Questions have been raised about the fairness of some of adviser directory Unbiased's latest features, including its 'response rating' tool. What's behind the unrest?
'Unbiased' - the clue is in the name. Yet advisers and a consultant have doubts the company is living up to its promises. One feature in particular is seen as a sting in its tail.
As The Yardstick Agency founder Phil Bray - a former marketing director at adviser network Sense - found in his recent research, the directory's 'response rating' tool may be awarding higher scores to some firms irrespective of their actual responses to enquiries.
For instance, accepted enquiries seemed to rate higher than declined ones.
The response rating feature was launched in February as a consumer guide on how promptly advisers act on enquiries. Scored out of 10, the ratings focus on an adviser's activity over the previous 30 days and are based on how quickly advisers accept or reject consumer enquiries within a 12 hour period before the enquiry expires.
Unbiased said it aimed to offer a more objective rating element for consumers to judge by and give advisers the additional opportunity to gain a competitive edge.
But Bray highlighted anomalies where advisers received different scores despite letting a similar number of enquiries expire, in his initial research of eight firms published last week.
Since then a further four firms shared their rating data with Bray. From the total of 12 firms he collated those that had not let any enquiries expire, as seen in the table below. He found the scores varied.
|Firm||Total enquiries||% purchased||% expired||Score as of 06/04|
Each firm with a 10/10 rating had purchased, or ‘accepted', all their enquiries. However the other firms, despite the fact they had responded to enquiries within 24 hours, received a lower than 10/10 rating.
Bray said: "[This shows] other factors must be taken into account when the response rating is calculated; I believe it is the percentage of purchased."
He said: "Consumers are making decisions on which adviser they contact partly based on the response ratings so advisers need to have confidence in the service.
"At the moment they don't know how it's calculated therefore they don't know how to improve their response rating. It's too opaque and Unbiased needs to be more upfront so advisers know where the goalposts are."
Bray said he would still recommend Unbiased and maintained the service was a useful tool for advisers but he argued the issues raised need to be fixed. He urged the directory to explain the rating methodology to allow advisers to understand how to improve their score.
"Why should an adviser have a rating based on something that they don't know how it works," asked Bray.
An adviser included in the initial research, who did not want to be named, said he did not see the logic in the ratings system after seeing the research findings.
He said: "The aim of the research was really to understand how the rating works and how advisers can maximise their score, which is fairly basic stuff. If you look at the research, it shows what's on the Unbiased rating explanation page isn't the case."
Appleton Gerrard chartered and certified financial planner Kusal Ariyawansa also thought it was important to have clarity on how the directory service works, particularly as consumers tended to formulate their opinion of an adviser around what they saw online.
He said: "Of those we've accepted, we've only been successful with one enquiry but missed out on the others by a few minutes, yet our response rating score is still 7/10, which is bizarre. I really find it highly deceptive."
Ariyawansa urged advisers and consumers to use the directory services offered by professional bodies such as the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment (CISI) and the Personal Finance Society (PFS) instead.
He said CISI's Wayfinder and the PFS's FindAnAdviser offered greater neutrality, as they only listed firms and advisers rather than offer ratings.
Meanwhile Juno Wealth Management director Derek Evans said: "I noticed after reading Phil's research that when I logged in again to Unbiased, our rating had gone from 10/10 to 7/10, despite not having received any enquiries to influence this score.
"This score does not reflect how quickly we respond to enquiries."
Evans added: "Unfortunately consumers are making judgements on my brand and business based on this rating, which is not correct."
Unbiased declined to comment on the findings.
Unbiased has since changed the features by giving equal exposure on its homepage to the directory and matching service. It also gave advisers the option to set their profile to ‘away' as another one of the changes, so that they would not be penalised with low ratings for being out of the office.
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