Adviser directory Unbiased has published a blog post on its website in a bid to dispel what it believes are 10 “myths” about its service.
Unbiased has never been too far from critique over the last few years. For example, in January 2019 the former CEO of the Money Advice Service Caroline Rookes accused Unbiased of not living up to its name in a report on the British Steel Pension Scheme saga.
In another example, earlier this month a small investigation by Professional Adviser found a number of adviser firms were managing to falsely list themselves as Chartered on the directory.
Back in 2017 the directory was found to be listing rogue advisers years after they had gone bust, for which it blamed the FCA for failing to provide a more accurate data feed. A number of concerns were also raised a few years ago about its response rating tool, which one adviser described as "highly deceptive".
In response to Unbiased's "myth-busting" blog post, Handford Aikenhead and Walker Chartered Financial Planner Alasdair Walker said: "This reads like the blog equivalent of a YouTube apology video where the person manages not to apologise whatsoever, blames the audience, and maybe ends with: 'Well, I'm sorry that you were offended'."
IFA Wealth & Pensions director and Chartered financial planner Alan Chan said: "It feels like they're having a PR nightmare. My biggest gripe is that their latest attempt at ‘busting myth' comes across very confrontational and defensive.
"Our feedback just seems to fall on deaf ears and this is probably why their reputation among the adviser community is so poor. If this is how they take on feedback from their paying clients, then they need a reality check. It doesn't matter how good and ‘unbiased' they think they are - what matters most is how their clients perceive them."
Chan added: "Issuing a myth busting article is not the way to handle dissatisfaction."
As for Red Circle Financial Planning Chartered financial planner Darren Cooke, he opined that Unbiased's post was too little too late, but he said the group had to come out with something.
"In terms of the situation they were in, they were damned if they did, dammed if they didn't. I think whatever they said, unless they said ‘yes you're right and we're got change things' it wasn't going to go well. [Of the] 10 myths... they basically admit to nine of them," he said.
Cooke stopped using Unbiased several years ago when it introduced the so-called ‘fastest finger', which many believe rewards advisers who are the quickest to click on potential leads.
"There must be better ways of spending your money," he continued. "You see the comments people are making that the quality of the leads aren't good. I appreciate if you're starting a business from scratch you've got to find customers from somewhere and that is very difficult to do but all my business now pretty much comes from word of mouth."
Cooke added that Unbiased had developed into a "necessary evil" for many starting out in the field: "It used to be really good, but it's so far away from what it should be and for many now it's almost a necessary evil that if you're trying to grow a business it's a way of attracting new clients, but unfortunately you're putting up with a lot of rubbish for that."
The 10 "myths" Unbiased attempts to dispel are below. You can read the full blog post here, or a condensed summary of the firm's responses to each "myth" is outlined below.
"Myth" 1: Unbiased sells each enquiry to more than one adviser
To this point, Unbiased said it does not sell enquiries to more than one adviser and only one adviser can purchase each enquiry. However, it added: "Although we advise consumers that they will be put in touch with an adviser within 48 hours we cannot guarantee that they will wait that length of time or that they will not seek advisers through other channels."
"Myth" 2: Unbiased sells the consumer enquiry to any adviser willing to buy it
Unbiased said advisers can choose their area of expertise and client needs they are seeking to fulfil, so they should be matched with the most suitable fit when customers asked to be matched with a professional.
"Myth" 3: Consumers are put in touch with someone instead of picking them
Unbiased responded to this "myth" by saying: "We offer consumers the choice between selecting an adviser from our directory and being matched with an adviser most suited to their needs."
"Myth" 4: Unbiased recently changed its homepage to signpost customers to its match service over the directory
Unbiased emphasised that this is currently in testing phase so some users will still see the old homepage and others will see the new one.
"Myth" 5: Unbiased is opaque in the way enquiries are distributed and the "fastest finger first" issue it creates
This has been one of the biggest points of contention about Unbiased's service in recent years. The Yardstick Agency founder Phil Bray has previously addressed this point in a bid to help advisers, which you can read here.
To this "myth", Unbiased said: "Our algorithm searches for the advisers best matched to the consumer enquiry based on their preferences. The enquiry is then distributed to a random selection of these best-matched advisers, ensuring no single adviser is ever always first or always last in the process of selection, helping to ensure that distribution remains as unbiased as possible.
"We advise all our advisers of the need to respond as quickly as possible to client enquiries. The longer an enquiry is kept waiting for a response, the greater the risk of losing that client."
"Myth" 6: Quality of enquiries are poor this year vs 2019
Unbiased said it has increased its marketing to a wider audience and so has seen an uplift in enquiry numbers across "a broader level of wealth to ensure consumers have access to quality advice that's right for them".
"Myth" 7: The relationship with sites like Top Cashback have resulted in an increase in dud enquiries
Unbiased said: "With Top Cashback, we only offer cash back to customers who have had their enquiry accepted by an adviser, therefore, allowing us to control the quality and ensure that we aren't giving rewards to poor customers. We investigate any requests for a refund by an adviser and offer refunds where possible."
"Myth" 8: It is harder contacting customers this year vs 2019
Unbiased does not specifically address any differences there may be between 2019 and 2020, but said: "Unbiased provides guidance to both professionals and consumers on best practices for working together. It is important that both parties are respectful of each other's time and honour any communication arrangement."
Refuting this point, Chartered financial planner Chan said: "I've suggested to Unbiased many times that they should implement a verification system for the enquiry's phone number or email address. Once verified and only then, should the enquiry be circulated for advisers to purchase. Their refund policy is a shambles.
"Often the telephone number will be invalid coupled with a non-responsive email. Unbiased will not refund you unless you can prove the email is invalid no matter how fake it looks, (even [email protected] will probably pass) and this is where most refunds fail. Non-responsive emails is not the same as an invalid one, which must bounce back undelivered. So it should be their responsibility to verify the contact details are correct, that is their duty they owe to us as their customer."
"Myth" 9: The level of wealth indicated by consumers is not accurate
The firm said many consumers try to provide information as accurately as possible, but "there will naturally be those who are less savvy when it comes to the details of their wealth, as well as those who understand their status well".
To this point, Chan contested: "It does not help when Unbiased's definition of wealth is to include the value of your house for investment advice when submitting an enquiry and with no explanation to help the individuals to be more specific."
"Myth" 10: Unbiased dominates the market in the way Facebook does social media, and Google does online search. They have a responsibility towards advisers, planners and consumers.
Unbiased lists three bullet-points in response to this "myth". It said:
- We are called Unbiased because we choose not to work with advisers and companies that are biased in the products they offer to consumers. We reject 1 in every 4 of companies who try to sign up. This is real revenue that Unbiased is not willing to take in order to ensure that consumers get the best impartial advice from professionals who are aligned with our values.
- We require professional & regulatory qualifications to be declared by advisers including, FCA numbers, which are verified against the FCA database every week. We also have a validation process set up with professional bodies and continue to look for ways to improve this process with them.
- We always welcome the opportunity to work more closely with professional bodies and industry leaders to improve standards of service to our advisers and consumers.
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