The City watchdog has warned that some insurance comparison websites could be misleading consumers because of the way they presented information.
The Financial Services Authority (FSA) reviewed 17 insurance comparison websites and found that while they were all appropriately authorised, the clarity, fairness and accuracy of information given to consumers could be improved in some cases.
The review found a number of problems with the sites, such as some of them using assumptions to generate quotes, but not allowing consumers to review these assumptions.
Inaccurate and out of date
Other issues included sites giving details on policies that were inaccurate and out of date, sites failing to list all of the features of a policy, and information on the excess consumers would have to pay being wrong or misleading.
In one case consumers were only given full information on a policy once they had committed to taking it out.
In another instance, a site failed to give the same level of detail for different policies, giving the misleading impression that some policies did not cover certain things when they did.
The FSA also expressed concern that the sites encouraged consumers to focus too much on price and not enough on the different features of policies.
It wants sites to warn consumers that the policies have different features and that these should be taken into account and to be consistent in the level of detail they give on different policies.
It also called on firms to have systems in place to ensure that the information they provided was correct and updated when necessary.
The regulator found instances where the quote given by a site differed to the amount actually charged by the insurer or the broker.
In addition, it said sites that used assumptions to generate quotes should clearly highlight these to consumers.
Ed Harley, the FSA’s head of financial promotions, said: ‘We recognise that many consumers use these websites to search for insurance products. Consumers should shop around for the best deal, but it is important that they compare what’s covered by a policy, and not just focus on the price.’
The FSA said it now expected all comparison sites to review their websites and make the necessary changes to ensure that they are clear, fair and not misleading.
It added that it would be following up this review with a series of visits to firms.
The regulator carried out the work in response to the strong growth in both the number of the websites and the volume of consumers using them, with 30 million quotes generated by the sites in 2007.
The British Insurance Brokers’ Association (Biba) welcomed the review, after carrying out research itself which showed that 84% of people using insurance comparison websites thought the details given on insurance policies could be confusing.
Steve White, Biba’s head of compliance and training, said: ‘This is a great start, but the FSA must go further. Like brokers, comparison sites should guarantee their quotes.
‘We are pleased that the FSA is calling for comparison sites to give more information to consumers so they understand how their premiums are being calculated, their scope of cover and the level of excess on their policy.’
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