UPDATED: Nov 30, 2018
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Sun Life brought a few firsts to the insurance market, like being the first to offer group life insurance in Canada. They also made their mark on the Canadian landscape, completing construction of the largest building in the entire British Empire, their headquarters in Montreal. That same building held the British Crown Jewels for safekeeping during the Second World War, along with gold reserves, making it an even bigger part of history.
Sun Life’s history reads like a New World success story – founded by an immigrant and rising to enormous success. From humble beginnings they have spread across the globe and earned a position on the Fortune 500 in the U.S. and the Forbes Global 2000.
In the U.S., they offer a range of life insurance and other related products, and they have developed a good foothold on the employee benefits market. They don’t have quite the name recognition as heavy hitters like MetLife and Prudential, but their total assets under management definitely makes them a company worth a closer look.
Having made efforts in recent years to improve their brand recognition, Sun Life is a little better known than they once were, and it seems likely that that trend will continue.
Sun Life Overview
Sun Life Financial started out as The Sun Insurance Company of Montreal in 1865, founded in the city of the same name. The company’s founder was an Irish immigrant who arrived in Montreal in 1842. His fortunes grew fast; by the end of the century the company had expanded into the United States, Central and South America, the United Kingdom, Japan, China, and several other countries. Throughout the following century Sun Life’s expansion would continue at an incredible rate.
Begun in 1918 and completed with an expansion in 1931, the Sun Life Building in Montreal wasn’t the tallest at the time, but was the largest by square footage anywhere in the Empire. Operation Fish was the name of the project that made this building the secret home of a fortune in British jewels and gold, as the items were shipped in containers marked “fish”. The building is still in use and remains a well-known part of the city, although Sun Life now has headquarters in Toronto. The Sun Life Centre was built in 1984 and the company uses that building to this day.
Sun Life’s expansion in the United States grew by leaps and bounds with several mergers and acquisitions. These included the 2007 acquisition of Genworth Financial, which launched Sun Life into a top ten position in the country for employee benefits.
Sun Life used the financial crisis of that era as an opportunity to promote itself, using an ad campaign pointing to the fact that they never required any sort of bailout. After a humorous ad campaign in which they made jokes about companies purchasing naming rights, Sun Life got in on the game, purchasing the naming rights to the Miami Dolphins’ home field, now known as Sun Life Stadium. All of these moved served to make Sun Life considerably better known in the U.S.
Sun Life today ranks as the 14th largest insurance company in the world based on 2017 numbers. They operate in a long list of countries and have a solid financial foundation.
Sun Life products are sold across the U.S. through brokers, and they offer life insurance, disability, accident, and other related products. None of their products are sold directly to individuals, but rather through employers offering either group benefits or voluntary individual benefits that employees can select.
Until recent years Sun Life also offered annuities in the United States, but in 2012 they announced the sale of their annuities business along with some parts of their life insurance business. They still offer financial products in other countries, but decided to focus their U.S. business on the group benefits market.
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Sun Life’s product lineup in the U.S. consists mainly of life insurance and specialty health insurance products. These are available for individual purchase through employers as voluntary benefits. Sun Life’s bread and butter in America comes from the group benefits market, where they offer a strong list of products to allow businesses to provide comprehensive packages.
Life Insurance Products
Sun Life Financial writes life insurance for individuals and for groups, offering it as an employee benefit that can be selected or offered by the company as a group policy. The website offers very little information on the products themselves, not even mentioning what type of life insurance they write until you head over to the Client Support section, where they list difference contact information for Universal/Whole life and for Term life.
From this we can glean that Sun Life writes all three types of coverage, but there’s no details on what term length is available, what coverage minimums and maximums might be, or what riders can be chosen for the policy. The exception to this is the Accidental Death & Dismemberment rider, which is discussed in the section on that coverage below.
While the Sun Life website does offer plenty of information on why you need life insurance and what sort of benefits it can provide, they don’t have any specific product information, which makes it difficult to compare their product lineup to any other companies.
The likely reason for this is because they mostly rely on group benefits, which means that the employer is the one that chooses the options. As a result there’s no real need to provide details for individuals shopping for insurance on the website – still, it would be nice to see some information, at least the basics.
They do list some of the added features that they provide along with their life insurance policies, which are somewhat unusual.
- Emergency Travel Assistance for medical emergencies including medical evacuation
- Identity Theft protection that includes 24-hour monitoring of up to 10 credit or debit cards
- Claimant Support Services that include access to legal assistance, financial planning, and emotional support including counseling services
- Online Will Preparation, which allows policyholders to create a will easily online through a secure system
Even though life insurance policies are sold as employee benefits, it would be nice to see Sun Life offer more information about their products on the website. For those who are comparing what is available through work to the option of buying a life insurance policy directly. At the very least, the site should give an idea of what type of policies are available and what death benefit options can be selected.
Accidental Death & Dismemberment
Sun Life’s AD&D policies offer coverage for accidental death or for accidents resulting in serious injuries such as the loss of a limb, paralysis, or loss of hearing or sight.
AD&D can also be added as a rider to a life insurance policy for extended protection. All of the AD&D policies cover specific injuries at a certain percentage based on the type of injury. The site offers a sample of how coverage works, but doesn’t list anything about what policy terms are available, including maximum coverage amount.
Disability Income Insurance
Sun Life offers disability income coverage with two different options: short-term and long-term. These policies are designed to help pay for expenses by replacing a portion of your income while you are unable to work.
Short-term disability policies provide coverage for disabilities ranging from 13 to 26 weeks depending on the policy. These policies are intended for illnesses or injuries that may take a few weeks to a few months for recovery.
Long-term disability is designed to provide coverage for a longer time period, although there is generally still a limit that depends on the policy. Sun Life policies allow you to choose between a percentage of your income monthly or a flat rate dollar amount to be paid out on claims. The site doesn’t offer information as to the time period for coverage or other benefits.
Critical Illness Insurance
Sun Life writes policies that are designed to provide a single payout in the event of a serious illness. Among the illnesses that might be covered by this policy, depending on the terms, are:
- Cardiac arrest and similar circulatory conditions
- Major organ failure
- Serious childhood conditions
Sun Life plans also offer a few other available options and benefits:
- Wellness screening benefit, which covers a variety of preventative screenings
- Recurrence benefit, which will pay out another lump sum in the event that a covered condition recurs
- Health care support services, including access to medical professionals and benefits experts free of charge
In New York, Sun Life offers a different policy, called Specified Illness that works in a similar manner to critical illness insurance, offering a lump sum payment in the event of a covered diagnosis. Most financial services companies have some New York-specific products.
Sun Life offers a variety of dental insurance plans to cover routine dental care and other needs, including emergency care and major procedures.
There’s not much detail about the plans on the site, which is a common theme across all of Sun Life products. The site indicates that most of their plans are PPO plans, which allow the policyholder to select from a network of dentists and ultimately reduce the out-of-pocket costs.
Sun Life’s accident insurance plans provide scheduled benefits for a wide variety of accidents, helping with the financial costs that are not otherwise covered by health insurance.
Plans include an optional Accident Disability benefit, which will help provide income when a covered accident prevents you from working. Other available plan benefits include emergency Travel Assistance and Identity Theft protection.
Stop Loss Insurance
Part of Sun Life’s offerings for businesses is their stop loss product lineup. These plans are designed to protect self-insured companies from major financial losses in the event of large claims.
There are several different options available:
- Specific Stop Loss, which covers large claims from an individual
- Aggregate Stop Loss, which is designed to cover overall claims that exceed what a company anticipates in a given year.
Sun Life also offers resources to companies to help them manage losses and keep costs down, including their SunResources cost-containment services and SunElite plan document review services.
Group Benefits for Specialty Markets
Sun Life is really focused on the group benefits market, and they tailor their benefits packages to meet the needs of a variety of different specialty companies. These include:
- Small Businesses
- Medical Professional Offices/Physicians
- Financial Institutions
- Public sector groups
Each of these includes benefits with features that are specific to the needs of each industry, including increased coverage for executives and coverage specific to the medical industry as well.
Sun Life aims to put together benefits packages that will appeal to the employees of each company while allowing the employer to provide an affordable option.
Prices and Premiums
Sun Life does not offer online quoting, therefore we are unable to provide a comparison rate on their life insurance products. Since we are unable to find more details regarding information on their life insurance products, it’s difficult to provide any sort of guess whatsoever as to how their products compare to other companies, even without a rate quote.
Sun Life sells their products as employee benefits, and rates for employer-provided insurance policies differ from those that can be found on the open market, as employers sometimes subsidize the premiums. This can make companies like Sun Life difficult to compare price-wise to direct purchase companies.
From our research, it seems the only way to get a Sun Life quote is to have the products offered to you through your employer. Hopefully, they will also be able to provide you with more details regarding the policies themselves, to help determine whether the premiums are a good deal.
Claims information is almost as hard to find on the Sun Life website as details on their actual products. The contact information page offers only general phone numbers, and in the FAQ section there is information on how to file a claim without any contact information. This sort of confusing and disorganized approach to claims information on major financial companies’ websites is not entirely unusual, but remains a frustrating issue nevertheless.
The last thing anyone who needs to file a death claim should have to deal with is digging through a website trying to figure out how to proceed. While some insurance companies recognize this and provide easy to locate contact information and thorough claims procedure assistance, some fail in this department and Sun Life appears to be one of them.
Sun Life’s general phone number for Whole and Universal insurance policies is 1-800-862-6266 for all states except New York, which has a separate toll-free line at 1-877-750-8683.
For Term life policies the national line is 1-877-431-7379.
The Employee Benefits customer service department can be reached at 1-800-247-6875.
There is no indication of any sort of online filing option, which is something that is becoming an expected feature in the insurance world. There is, however, an area of the website where forms can be downloaded.
Not surprisingly, we found little in the way of information on the claims process. The FAQ lists a few basics that will be required to file the claim, but nothing in terms of what the beneficiary should expect or how the company handles claims.
It would be helpful, and convenient, to see Sun Life improve their claims information, making it easier to access and offering more detailed information. We’d at least like to see the contact information added to the one section of the website where they address claims; even better would be a page dedicated entirely to claims, where beneficiaries can obtain forms, contact information, and some assistance with the process.
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Sun Life’s U.S. branch is not Better Business Bureau accredited, but they do have an A+ rating. There are a total of 35 complaints against the company in the past three years, seven of which have been closed in the last 12 months. For one of the largest life insurance companies in the world, that’s a pretty low number, even though it only relates to the U.S. branch.
The Canadian home office is also rated an A+ with the BBB, for their headquarters in Toronto. The Canadian company has only seven complaints in the past three years and one that was closed in the last 12 months.
We frequently see low complaint volume for life insurance and financial services companies, particularly those that have a lot of employee benefits policies, as people tend to use other methods to deal with problems. When an employee has a policy through work, they tend to reach out through the company’s human resources department to deal with complaints and other issues, rather than turning to reviews on the Internet.
Still, these numbers are low, and for companies on both sides of the border, considering the size of this company especially.
It’s always a little difficult to create a clear picture of an international company since there are so many facets, and complaints and reviews may refer to several different branches of the company. As far as the U.S. branch goes, the complaints are minimal.
If Sun Life products are offered to you through your employer, then they are worth investigating further. You’ll need to request more information on the products themselves, including detailed benefits and coverage.
Whenever you are considering insurance purchased through your employer, it’s important to know whether the coverage will follow you if you leave your job. In some cases employer life insurance cannot be carried over, and that means all of the premiums you have paid will be lost if you change jobs.
It’s always a good idea to compare the rates on employee benefits to what you can get on the direct market before you buy. That said, if the benefits being offered by your employer do interest you, Sun Life is a pretty solid company to handle them. There’s not much in the way of concern from the reviews out there, and they have a strong financial backing based on more than 150 years in the industry.
We’d very much like to see Sun Life improve the information available on their website, offering details on their products and claims; currently the website isn’t much use at all in terms of getting an idea of what the company offers that could differentiate it from other options out there.
Without further information on their products and pricing, it’s difficult to say what kind of value they represent, so we are unable to provide a recommendation either way. However we can say that Sun Life appears to be a reputable company in general, and they are worth considering with a little more information from your company’s human resources department to allow you to make a proper comparison with your other options.
For a list of companies that we recommend, visit our Best Insurance Companies page.