The first is whether Which? has any moral right to do so, although it is free to express its opinion. The second is just what exactly is a consumer champion, advocate or campaign organisation in these days of confused roles?
While Which? can, of course, do what it wants under the law, it is somewhat compromised. That is not to suggest any skulduggery. It is to suggest that the views of an organisation that also offers financial services should not be reported on in such an unquestioning way.
Of course, it has not gone as far as it might down the route to becoming an intermediary. There were suggestions it might begin to advise on protection and indeed, pre-freedom and choice, on annuities.
Both plans were shelved. Which? has instead restricted itself to mortgages, but no doubt expansion plans get dusted down and talked over from time to time.
It is arguably more of an issue when consumer champions, whether campaigners or journalists, define what is in consumers’ interests in narrow terms John Lappin
Of course, we live in a world in which a lot of clear definitions, particularly in the media/advertising/marketing sphere, have become somewhat confused. A passive fund management firm may run a campaigning wing that handily lets it slate the opposition, probably with justification, but often without explanation of who they are.
Editorial websites can make a huge amount of money from small fees paid on referrals.
Many national newspapers offer all sorts of financial services, too.
No one would suggest ‘reader offers’ are necessarily a terrible thing, but there is quite a gulf between a deal on garden furniture and an offer of tax-planning advice, and quite a gulf in what can go wrong.
It has all got a little confusing and it is arguably more of an issue when consumer champions, whether campaigners or journalists, define what is in consumers’ interests in narrow terms.
For every argument that advisers are not being as transparent as they might, there is surely another to say that if advisers were more candid regulations would still make it difficult to convince people to take advice. You can loosely say what it costs, but you can’t say (according to the regulations) that seeking advice could easily save you 10 or even 50 times what you pay in fees. At least I doubt that passes muster with the regulator.