Which has called into question the accuracy of financial advisers’ credentials on online database Unbiased.co.uk.
Research conducted by the consumer body in February found more than half of the firms it investigated on the Unbiased website claiming to have well-respected accreditations did not actually hold them.
The consumer body looked at advisers based in 10 postcodes, and searched for those claiming accreditation by the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investments (Cisi).
It also searched for those stating they had BS 8577 and ISO 22222 professional certificates issued by Standards International and recognised by the Financial Conduct Authority.
When comparing findings with official lists from the issuing bodies, Which discovered the following:
• Of the 92 firms claiming to have a Cisi credential, only 36 appeared on the official Cisi list.
• Only six of the 21 companies claiming to have achieved the BS 8577 certification appeared to actually have it.
• Of the 39 firms that claimed to hold ISO 22222, 13 appeared to have no advisers working for them with the certificate.
• In 20 cases, every listed adviser had the ISO 22222. In six cases some, but not all, listed advisers were found to have the certificate.
A spokesman for Which stated one possible explanation is that the advisers’ qualifications had lapsed, particularly as ISO 22222 and BS 8577 certificates must be renewed each year, meaning it is possible an adviser could have previously held the certification and not updated their Unbiased profile.
Another possibility, it said, is that firms were working toward a qualification or certificate but had not yet achieved it.
Michelle Hoskin, director and founder of Standards International, told Which her company is now working with Unbiased to remove any unearned qualifications from adviser profiles.
She said: “With so many firms working really hard to obtain and maintain such high international standards, it’s heartbreaking to us that some firms and individuals are misrepresenting their qualifications.”
A spokesman for Unbiased told Which it does its utmost to ensure information is accurate, and pointed out at the time of Which’s research it was part way through a regular spot check, which could explain why ‘old’ information was found.
He also told Which advisers had a responsibility to keep their profiles up to date as part of its terms and conditions.
The directory of advice firms also encourages consumers to check qualifications directly before instructing advisers.
Speaking to FTAdviser directly, a spokeswoman from Unbiased said advisers listing incorrect or outdated qualifications is an industry-wide issue, whatever source is used to find the adviser.
She said Unbiased manually checks over 50 per cent of 50,000 qualifications across 24,000 individuals.
“Unfortunately there is no automated way to check some qualifications, and not even the FCA holds that data,” the spokeswoman said, suggesting a centralised verification system is needed.