Inquiry comes as major price comparison sites reject voluntary code of conduct
Biba has laid bare its concerns over confusing pricing and advertising on price comparison sites to help an Office of Fair Trading (OFT) investigation.
The OFT is taking in submissions from trade bodies and consumers over how wide-ranging it should make its investigation into price comparsion sites’ sales techniques.
Technical services director Graeme Trudgill said Biba had met with OFT heads last week, including chief executive John Fingleton. Trudgill confirmed that Biba would now be putting forward its views before the deadline for submissions on Friday.
Trudgill said: “The insurance industry talks about getting it cheaper, but they do not talk about the real-life benefits and peace of mind you get from financial protection because they are so distracted by the price.
“As far as advertising and pricing go, it leaves a lot to be desired.”
The OFT could investigate technical aspects of price comparison sites that are thought to confuse or mislead customers, such as opting in and opting out of ancillary products, promises of discounts and time-limited deals.
Aggregators have vigorously defended themselves.
A GoCompare spokesman said: “Gocompare.com’s mission has always been to improve transparency across the comparison industry, and should the OFT decide to look at financial comparison sites, they will have our full co-operation.
“It’s worth noting, however, that when the FSA concluded its own review of financial comparison sites in November 2008, it said that firms were ‘consistently providing clear, fair and not misleading information’.”
All financial products will be put under the microscope for the study, expected to be completed some time next year. The outcome of the investigation could result in the OFT finding no case for action, demands for a code of conduct or, at worst, a breach in EU regulations.
Meanwhile, Tesco Compare became the latest aggregator to say it will not be signing up to the Comparison Consortium’s voluntary code of conduct.
The consortium, an industry voice for aggregators formed in April, had previously been turned down by GoCompare and Confused.com.
A Tesco spokesman said: “We have been part of various discussions with the Comparison Consortium but, at this stage, we will not be signing up to its accreditation scheme. We remain supportive of any initiative that has customers’ best interests at the fore, and will continue to keep a watchful eye on the Comparison Consortium’s efforts and other similar work streams within the industry.”
Tesco Compare managing director Debra Williams was on the committee that helped shape the code of conduct, but she will now step back to focus on her role at Tesco Compare.