Sun Life of Canada Service Stinks!

NOTE: I would NEVER recommend Sun Life to anyone given my personal experience with their poor service, stonewalling, changing rules and policies, untrained people and unfulfilled promises. Guess they are treating this as THEIR MONEY and they could care less about making the systems and policies make sense. They most certainly promise good service when they sell it (I was there) but the proof is in the execution of services.

They were unresponsive at best and "adversarial" for the most part.

They demanded that I do things that were "customary" according to them. Yet our SC legal system (Family Court) had no process to handle their unreasonable demands.

Finally, it turned out that they were not even following their own policies and holding me to a policy that they were thinking about implementing! In the end, they did what they should have done in the first place and did not even apologize for their threats and delays and the complete waste of my time.

You will NOT believe this -- Read On -- and especially the surprise ending.


Note - This is my best recollection of events as they happened and is based on notes taken during or immediately after the various events. It is most certainly representative of what has transpired. These events happened before Christmas and spread out over the New Year. I have edited them (3/8/00) to take some of my very negative emotional reactions from them and to make the story read a bit better. What is most amazing is that I am being blamed and have lost business to one of the subsidiary firms of this corporation because I chose to speak up about their rude and threatening and indifferent reactions to me over the course of events. Like maybe I should apologize to THEM? Go figure...


The Story up to 12/30:

My father died and left a annuity in my son's name. For a variety of reasons, it made sense to close this out before the end of 1999. He had this policy a long time. But Sun Life wasn't paying until they make us jump through a variety of meaningless and ever changing hoops.


My Mom's insurance and estate planning agent, Don, called Sun Life of Canada to find out what is required to close out this annuity and a customer service person provided him with information. His office faxed me the boilerplate for a note requesting that this annuity be canceled and that I am father of my son. I typed it up, had it notarized, and overnighted it to him, which he then sent along to Sun Life.

He also got an official (raised seal) copy of the death certificate from my Mother and overnighted them to Sun Life's Boston office as he was instructed. For some reason, these materials were never put together there -- they claim that this was one of the causes of the delay in completing this transaction.

Nothing happens. A few days later, I call Don and he calls Sun Life and finds out that they do not have all they need. Did they call us? Nope. The file sits on someone's desk waiting for us to realize that nothing has happened and to call them back. Nice.

Then, I call them to get a sense of what is going on. Changing the story from what they originally told Don, a Sun Life customer service person, Vincent tells me that what we did that fulfilled their initial requirements but that it is not sufficient. He tells me that I now have to go to Family Court to get "some document" PROVING to Sun Life that I am the legal guardian of my son. Over the Christmas holidays...

I am told that their Legal Department requires it. No other information will suffice. They must get a letter from Family Court stating that I am the legal guardian.

Not that they could call my Mother and ask her. Not that they could trust Don, who knows all my family members and could lose all his licenses if he supplied false information. I have to PROVE that I am the father of my son.

I only have a simple question: "How do I do that?" They provide no answers...

When I question this, I am told that I will get a callback. I am given the distinct impression that I am now talking to a knowledgeable supervisor, a person named Jennifer Bagni. I ask her the same questions and she defends the company systems, of course. She does blame an untrained unnamed clerk for not checking policies and procedures and giving Don the wrong information.

She says that all I need to do is get a "Letter of Guardianship from Family Court." One would think, from the way she said this, that the process would be most simple and easy: just get a letter of proof.

When I ask her what this implies and requires, she does not have a clue, however. So she puts me on hold and talks to "her guru in the legal compliance office" She comes back on line and says that I simply have to go to Family Court and get the document. She says,

"You don't have to prove it. They will know that you are the legal guardian."

She also admits that she has no idea of the process or how long it takes but seems confident that this cannot be a difficult task. She does not know what information is required or how long the process will take or if there is any cost. And it is obvious that this is NOT her concern - I am simply required by them to prove this and they will not act until I do so.

(Note, my wife and I and our family have lived in this same house since 1984. Jeff was born in LA. How can I PROVE that I remain legal guardian? How would YOU prove that? But Jennifer says it is simple, just go to family court!!!)

She then says she will MAIL me the text of the required document and fax a copy to Don. When I suggest that she also fax it to me to speed the process, it seems that this is a novel solution. Guess she routinely mails time-sensitive documents to clients.

KNOWING that this process would take time, why would she mail it? Duh. But it demonstrates their obvious commitment to customer service and the customer...

Five hours later, I get a fax from them. In part, it says these things:

"For security purposes, in order to process a claim for the death proceeds when a minor child possesses the contract rights, Sun Life of Canada (U.S.) requires a letter of instruction from the minor's legal guardian, plus court certified documentation verifying the guardian's status."

"...forward an originally certified copy of the court order granting you guardian status over Scott J. Simmerman."

"We apologize for any inconvenience this situation may cause. We assure you that legal requirements such as these are implemented merely to safeguard our clients' assets."

(signed) Jennifer Bagni.

(She does not include her telephone extension. And while she seemingly represented herself as a management person to me, she shows her title as "Customer Service Representative)

Consider this:

It's been almost two weeks since this started and we are not close to completing what would seem to be a normal and commonplace transaction. One would think that Sun Life of Canada would most certainly be more professional in how they handle these transactions and be more familiar with the processes. What is wild is that they have continued to promise "same-day processing."


(Have you gotten the feeling yet that they are not terribly concerned with the efficient or effective processing of this or that they do not actually understand the process? Does this not fill you with a great sense of their overall professionalism and competence? Was any of this explained when the policy was SOLD??) (related joke)

Then, which really blows my mind, she says that I can then FAX this originally certified copy of the court order back to her. (It speaks to the issue of how critically important this document really is, methinks! It is just one more stall... If this is such a critical document in this process, why would a faxed copy of it be acceptable??? I should have seen this as part of the actual non-existence of an actual policy as to handle this issue -- 20 / 20 hindsight on my part.)

She also claims that as soon as they get all the paperwork, they will process it immediately.

I also wanted to get the check made out in my son's name, since it would prove that the payment was meant for him. They won't do that! Against policy...

I called the Family Court office. Of course they are closed for the Holidays.

On Monday, I call again and subsequently speak to Bruce Gordon, another service agent at SunLife of Canada in Boston. He claims that their requirement of proof is "normal practice" and states that "funds will not be released until this is done."

I ask that their oft-referenced Legal Department give me some information about what this assignment of guardianship might mean in regards to my will and he says that he cannot put me in touch with their legal department directly and that this would have to be a written request and that their address is different and that he does not have it. Nor does he offer to get it for me.

I ask for the address of the Insurance Commissioner and he puts us on hold for about 5 minutes and then comes back on (now the speakerphone with my family in the room) to say that I would have to call my State Government to get that information. He cannot / will not provide that either.


Now it gets even more interesting...

My wife and son are standing in my office listening to the speakerphone conversation and shaking their heads at the stupid policies. With Customer Service Representative Bruce Gordon on my speakerphone, my son clearly says,

"You Bastards!!" (right out of South Park)

I then relayed to Bruce what my son said about this process so that he could clearly understand our family's feelings about this transaction. This was on their tape of the conversation, too.


My call to Family Court on Tuesday was met with, "We don't do that unless you already have a case here," and "You might get a lawyer to submit the paperwork to us so that we could then write a letter granting you guardianship."

After I explained the situation to the clerk at Family Court and Sun Life of Canada's demand for proof of guardianship, she was confused. "You are the biological father?" "You still live with the biological mother?" "The son still lives with you?" and so forth. Her final response was, "What is the problem?"

She couldn't understand why a Birth Certificate would not suffice since it would demonstrate that I was the actual father. I explained the problem that it did not PROVE that I am the Legal guardian to the satisfaction of Sun Life. And I have a problem with ME getting guardianship of my son and how it would affect the provisions we made in our will.

So, I called Jennifer Bagni back at SunLife, gave her the phone number of Family Court and asked her to find out what I need to do and how to go about it. She said that I had used an obscenity in my last telephone conversation (which I clarified as me simply repeating what my son had said about their customer service) and then promised a call-back. This is at 11:00 on Tuesday morning, the 28th...


Update of 12/29/99 at 11:50 am:

I called Customer Service Representative Jennifer back after not hearing from her for 24 hours - this call was because Greenville County Family Court had no idea as to how to handle their "routine request." I had asked her to contact the Family Court and find out what actually needed to be done.

It seemed as if SunLife was actually beginning to realize the difficulty / stupidity of their demanded Letter and that they may be taking some action. It seemed incredible to me that they could not see the difficulty of their requirement that I prove that I am the guardian of my son, expecially since they do not have a recommended approach to accomplishing this.

And an unbelievable twist:

I was told that their legal department has requested tapes of all of my conversations with them because they feel that I may be "harassing them" and because of my "threat" to "publish" the name of the account representative (Jennifer Bagni) on my website. Apparently Jennifer felt that I was being abusive TO HER!!!

While this may not have been meant as a threat to me and that my so-called threat to them was more of a promise to simply publish this customer service activity herein, it was most certainly seemed couched in that way to me. She mentioned a couple of times in the call that they had engaged "outside council" in this matter, that their legal department will now handle this, and that I should now contact no one in their customer service department -- that I should wait to hear from some unknown person in their legal department who would be, of course, faxing me some letter of unknown content "this afternoon."

Neat, eh? But at least it is SOME action on their part. As stated before, remember that their actions are, "merely to safeguard our clients' assets."

Update of 12/31 from 12:30 until 1:30 ( an amazing conclusion will follow! )

Not hearing from anyone nor receiving the promised fax, I call again.

Jennifer had said that if I were to call her again, she would "simply say exactly the same thing," basically telling me not to ever call her again. BUT, since I did not get the promised fax from their Legal Department on Wednesday afternoon, I waited until Friday (New Year's Eve) at 12:30 to call her back and see if there was any progress. At this point, she did have the name of someone in Legal Compliance (but had either refused to give it to me when I had asked for it or got it and chose not to relay it to me -- either way, not much service...).

She also stated that "There is a legal action against you coming," for my supposed "harassment" of her. I have no guess as to why she thinks I am harassing HER; seems to me that they are the ones causing all the problems and I am only trying to get some answer as to what she said was their company's stated requirement for this proof that I am the legal guarding of my son and what was supposed to be this "simple process of asking Family Court for a letter." Duh! A little bit sensitive there, Jennifer?

And ALL I am doing is trying to understand the process that they claim is so understandable and trying to resolve the issue of getting my son's money from them. At the end of this call, she also TOLD me not to call her back.

Her's is the only name on any document I have ever received from Sun Life, however.

Anyway, I call this other person (Dee) and she says, "Philip Reeves was supposed to have called you. He hasn't done that?" (Obviously not, since I am calling her.)

So, as it stands at the moment, Sun Life expected Philip Reeves, a South Carolina Lawyer, to contact me in a prompt way about resolving this problem and apparently NOT about Jennifer's perceived lawsuit against me for harassment. He is on vacation today and will probably not contact me until Monday which does not meet my expectations nor the commitments Sun Life made to me about prompt resolution. (Is this what lawyers do?) (click here for lawyer jokes)

I also found out that Sun Life does not need "an originally certified copy of the court order granting you (me) guardian status" (as stated in Jennifer Bagni's letter) but merely a letter stating that I have "guardian status over my son's assets." I am not a lawyer but I would guess that this is a most significant difference in phraseology. This little bit of unprofessionalism in scripting the letter is a bit unconcerting to me and a most appalling part of this whole process.


In a great bit of "nevermind" (as from the old "Saturday Night Live"), I get a call at 1:30 today from James Burgess, a manager at Sun Life.

Apparently all this requirement for a certificate of guardianship is from a NEW policy to be implemented in 2000 and that it is something that he will waive given the circumstances.

This Proof of Guardianship was NOT required in the case of my transaction, he tells me.

Lastly, he commits to process the paperwork today, checking one last time with Don Delmonte on Monday, and send the check express mail on Monday and would be dated December 31st.

He will not need the involvement of counsel in South Carolina and that this document is really not needed in order to process this transaction. They presently do not require this.

I mentioned Jennifer's promised lawsuit against me, we discussed some of the difficulties that this policy and how it is expressed in writing will cause the owners, and a few other things.

In other words, all this was not happening.

Really good "Letter to the Bank" ( a relevant joke ) - click here


On Tuesday, January 4 we DO (finally) receive the payment as promised. UPS did deliver on its commitment to overnight service.

But instead of the check being dated December 31 so that we could include it in 1999 income, as specifically promised by Mr. Burgess, it was dated January 3.

They could not even CLOSE this sorry affair as they said they would do so that they would meet my original request!

My Mom's estate planner, who is exceptionally good, BTW, posted me a last email that summarized our Tuesday discussion. I add it at the very bottom as a "Final Note."

Too bad that Sun Life has obviously "lost that customer service feeling" based on our combined experiences...


Additional unprofessional handling - a minor aside

On calling Vincent, who gave me his 4-digit extension, you get a nice message. You work through a couple of levels of their voice mail and get his email. "If you want to reach an attendant, please press zero."

Doing that gets one the message that "an attendant has not been specified" and that they puts one into telephone never never land. So, one calls back again. And goes through the system again.

Other calls to their system would seem to indicate that when the system defaults to "an Operator," they mean that they will simply recycle you through their automatic attendant process again. Very frustrating if you want to speak to a live person and you do not know if they are sitting at their desk answering their phone. Of my 9 calls to them, only 3 have ever been answered by a human being.

But as of 12/30, I am told by Jennifer Bagni that I should no longer call "customer service," that they will simply repeat what they said to me this morning (that this has been given to their legal department and that someone (unnamed) there would be in touch with me by fax this afternoon).

They will provide no other contact information, no address for this "legal department," and no way to get additional information.

I am told to simply wait for their fax. Nice, eh? This is professional customer service?

(My last three calls to them were all actually answered by a human being)


Here is what Don said in his first email about this:

As a Certified Financial Planner I routinely work with clients' estates. In the large majority of those estates there are investments, usually annuities, which are administered by insurance companies. My experience in dealing in those areas has been and continues to be extremely frustrating. In my experience it is rare that a transfer occurs without some difficulty. The problems generally revolve around incorrect information about what is required by the company to process the claim. This is exactly what we are experiencing with the claim for your son.

Given the high percentage of problems one could conclude that it is the companies' goal to prevent you from withdrawing the funds, thereby allowing the company continued use of the money. However, it is my opinion that the problem is caused by improperly trained service personnel who have no understanding of what is actually required to process these types of claims. That my seem to border on impossible given the number of times you would expect that they handle claims. But after almost twenty years in this field, to me, it is the scenario that seems most likely.

With regard to the problem of your existing claim, I intend to follow up on Monday when I can speak to a supervisor. I have also asked for the specific request and the reason for it to be faxed to me. My hope is that I am able to get an exception from the supervisor. My experience tells me that this is probably not likely. This is way I asked that the specific request be faxed to me. It may be that once the legal department at Sun Life is required to put in writing exactly what they are requesting, they may realize the stupidity of their request.

Here is what Don Delmonte said in his last email about this after all was said and done:

Hi Scott,

Wow, after reading your information, the whole episode sounds more ridiculous than I originally thought.

I'd like to be able to say that this is the exception but my experience is that it is not. My letter to your web page suggested that the problem is usually caused by improperly trained service personnel, that seems to have been a large part of this unacceptable event. And once again I'll say that I cannot understand how large companies can allow this to continue.

But it does continue as I fight this same battle, more or less, in every case where we process similar transactions. And from my perspective a company such as Sun Life is getting worse.

In my opinion Sun Life was a company that strove to p rovide excellent customer service. I can say that in my opinion and in my dealings with them, they have slipped in the area of customer service. It is unfortunate as I have in the passed placed them near the top of the companies that I would entrust with my client's assets. Obviously that has changed.

Have a happy and prosperous new year. If I can be of any assistance, just call.