Eric Szeto, Tyana Grundig, David Common · CBC News · 

Marketplace hidden camera investigation is raising questions about how bank employees are selling a pricey and controversial product marketed to help with credit card payments if you lose your job or get sick.

It’s called credit card balance insurance, or balance protection insurance — and if you’ve signed up for a credit card, chances are you’ve been asked to buy it.

But many experts say the insurance comes with high fees — typically a percentage of a cardholder’s outstanding balance — and so many exclusions it can be hard to make a successful claim.

“If it mostly disappears from the market, that’s a good thing,” said John Lawford, a consumer rights lawyer and executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC).

“It’s expensive, it doesn’t cover a lot of situations, and it pays out a very small amount most of the time,” he said. “It really is garbage.”

Marketplace took a hidden camera inside some of Canada’s biggest banks — visiting Bank of Montreal, CIBC, Royal Bank and Scotiabank branches in the Toronto area — to investigate how bank employees marketed balance protection insurance when a customer signed up for a new credit card.

It revealed employees using questionable tactics or confusing and inaccurate information to sell the insurance at all banks but one.

RBC was the only bank where Marketplace was not offered the product during the hidden camera investigation.

CIBC: Added insurance without permission

In a confusing exchange, the employee at CIBC had already added the insurance to a credit card before there was a chance to decline the balance protection.

“You can delete it any time you want,” she said. “It’s easy. You just have to pick up the phone and call. That’s it.”

It’s expensive, doesn’t cover a lot of situations, and it pays out a very small amount most of the time. So why are banks selling it? CBC Marketplace goes undercover to find out. 2:09

After she was told to delete it, the employee acknowledged she should have asked first before adding the product to the credit card.

In a statement to Marketplace, CIBC wrote that the interaction “does not reflect our expectations or practices. If an issue is identified, we investigate immediately and take appropriate action to address the situation.”

BMO: No knowledge of product

At BMO, an employee seemed to have little grasp of the insurance product she was selling, struggling to explain balance protection insurance when asked to describe what it was.

“It’s an insurance … balance,” said the employee, before grabbing a brochure about the product and reading aloud from it.

BMO told Marketplace it takes any concerns from customers “seriously” and has “processes in place to review and address them when they are raised.”

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