California Announces Death Master settlement with ING

Conduct exam of a second insurer finds MassMutual using Death Master Database properly

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has announced that the California Department of Insurance has, with other state insurance regulators, reached a settlement agreement with ING over the insurer’s use of the Social Security Administration’s Death Master database to ensure policyholders and beneficiaries are protected.  In addition, state insurance regulators also released a market conduct examination report clearing another large insurer, MassMutual, of any improper use of the database.  The fact that MassMutual complied with the law in its use of the Death Master database undermines non-complying insurers' assertions that the legal requirements for use of the Death Master file were not understood by insurers.

ING has agreed to a number of business practice reforms, including using the Death Master database to search its records for deceased life insurance policyholders so that its beneficiaries may be paid.  In addition, ING agreed to pay $10.7 million to insurance regulators.  The national investigation of ING’s practices was led by insurance regulators from Florida, California, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Illinois and North Dakota.

For many years, life insurers have used the Death Master database to search for and stop payments to annuity holders, but did not use the database to identify their own deceased life insurance policyholders whose beneficiaries are owed life insurance proceeds.  It is estimated that through this practice, insurers avoided paying billions of dollars in life insurance proceeds to beneficiaries and also failed to turn over unclaimed proceeds to state controllers throughout the United States.

"This settlement is another step forward in changing life insurance industry practices regarding the use of the Death Master database," said Commissioner Jones.  "ING has agreed to do the right thing by reforming its use of the database to benefit policyholders and I commend its participation in this agreement.  I would also like to commend MassMutual for its exemplary behavior.  For years it has used Death Master symmetrically on both the life and annuity sides of its house.  It should be recognized by the industry as a model of best practices.”

ING is the 7th largest life insurance company in the nation with over $24 billion in annual premiums.  MassMutual is the 11th largest insurance company in the nation with over $21 billion in annual premiums.

With the ING agreement and the release of the MassMutual report, eight life insurers representing nearly 43 percent of the total national market have conformed or agreed to reform their business practices and use the Death Master to search for deceased policyholders and make benefit payments.

A number of other large life insurers, including life insurance giant New York Life, continue to be the subject of investigation by state insurance regulators. 

    • As a result of the MassMutual examination and finding that the insurer has properly used the Death Master database, MassMutual will not be included in financial settlements.
    • State regulators are conducting examinations of life insurers nationwide to determine if they are using the Death Master to their economic benefit while failing to use it to determine if life insurance policyholders have beneficiaries who should receive proceeds.
    • The Department of Insurance will receive reimbursement for its examination and enforcement expenses as part of the multi-state settlement agreement.
    • Company size and market share data is based on the 2012 NAIC Market Share Report for the Life and Fraternal Insurance Industry.

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