David vs Goliath – The Court of Public Opinion
A letter we addressed to estate agents on 20 November 2018 turned out to be prophetic. It pointed out that organisations need to act in a way that is seen to be just and equitable and if they do not do so they will face the court of public opinion. In this case Momentum Insurance Company was found to be wanting. They released a statement to say they had capitulated. (They use other words). What lessons are there for us?
Momentum is in the news. Nathan Ganas, a life policyholder with Momentum, was gunned down in a brutal murder whilst trying to protect his wife from hijackers in an incident in March 2017. Momentum paid out the R50 000 funeral benefit. When his wife, Denise, tried to cash in the life policy, Momentum refused to pay it out on the basis that Ganas had not disclosed to them that he suffered from high blood sugar. It was reported that Momentum wanted the R50 000 back at some stage. Denise Ganas took Momentum to the insurance ombudsman, who supported Momentum’s stance in a decision announced in late 2018.
Social media came out blazing in support of Denise. The overriding sentiment was “what does blood sugar have to do with the way Ganas died?” Most people thought this was inherently unfair. Momentum stuck to their guns. At the time of writing, Momentum released a statement to say that Denise could keep the funeral benefit and they would repay the insurance premiums but they would not pay out the R2,5 million claim. Denise has apparently refused this offer and is taking the matter to court.
Momentum’s stance is risky because the court of public opinion sides with Denise. In the thousands of social media posts a mere handful support Momentums decision.
So although Momentum has acted within the terms of the law they have failed the public opinion test. A true David and Goliath battle. Now we don’t know the final outcome. Will Denise be able to sustain the social pressure on Momentum? Will the hundreds of Facebook members who have threatened to cancel their policies, follow through with their threats? We don’t know. If this fuss fizzles out then Ganas will be poorer and wiser and she will have to battle to raise her kids by herself. If the social media pressure increases Momentum may be forced to back down on their stance to protect the business. A decision like this, could in extremes, lead to the CEO been removed by shareholders.
Whatever happens, the fact is that Momentum has suffered tremendous reputational damage.
The lesson from this episode is that businesses in this new and open world brought about by the internet need to do what is seen to be right and not just what the law provides for.
That is the challenge that all businesses now have. We have to adapt our stance to what people believe is just and equitable.
As Property Practitioners, we need to carefully relook at the established practices we follow. Is it acceptable that sellers are protected by the voetstoots clause and a declaration without a commensurate protection for buyers? The reality is that only an experienced and trained home inspector can pickup defects that could impact on the buyer.
What will the court of public opinion be of estate agents who fail to recommend to buyers that they get this simple check done?
And think of the benefit to a real estate agent of having a home inspection report when marketing a property.
Let’s build bridges of trust