Picture: 123RF/IMILIAN
Picture: 123RF/IMILIAN

Benefits worth R8.1bn that were previously unclaimed were reunited with the relevant beneficiaries and investors in 2018, the Association for Savings and Investment South Africa (Asisa) says.

According to a statement from Asisa, the forgotten assets were held in 71,233 risk policies, savings and investment policies, annuity policies and unit trusts.

While a sizable chunk of unclaimed benefits found their rightful owners, a senior policy adviser at Asisa, Rosemary Lightbody, says an estimated R17.1bn worth of benefits in 147,221 financial products remains unclaimed.

Asisa members will honour unclaimed benefits no matter how long it takes for the rightful owner to come forward, despite the Prescription Act.

"The unclaimed assets referred to … are held in risk policies (life, disability, income protection and dread disease policies), savings and investment policies (endowment policies), annuity polices and accounts in collective investment scheme (CIS) portfolios," Lightbody says.

She says financial institutions have adopted a standard on unclaimed benefits that "encourages the use of enhanced tracing procedures so as to keep unclaimed assets at a minimum level and guides members on how to treat unclaimed assets".

Assurers and investment houses cannot assume that when, for example, a customer reaches an advanced age, they have died.

"They may be alive and well and wanting their policies and investments to remain in place, or they may have passed away and their beneficiaries and heirs were unaware that a policy or investment existed," Lightbody says.

"It is for this reason that the standard does not define unclaimed assets, but expects Asisa members to investigate the circumstances and establish what the position actually is.”

The standard does not apply to retirement annuity policies and preservation fund products, which are dealt with in terms of the Pension Funds Act, Lightbody told Money. 

Some unclaimed retirement fund benefits were in the spotlight in 2018 as a result of financial institutions closing dormant funds containing benefits.

However, if you believe you have a legitimate claim to a life policy, an investment policy or annuity policy, for instance, there are steps you can take.

What can you do?

While there are procedures and processes that must be met by Asisa member companies, Lightbody says that consumers who believe they have a claim for a benefit should contact the relevant companies.

A list of Asisa-member companies is available on Asisa's website. On the website under "contact", there is an "unclaimed benefits" section.

When it comes to claiming, Lightbody says "companies will require proof from the person making the inquiry that he or she has a valid interest in the information about the policy or investment account".

You can ask for information if you remember that you had a policy or investment with a specific company, or because you believe that a deceased relative had a policy or investment with a specific company.

"Companies are unlikely to entertain opportunistic requests," Lightbody warns.

It is your responsibility to make sure that all relevant financial institutions have your latest contact details and beneficiary nomination forms on record.

What must Asisa member companies do?

According to the standard on unclaimed benefits, Asisa members must keep records that allow the tracing process to be audited by the member company's internal compliance and audit functions.

In instances where the company has tried for three years, and exhausted every avenue, then the standard has made provision for how the unclaimed funds must be handled.

"[Where all avenues have been exhausted for three years,] the assets may be utilised for socially responsible investments with commercial returns such as enterprise supplier development funds," Asisa's statement says.

"However, valid claims in respect of those assets will still be met. For products where the investment risk is carried by the company, the company may invest unclaimed assets as it deems appropriate. Where the customer, heir or beneficiary would carry the investment risk, the company must aim for investment returns in line with reasonable expectations."