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Which? accuses Unbiased IFAs of misleading public

Which? accuses Unbiased IFAs of misleading public

Which? has called into question the accuracy of financial advisers’ credentials on online database Unbiased.co.uk.

Research conducted by the consumer champion 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.

Which? 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? said one possible explanation was 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 was 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.”

Michael Ossei, head of products and services at Unbiased, told Which? it did its utmost to ensure information was accurate, and pointed out it was part way through a regular spot check, which could explain why ‘old’ information was found.

He also told Which? that advisers had a responsibility to keep their profiles up-to-date as part of Unbiased’s terms and conditions.

The directory of advice firms also encourages consumers to check qualifications directly before instructing advisers.

Speaking to Financial Adviser, a spokeswoman from Unbiased said advisers listing incorrect or outdated qualifications was an industry-wide issue, whatever source was used to find the adviser.

She said Unbiased manually checked more than 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 added , suggesting a centralised verification system was needed.

“This could be one for the industry as a whole to collaborate on, as it would be in everyone’s interests.”