When the best policy is actually necessary

In November we decided to replace our second car after the old one was sentenced to death row during a regular service.

In researching new (small) cars I noticed that many of the modern popular features are not available in the base/lower versions of several models. You need to buy the higher version to get those features.

For example:

  • Side and curtain airbags to elevate the model from a 4 to 5 star ANCAP safety rating
  • Bluetooth connectivity (for your phone and/or MP3 player)
  • Rear electric windows
  • Cruise control

I don’t consider such features as luxurious bells and whistles. To me they should be standard based on the way many in the western world are living our lives right now.

So going for the premium version of a model doesn’t just get you sexier exterior and interior trimmings plus a more powerful stereo – things you may not really need. You need to upgrade to the premium version just to get the 5 star safety rating – a really valuable feature to all.

Similarly for personal insurance

I have noticed a similar trend in personal insurance following the recent season of product upgrades.

In the case of car buying our extensive driving experience makes us better equipped to identify and assess the value of the extra features in the premium versions of models.

Not so with personal insurance where many of us have no direct experience.

With personal insurance going for the Premier or Plus version of a policy doesn’t just get you a bunch of lovely ancillary benefits that may aid your comfort when you claim.

Increasingly I am noticing that you need the top version to get the more generous definitions of core policy terms – the terms that will affect whether you can successfully claim at all.

A disability example

For example, the definition of disability will affect whether you are considered sufficiently disabled such that you can claim under your income protection or total & permanent disability (TPD) policy. It is a core policy term and you want a generous definition that increases the scope of situations in which you could receive a benefit. A narrower definition may mean that even though you are unable to earn at full capacity you don’t receive any insurance benefit.

With some income protection and TPD policies I have noticed you need to select the Premier/Plus version to get the market-leading generous policy definition of disability.

Similarly with trauma insurance policies the top versions have the market-leading definitions for core (the most common) illnesses such as cancer, heart attack and stroke.

How do you know?

You’ll only realise this if you take the time to read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS). You won’t realise this if you are just ringing around getting quotes and making a decision on premium price under the assumption that most products are similar.

What you should do

In the past I’ve often recommended you don’t just choose the cheapest insurer because they usually are cheaper due to being stricter with their policy terms.

Now I am extending that to explicitly recommend you don’t just choose the base/cheapest version of an insurer’s policy. The premium version may offer market leading terms for core features – a bit like the 5 star versus 4 star safety rating in cars.

Take the time to read the Product Disclosure Statement and understand the core differences between basic and premium policy versions.

And if you don’t have the knowledge and/or time to make that thorough comparison then outsource to a qualified, experienced financial planner or insurance broker. Their fee will be worth its weight in gold in ensuring you purchase a good value-for-money policy.

Author: Matt Hern

Certified Financial Planner professional, Matt Hern has three times been awarded as one of Australia's Top 50 Financial Planners by The Australian Financial Review Smart Investor. He is passionate about guiding you on the right financial choices to achieve what you really want. Matt Hern is an Authorised Representative of Charter Financial Planning Limited AFSL 234665. All information is general advice only.