The Institutionalization of Deceptive Sales in Life Insurance: Five Sources of Moral Risk
University of Toronto - Centre of Criminology (Deceased)
Carleton University - Department of Sociology and Anthropology
The British Journal of Criminology, Vol. 46, Issue 6, pp. 993-1010, 2006
Interview and ethnographic data are used to show how deceptive sales practices are rife and institutionalized in the life insurance industry. The data are analysed using the concept of 'moral risk': the paradoxical tendency of the structure and culture of the insurance institution to facilitate and encourage risky behaviour on behalf of the various players in the insurance relationship, in this case behaviour by insurance companies and their agents that puts consumers at risk through deceptive selling. We give empirical evidence of five key sources of moral risk that are part of the enduring structure and culture of life insurance sales. Although moral risk has been pervasive in life insurance sales since the birth of the industry, it articulates with key contemporary social tendencies: the responsibilization of the individual consumer, the erosion of the social safety net, fragmentation, individualism and the attenuation of family ties, the growth of a 'flexible' labour force, and the downloading of regulatory responsibility from the state. Deceptive sales practices corrode trust and promote yet more individualism, erasing the potential of insurance as a mechanism of social solidarity.
Date posted: February 29, 2008