With retired chat show host Sir Michael Parkinson fronting its advertising campaigns and Gloria Hunniford and June Whitfield having previously fulfilled the same role, it is not surprising that Sun Life Direct specialises in the over 50s market. (Though dropping June Whitfield from the ads at the age of 83 shows they're strictly in the under 80s market!) Having introduced life cover for this age group in 1977, its Guaranteed Over 50 Plan was, according to Association of British Insurers, the most popular whole of life plan bought directly in the UK with over 685,000 customers reported at 9th April 2009. The success of the plan is put down to its simplicity, acceptance without the need for a medical, fixed premiums plus a few other incentives thrown in for good measure. A 50 Plus Protector Plan provides guaranteed life cover for anyone aged 50 to 75 on similar terms.
Despite the aged and friendly faces, advertising of the Guaranteed Over 50 Plan and the Bonus Cash Builder Plus Plan got the company in trouble with the FSA in 2004, leading to a fine of £500,000. The authority considered the advertisements focused too much on the benefits of the plans and the offer of free promotional gifts ("get a free clock if you call now!") and didn't put enough emphasis on the risks involved. Plans of this type are serious products that are generally targeted at vulnerable and impressionable people, so setting out the risks as well as the benefits is a must. After all, whilst getting some shopping vouchers or a free pen after encouragement from a trusted spokesperson is all well and good, it hardly makes up for any losses that might result from taking on an unsuitable investment.
Funeral plans are also available to cover funeral costs through the proceeds from life insurance policies, with all arrangements handled by The Co-operative Funeralcare. Funeral costs, according to the company's estimates, range between £1124 and £2549, while a survey that it commissioned found that cremation funeral costs had risen by 32% in the four years to September 2008.
On the, unfortunately related, subject of death, a separate website (www.axawillguide.co.uk) provides a guide to getting a will written and sets out the likely costs associated with a death in the UK. It then, helpfully, provides links back to the main website in the hope that readers will be concerned enough to subscribe to a plan of some sort.
Life cover and investment plans are available. Also on offer is breakdown cover, which is provided as various options (local, nationwide, homestart and European) and underwritten by Inter Partner Association, a wholly owned subsidiary of AXA Assistance (www.axa-assistance.co.uk). Home insurance is available via links to AXA Insurance (www.axa.co.uk), with travel, pet, car and business insurances available from the same site. All the over 50s plans, however, are hosted at www.sunlifedirect.co.uk (formerly at www.over50plan.co.uk) -- please take note that www.sunlife.com is a completely different insurance company as is www.sunlife.co.uk so make sure you're on the right site before entering details.
The company, not to be confused with Royal Sun Alliance life insurance products, was created as AXA Sun Life in 1997 following the merger of AXA Equity & Law and the Sun Life Group. This made it part of the French-based AXA worldwide insurance group, which has its headquarters in Paris. The UK operation's registered office is in London, though, and it has a major customer services operation in Bristol. However, it did announce in 2000 that it was considering moving some clerical jobs to India and has made several job cuts since then.
In an apparent attempt to reconnect with its roots and give customers a known and trusted brand, the AXA group name has been moved into the background with the current name being adopted in 2009 as a trading name for AXA Sun Life Services plc, which underwrites all the policies.