Has my Abbey Life policy developed Phoenix syndrome?

Q&A: Dominic Coyle answers your personal finance questions

Phoenix acquired the insurance books of a number of companies that operated in the Irish market down the years, including Abbey Life and Standard Life.

Phoenix acquired the insurance books of a number of companies that operated in the Irish market down the years, including Abbey Life and Standard Life.

 

I have received a letter from a group called Phoenix. They are looking for me to send them my personal details. I have never heard of them and the letter itself was sent to me by the Department of Social Protection, not this Phoenix group. It refers to policyholders but I have never had a policy with any company of this name. Should I bother replying to them at all?

- Mr D.B, by email

Your caution is understandable and admirable. In a world of data hacks and phishing scams, providing personal information to people you don’t know is highly risky.

This Phoenix company gives you no sense of who or what they are, and why they require the details they are asking you for. The only crumb of comfort is that it has come to you via the Department of Social Protection, giving it a vaguely official imprimatur, although that is no guarantee.

And both the company and the Department urge you not to deal with the Department but only with the company itself. It does provide customer care numbers but that would be no impediment to sophisticated scam artists.

As it happens, this Phoenix crowd do exist – in fact they are listed on the London Stock Exchange.

But they could certainly do with sharpening their game in terms of customer communications. You have never heard of them, nor had any contact with them before, and there is no reason that you should have.

On the basis that they were totally unfamiliar to an Irish audience, they should have ensured they provided much more information about themselves in their approach letter – especially as they are asking you for your personal details.

Phoenix have acquired the insurance books of a number of companies that operated in the Irish market down the years, including Abbey Life and Standard Life. In your case, they now manage the Abbey Life policy you bought many years ago.

Abbey Life has been through several iterations since they sold you the policy. It was at one time a listed company in its own right – indeed it was listed on the blue-chip FTSE100 at one point.

In 1996, it was bought by Lloyds TSB Bank, later being subsumed in that bank’s Hill Samuel Life Assurance business. In the year 2000, it closed its doors to new business but, of course, still managed the policies that people like you had already signed up to.

Lloyds sold the business on to Germany’s Deutsche Bank in 2007 and it was subsequently purchased, in 2016, by Phoenix. So they are kosher if, in this case, somewhat inept.

It is hardly reassuring that the company says it has gone through social welfare to trace you – it wrongly calls it by a now redundant name, the Department of Social and Family Affairs – saying: “We have tried to contact you at your last known address but have been unable to do so.”

You tell me you have been living at this address for over 40 years, including the period when you first bought this policy, and you have never received any letter from Phoenix. How then, if the company tried to contact you, could it have failed?

And clearly, if you catch someone telling what look like porkies, it does little to encourage you to trust them with your personal details.

All told, Phoenix needs to up its game.

Please send your queries to Dominic Coyle, Q&A, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2, or email dcoyle@irishtimes.com. This column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice.

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