Many financial advisers are misleading the public with false credential claims, warns Which?

Almost two thirds of the financial advisers investigated on the most widely used online directory could be misleading the public with false claims about their credentials, a new Which? investigation reveals.

An investigation by the consumer champion into 43 advice firms listed on revealed 27 of the companies (63%) that claimed to employ certified financial planners did not have a single adviser with the relevant Chartered Institute of Securities and Investments (CISI) certification.

Which? also found that seven out of 24 firms (29%) falsely claimed Society of Later Life Advisers (SOLLA) accreditation and 14 out of 72 firms (19%) claimed to have advisers with chartered financial planner status, despite not employing anyone with such credentials.

Worryingly, Unbiased has done little to address concerns previously raised in March 2016, when Which? exposed a near identical level of poor, misleading practice. At the time 61% of sampled CISI-accredited advisers did not appear to actually hold such accreditation.

Although Unbiased had the highest rate of inaccurate information other directories, VouchedFor and the Money Advice Service’s (MAS) Retirement Adviser listings, also contained significant numbers of misleading records. On VouchedFor, we found two of the 21 advisers claiming to be Chartered Financial Planners were not actually chartered. And neither of the two advisers we found that claimed to be accredited by the Society of Later Life Academy are listed with SOLLA.

VouchedFor has though recently introduced a ‘Checks’ tab on each adviser’s profile, which shows the date VouchedFor most recently checked the nature of the services the adviser offers. VouchedFor also told us that 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 those claiming they were certified, 9% of those claiming they were chartered and 5% of those who claimed they were accredited by SOLLA did not appear to actually hold such accreditation at all. While this ongoing issue is of clear concern, There has been a marked improvement since September 2016, when those rates were up at 56%, 11%, and 33% respectively.

Following these findings, Which? is keen to ensure consumers make the most informed choices when seeking a financial adviser. people should shop around and not rely on just one site, and also avoid simply choosing the nearest adviser geographically. A face-to-face meeting with a number of advisers can help and it’s also important to have a clear idea of the exact services you require.

Consumers can also cross-check against the providers themselves to see which advisers actually have the credentials they claim. Finally, the FCA’s register provides a snapshot of all registered advisers – including details of any disciplinary action they might have faced.

Harry Rose, Which Money Editor said:

“Our findings raise serious questions for the advice sector. If potential customers can’t trust the information in the public domain about prospective advisers, how can they reliably shop around for the right one?

“Adviser directories, accrediting bodies and advisers themselves must ensure listings are correct, so consumers can confidently compare different advisers.”

Notes to editors

Which? used the search filters provided on each site to find the first 10 listings (or however many were available if fewer than 10) for each qualification in 5 randomly-generated postcodes. Once we had compiled a list of firms and individual advisers who appeared in searches generated using qualification-specific filters, we contacted the providers of the qualifications and had them compare our list to their official records in order to identify discrepancies.

Which? approached Unbiased and received the following response:

Karen Barrett, CEO and Founder of Unbiased “Unbiased remains the most thoroughly checked adviser database in the UK. Since the discovery of some inaccurate qualifications listed on the site, we have checked a high proportion of the advisers listed with us, and are actively working with the qualification bodies to verify even more. Currently we are still querying over 2,000 outstanding qualifications and accreditations held by 27,000 professionals, and we are working to find a good solution to check them more efficiently.

“Of the inaccuracies that do remain, the vast majority are to be found in ‘Basic’ profiles that advisers can open free of charge. Since these profiles only inform consumers of the adviser’s existence and location, and do not allow direct contact through Unbiased, these are far less likely to result in issues for consumers. Nevertheless we remain committed to resolving any inaccuracies here.

“As for our paid profiles, we make it part of our terms & conditions that advisers display accurate information and regularly check their profiles to keep them up to date.

“The separate allegations regarding a dispute with CISI are puzzling, as this did not take place (as we have recently confirmed with CISI).”

Which? approached VouchedFor and was told that it plans to require advisers to upload scans of their certificates, which could solve the problem.

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