HSBC (HSBC) and Assurant Inc. (AIZ) agreed on Friday to pay $1.8 million to put an end to a class action lawsuit that alleged the bank took kickbacks for steering some 11,000 consumers into inflated flood insurance contracts.
The arrangement, which needs a Colorado federal court’s approval, would put an end to a lawsuit that alleges that HSBC intentionally herded consumers to unnecessary and onerous coverage levels when force placing homeowners whose coverage had lapsed into flood-insurance policies.
In turn, the lawsuit alleges, HSBC would receive from Assurant’s American Security Insurance a substantial kickback.
The deal, if approved, would bar HSBC from ordering insurance for customers at a higher level than necessary when their policy lapsed. It would return about 90% of HSBC’s commissions to the customers.
“The proposed settlement returns approximately 90% of the commissions that were paid to the HSBC defendants in connection with [lender-placed flood insurance] placed during the class period, provides an excellent recovery for settlement class members, and is plainly adequate under the governing standards for evaluating class action settlements in this circuit,” the plaintiffs wrote in their motion for approval.
This is not the first time American Security Insurance or Assurant have gotten in trouble over force placed insurance practices. In 2012 American Security Insurance reached an agreement with the California Department of Insurance to reduce premiums charged on lender placed insurance by 30.5%.
In 2013, New York state regulators and Assurant reached a settlement over force place insurance policies. The insurer agreed to pay a $14 million civil penalty, while giving refunds to some borrowers.
Force placed, or lender placed, insurance is a controversial subject. It pulls big players such as Bank of America into big fights. Force place policies are typically taken out by banks or other lenders on homes where the owner does not have sufficient or any coverage.
While it is a necessary function in many instances, the charge for the service often draws ire. Other servicers have run afoul of regulators and analysts for questionable force placed practices.
Last year the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau published a five-point checklist for servicers on how to deal with force placing insurance.
Both defendants and plaintiffs said in January that they were close to reaching an agreement that would settle the case in Colorado, as well as another class action in New York, according to legal coverage of the case.
The homeowners who brought the Colorado lawsuit alleged that HSBC chose levels of insurance coverage that were costlier and more comprehensive that required when homeowners’ policies lapsed.
In the New York lawsuit, plaintiffs allege that HSBC imposed force placed insurance policies with loss limits exceeding the outstanding mortgage balance.