Which? accused of ‘misleading’ consumers over calls to publish advice charges online

Money-Cash-20-Note-Currency-UK-700x450.jpgWhich? has been accused of “misleading” consumers with research that shows two-thirds of advisers provide no charges information online.

Research published by the consumer campaign group shows that of 500 advice firms’ websites, 70 per cent do not publish their charges online.

It says of the 115 sites which claim to show fees, 76 per cent do not give enough detail to give “a real indication” of what a customer would pay.

Which? claims just 2 per cent of the sites it looked at “publish genuinely useful information for clients including a clear breakdown of charges”.

The group says only 33 sites allowed its researchers to download a key facts document.

Of 206 firms contacted via phone, 31 per cent provided a rough idea of fees, but 12 per cent refused to divulge costs.

Which? is calling on the FCA to review whether it should be mandatory for advisers to display fees on their websites.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd says: “Good IFAs have nothing to fear by publishing fees online and we believe that if some firms can do it, then the others have no excuses. We need IFAs to be much more open about charges or the regulator should step in and change the rules.”

Apfa director general Chris Hannant says: “This is utterly misleading. It gives the impression that you cannot find out how much advice costs which is unhelpful.

“Advisers have to disclose their costs face-to-face so charges will never come as a surprise to a customer.

“Which? is adding to the sense of fear around going to see an adviser, so they are actually damaging consumers’ interests just for the sake of the headline. The message you take away from the press release is you shouldn’t go to an adviser because it’s all a bit murky.”

But Hannant says the more advisers can do to give consumers an indication of fees online, the more likely consumers are to engage.

He says: “Approaching an adviser without any idea of what it will cost can be intimidating: it’s like walking into a shop with no prices.”

Personal Finance Society chief executive Keith Richards says: “This report has a very narrow focus and without covering the benefits of advice, risks continuing to fuel mistrust of the sector.

“It is fair to acknowledge that there is often confusion over fee structures, but that is true of all professions and reflects the fact that fees depend on clients’ individual needs.”

Philip J Milton & Company managing director Philip Milton says: “If some advisers can publish indicative costs on their sites, then everyone should be able to.

“However, consumers should be made aware that they can speak to an adviser to get an idea of the cost of advice for their circumstances, and that fees will always be disclosed to them before they agree to go ahead.”