投資相連保險並沒有提供真正「多元化的投資選」。雖然未必是全部,但大多現有的基金都是由基金經理積極管理,費用較高。投資選擇中明顯缺乏低收費的指數基金。
  7. 投資相連保險的費用如此高昂,聲稱任何一個特性「免收」費用都是荒謬,包括轉換基金。另外,所有基金都沒有豁免收取買賣差價(轉換費的一種)。
  8. 獎賞單位非但沒有「提升回報潛力」,更會導致損失擴大,因為保險公司利用這些單位說服投資者簽署更長的合約,表示將更多的金錢倒進大海。 

榮獲殊榮的騙局

Zurich Vista Awarded Best Regular Premium Investment Product (Asia) 2013

A screenshot from Zurich’s website. Click HERE to see for yourself.

Chinese Translation - Zurich's Award-Winning Scam

上文是蘇黎世保險網站的截屏。按此可以了解更多。

蘇黎世保險在其網站誇口「豐盛人生」榮獲「最佳定期保費投資產品」(即最佳投資相連保險儲蓄計劃)。此獎項由「國際人壽大獎」頒發,由業界雜誌International Adviser贊助。 

如果投資者對投資相連保險計劃沒有認識,這個殊榮或會令他們對此計劃留下深刻印象。

但如果了解所有事實後,他們必會覺得反感。

幾乎所有屬於「定期保費」類別的產品都是騙局。筆者認為只有萊斯基亞的理財資產計劃是例外,因為只有它並非以多年的儲蓄計劃來欺騙投資者。

有趣的是,理財資產計劃並無獲得任何獎項。

你可能會問:「為什麼像《International Adviser》這些業界刊物會頒發獎項給這些最厲害的儲蓄騙局?」

The Great Expat Financial Planning Ripoff》一書中名為「金融刊物的可疑角色」的一章,應可為這個疑問提供有力的答案。 

一些專業刊物一般都會迎合財務顧問行業的需要,有些亦特別服務離岸財務顧問。大多這些刊物都是免費派發。他們明顯在很大程度上依賴離岸產品供應商,如銀行、建築協會、互惠基金公司,當然還有離岸人壽保險公司投下廣告來賺取收入和利潤。這些雜誌不時會對離岸保險公司提供的產品進行評估,而他們喜歡透過頒獎給不同產品類別的得奬者作為噱頭,獎勵保險公司然後用作宣傳目的

「讓我們弄清楚上述的關係。財經雜誌設立『獨立』小組,評估一些離岸保險公司產品的價值。該小組發表它認為是最好的產品。頒發獎項後,關係密切了,禮尚往來,獲獎的離岸保險公司便向同一份雜誌支付廣告費用,更引述他們剛獲得的最佳產品獎,證明他們的產品是如何優秀。如果這不是小圈子還是什麼?」

「這些卓越的獎項評委成員是否在簡單算術方面力有不逮?他們可能是財務事宜的專家,但似乎無法意識到任何擁有平均智力、沒有專業知識,了解所有的事實的人,都能清楚看見這是一個騙局。」

這些合約產品的結構,完全是為財務顧問創造偌大空間徵收不合理的龐大佣金而成,根本沒有其他用途,這些財務顧問亦不關心他們的客戶。那些專家應該考慮到這點。能夠在頒獎典禮上開香檳感覺可能很好,但如不承認這些產品的弊端,還給那些垃圾產品蓋上認同標籤的人,將令自己成為眾多參與騙局的人員之一份子,或許這只比捲入數百萬美元的全球詐騙行為稍為好一點。

筆者最近一次翻閱《International Adviser》時,雜誌正顯示著友誠保險購下的一大幅廣告。  

一名《International Adviser》的編輯表示「國際人壽大獎」是「表揚卓越的產品設計」,而評委都是「由一班精選的獨立財務顧問組成,都是能夠代表業界的精英。

筆者假設,「精英」是指最佳的銷售人員,而非最佳的受託人。銷售人員偏好較易銷售的產品,因此「卓越的產品設計」一定是指卓越的詐騙手段。

Readers’ Choice》大獎的得獎者是由讀者選出。然而,如果讀者是投保人便不得參與投票。只有銷售人員才可投票。其參加表格如此寫道: 

「我們接受向客戶推薦跨境壽險產品的財務顧問或理財經理的投票。」 

這對保險公司有利,反正筆者從沒碰見既知情又快樂的投保人。

刻不容緩

如閣下閱畢全文,便應該了解為何合約儲蓄計劃是騙局。

筆者就此提出呈請,要求香港警方檢控保險公司的欺詐行為。如閣下同意警方應該採取行動,則請: 

按此簽署呈請書

這情況不只發生在香港,全球各地已有數以百萬計的人被騙。如有任何律師、議員或關心此事的市民有興趣協助受害人取回被騙款項,請與本人聯絡(電郵:lindelll@gmail.com

本文載於無分類,於201489Lindell Lucy撰寫。