Retailer to review BeatThatQuote powered site and plans to relaunch later in the year

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An FSA crackdown on price comparison sites has led to Google-owned BeatThatQuote and Argos agreeing to take their aggregator offline.

BeatThatQuote powers the Argos website, which offers car and home insurance, along with loans and
life insurance. The Argos website is currently offline, but the retail giant and BeatThatQuote plan to relaunch it once the review is complete.

An Argos statement said: “Following revised guidance by the FSA regarding the regulation of price comparison websites, Argos has placed under review and the site is currently unavailable to new business.
“We are working to restore the solution as soon as possible.”

The FSA recommended several actions by firms involved with aggregation in October last year.

The key thrust of the recommendations were about acting to prevent customers being misled by price comparison sites.

The guidance raised concerns that many customers believed they were receiving actual quotes rather than illustrative ones. Another concern was that customers were not being given the chance to discuss all the facts, meaning eventual claims could be rejected.

Also, aggregators were entering into white labelling deals without considering customers’ exposure to financial crime.

Finally, the FSA said that customers could end up confused over where to complain and whether they have any right to go to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

In the last two years, aggregators have made efforts to ensure that customers gets an accurate quote for their needs rather than automatically directing them to the cheapest quote.

Aggregator site personal lines broker IGO4’s executive director Tom Cooper said he had read the guidelines and although there had been major improvements, there was still work to be done. He said “assumptive answers to questions” were at the heart of the issue.

For example, he said criminal convictions and proximity to rivers were lumped in together to make it  easy for the customer to answer quickly, whereas they could be separate for a more detailed question set.

Cooper said: “There is a potential there for people to ultimately end up misquoted and that could impact on their cover. So my suspicion is that the aggregator question sets could well become longer than they are at the moment.
“The danger is that the longer the question set, the more people that will drop off as part of that process. But it will end up a more accurate figure.”

Robin Wood Associates head of compliance Terence Clark said the FSA guidance for aggregators should be read by all firms involved with insurance.

He said: “Even if you are internet or call-centre based, or a high street broker, by looking at it you are actually considering your own processes and benchmarking them on a treating customer fairly aspect.

“The client is getting all the information he needs to make an informed decision over things like warranties, exclusions and so on.”

Biba head of corporate affairs Graeme Trudgill said he supported the FSA guidance in October last year to improve the customer experience on aggregators.

He said: “The impact of things like this will be for brokers that have their products on the site for the period that they are closed down.

“It is an issue for the sites that have to make sure that they are compliant, and the sooner the better.”

The FSA guidance will almost certainly be considered by French insurer Covéa, which intends to launch in the UK in the later half of this year.

Covéa is understood to have ambitions to create one of the most customer-friendly price comparison sites on the market, with clear explanations of what customers are buying.

Google did not respond for comment.

We say …

● The decision to take Argos offline may have the invisible hand of Google behind it. Google snapped up BeatThatQuote, which powers the Argos price comparison site, for £37.7m in March last year. Analysts at the time suggested Google aimed to make BeatThatQuote the king of customer service for its online buyers.

● How many other price comparison sites are taking action in respect of the FSA guidance? Those not taking notice should look at the FSA’s £2.2m fine of Direct Line over customer complaints handling. The FSA has teeth and is ready to act.