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Australian comparison site may bring robo-advice to UK

Australian comparison site may bring robo-advice to UK

Australia's biggest financial comparison website, finder.com, is launching in the UK and considering whether to import its robo-advice service as well.

The business has applied for Financial Conduct Authority approval, after which it will provide price comparisons and guidance on financial products such as mortgages, credit cards, personal loans and, later, life insurance, Isas and pensions.

While it awaits FCA-approval - which it expects to receive within six months - it will provide price comparisons on money transfers, internet TV and online shopping sites.

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The Australian version of the site also provides information on financial advice, including robo-advice.

But UK chief executive Jon Ostler said the firm had not yet decided whether the UK arm would extend to financial advice.

Explaining the company's business model, Mr Ostler said the service was free to users, and that businesses would pay finder.com a commission whenever a user bought a product listed on the site. 

In addition to price comparisons, Mr Ostler said the website would provide extensive guidance in the form of articles and a real-time help desk manned by "in-house counsel".

He stressed that this would "strictly" not constitute financial advice.

He said he was confident the company was experienced enough to comply with the FCA's strict distinction between guidance and advice, given similarly strict rules exist in Australia. 

Australia's Future of Financial Advice (Fofa) reforms, introduced in 2013, are very similar to the UK's Retail Distribution Review reforms. 

"Compliance is a key part of the training for our staff. After doing it in Australia for years we're very used to operating in a regulated environment," he said.

While Mr Ostler said the firm did not have a clear timeline for when it would introduce categories such as Isas and pensions onto the website, he said he was confident there was considerable demand for information of this kind.

Fred Schebesta, the Sydney-based co-founder of finder.com, described the UK as the "ultimate dream" of any comparison website in the world.

"It’s hands-down the most competitive, most advanced comparison market," he said. 

Finder.com's UK offices are based in Croydon, south London. The firm is currently looking to hire an initial team of six including publishers, writers, sales and public relations experts.

james.fernyhough@ft.com