Financial advisers featured on online comparison services used by consumers could be misleading the public about their credentials, a Which? Money investigation has found.
Which? Money analysed 43 advice firms which are listed on on Unbiased.co.uk – a comparison service that allows you to find a financial adviser – which stated they employed certified financial planners. These are advisers who hold a specific certification from the Chartered Institute of Securities and Investment (CISI).
Some 63% of them (27 firms), however, did not actually employ any such advisers.
Seven out of 24 firms (29%) were also falsely claiming to be accredited by the Society of Later Life Advisers (SOLLA), and 14 out of 72 firms (19%) claimed to have advisers with chartered financial planner status, despite not employing anyone who was, in fact, chartered.
Which? also discovered that other online directories for financial advisers, VouchedFor and the Money Advice Service’s (MAS) Retirement Adviser Directory, contained inaccurate information about the qualifications of the advisers listed on the websites.
The findings highlight the difficulties consumers face when trying to shop around for a financial adviser that best suits their needs.
- A version of this story first appeared in Which? Money magazine. Subscribe for two months for just £1 today.
Incorrect information on Unbiased despite Which? warning
Which? Money previously uncovered similar rates of false results on Unbiased in March 2016, when we found that 61% of advisers claiming to be CISI-accredited did not appear on the provider’s official lists.
At the time, Unbiased promised to work with the CISI to weed out the false listings. However, after reviewing the site and speaking to both organisations, it has emerged that Unbiased has not made an effort to regularly liaise with the CISI, although it claims to have checked its database against CISI lists as a one-off.
However, the persistent high rate of inaccurate and misleading listings suggests there is more work to be done.
Unbiased chief executive Karen Barrett told us the company is currently working with accrediting bodies to check the accuracy of its listings, and is ‘working to find a good solution to check them more efficiently’.
She added that most of the inaccuracies were in free profiles rather than the more in-depth profiles that advisers must pay for.
Kevin Moore, director of global business at the CISI, said: ‘We are extremely concerned to see the results of this report’.
He added that the CISI will work with Which? to determine whether inaccuracies are the responsibility of Unbiased or the result of advisers fraudulently misrepresenting themselves.
The different qualifications financial advisers can hold
We recommend you look for additional qualifications when choosing a financial adviser, such as the ones mentioned above. Find more information on each here:
Other comparison sites contain misleading claims
Although Unbiased had the highest rate of inaccurate results in our study, both VouchedFor and the MAS Retirement Adviser Directory also contained significant numbers of misleading records.
On VouchedFor, we found two of 21 advisers claiming to be chartered financial planners were not actually chartered.
To VouchedFor’s credit, it recently introduced a ‘checks’ tab on each adviser’s profile, which shows the date VouchedFor last verified the nature of the services the adviser offers. VouchedFor also told us it plans to require advisers to upload scans of their certificates – which could solve the problem at a stroke.
On the MAS directory, 16% of firms saying they were certified (eight out of 51), 9% of firms saying they were chartered (five out of 51) and 5% of firms saying they were accredited by SOLLA (two out of 37) listed advisers who claimed to hold, but did not appear to actually hold, those accreditations. This is a marked improvement over what we found in September 2016, when are large number of adviser listed on its directory were found not to have the qualifications they claimed.
Why are false records being shown to consumers?
The discrepancies in certifications aren’t necessarily the result of intentionally deceptive advisers. Some certifications lapse if not renewed every year.
In the case of chartered, it’s possible for a firm to be chartered but not the individual – possibly leading to confusion on the advisers’ part.
The providers of qualifications have taken the initiative and now offer their own in-house directories, in most cases searchable by postcode. This means you can now go directly to the source when you’re looking for an adviser.
- Personal Finance Society
- Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment
- Society of Later Life Advisers
- Standards International (for ISO 22222)
Update: an earlier version of this article stated that both advisers that we found on VouchedFor claiming to be accredited by the Society of Later Life Advisers (SOLLA) failed to appear on official SOLLA lists. This was incorrect – one did in fact appear on the list, and the other claimed to be accredited by the Later Life Academy (LLA), an unrelated organisation.