Taking Stock: American Pioneer

Dear Mr. Berko: An insurance agent has recommended that we buy a dental plan, a Medicare supplement policy and an annuity from American Pioneer Life Insurance Company, which is in Pensacola a few miles west of us. While I like the young agent, I figured I'd better check out American Pioneer on the Internet. Admittedly, I'm not good at this type of research, and I couldn't find a valid home office address, a recent financial statement or names of the officers and directors. Their insurance sounds pretty good and fairly priced. The annuity (I would invest $47,000) pays better than our CD. Still, I'd appreciate your input before I write a check.

--R.L., Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

Dear R.L.: Well, by gosh, by golly and by George, I spent some time on the Internet and the telephone, and you are right on the mark. American Pioneer Life appears to be a very mysterious insurance company. I even spoke to several APL employees and concluded that they must be rejects from a list of Burger King applicants. Now, I don't know how this happened, but somehow, I got connected to an APL call center in India. And their English was far superior to that of the APL folks with whom I talked to in Florida.

Here are my thoughts: I won't recommend an insurance relationship with a company that is reluctant to openly publish the phone number and location of its executive offices. Nor would I be comfortable purchasing a medical, dental policy or annuity policy from an insurer that conceals the names of its president, CEO and board members from easy public access. And I would certainly not want to conduct business with an insurer that requires policyholders to discuss their personal problems with some creepy call center in India. And I'd never purchase a life or annuity policy from an insurance company where an investor has to hire a Pinkerton man or an Indiana Jones find a recent financial statement.

In fact, the only financial statement I could find was dated 2005, and as you know, a lot of water has gone over the dam in six years.

So I called your man in Fort Walton Beach asking for help. And I must tell you that he is a very nice and sincere lad but admittedly lacks the experience of a seasoned insurance agent. When I told him of my concerns, he very nicely asked if he could ring me back in an hour. And true to his word, he did. And to his credit, he acknowledged that he also experienced the same difficulties as we did.

He hasn't been an agent long enough to be expertly competent and told me that the APL recommendation came from a senior agent in his office. He further told me that the senior agent has ''never had a problem with American Pioneer in 12 years.'' And I believe him; I don't know why, but I do.

However, if immediate and easy access to an executive office location, the names of officers and directors, their phone numbers and a current financial statement are important to your purchase decision, then don't buy an APL policy. There are probably many good reasons that APL would deny easy Internet access to this data. And those reasons concern me, as they should most policyholders.

That agent seems to be a nice fellow, but if he moves to Peru next month, and you have an APL policy problem or glitch, I don't think the folks at APL's help desk have the skill sets to fix it. That's when you need to write or call the CEO, president or the members of the board. And because those alternatives are not available, I wouldn't own an APL policy no matter how swell it sounds.

Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775 or e-mail him at mjberko @yahoo.com. To find out more about Malcolm Berko and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Copyright 2011, Creators. com

Published: Thu, Apr 7, 2011