We all know that when we go on Google or Twitter, certain search results or tweets are promoted. We know that they are at the top of the list because they are market as promoted. The products that lie behind these promotions are being given prominence because of a payment made to Google or Twitter.

What happens below the promoted space is meritocratic, google’s algorithm , the system of retweets and the likes on Facebook and Instagram – though manipulable, are indicative of a community’s value. We have learned to read and assess the value of social ratings by their capacity to reflect the value placed in the product by users, not the scale of marketing spend.

Indeed the relevance of any form of directory that relies on crowd wisdom is diluted by the need for the directory to be supported by pay to display advertising. Which has built a business on its independence and so has Martin Lewis, when money changes hands, you expect to know about it.


There is a website which promotes financial advisers called http://www.unbiased.co.uk . I know it because we signpost it to members of the occupational pension schemes we look after. We also know it because, until recently, the Pensions Regulator signposted it as a place to find advice on workplace pensions.

Recently the principle on which the site has been founded has been called into question. Claims have been made that it does not properly monitor claims made by advisers;-

There has been criticism in the FT that it has not properly disclosed promotional payments made by advisers to get them to the top of the list.

I am not an expert in promoting my business on these lists and frankly am hopeless about making money out of this blog (I actually pay WordPress so that you don’t see adverts). But I sense that there is an unseen value which cannot be neatly recorded on a spreadsheet in allowing the cream to rise to the top of the bottle. I agree with this comment by Peter Lisney on the FT article

Unbiased and VouchedFor (a similar IFA promotion service) are both reputable companies run by good people. However, the business model of each is simply at odds with their narratives – an impartial directory of financial advisers for consumers. A paid for enhanced listing or fee to receive a lead removes that claim instantly.

The right model in my view is a site where the advising firm can be listed for free without having their phone number/web address hijacked to initiate a fee. Where the best can rise to the top on merit alone and not for an additional fee. Where the adviser is not paying for a lead that would otherwise have arrived naturally. Where the consumer can be confident that the adviser at the top of the list didn’t pay to be there. Finally, where the business that facilitates such a service receives a fair remuneration only from advisers seeking help to get them there, not for putting them there.

I’m proud that http://www.pensionplaypen.com doesn’t take money from the providers listed on it for being listed and doesn’t boost ratings by receiving cash for promotion. All the revenue from the Choose a Pension service we run (and for the site in general) comes from the fees paid by employers and their advisers for its recommendations.

But the integrity of this approach is to no avail if our service is not used; nor will it be used if those in a position to promote its integrity – don’t. Last year I spent a considerable time explaining the service to professional bodies who had expressed a wish to promote financial advice. Unanimously those bodies agreed that the integrity of http://www.pensionplaypen.com was unimpeachable. You might ask why http://www.pensionplaypen.com does not appear on more directories. The answer is that professional bodies demand large amounts (for us) of cash for our advice to be displayed.

Precisely the same criticism can be made of these bodies as is made by Peter Lisney of Unbiased. Either you are offering people a genuinely independent product or you should display in bold type that you are being paid to promote.

Apparently you can reduce the distorting effect of pay to display covert advertising on Unbiased by clicking a box

Unbiased only show advisers that pay them to be listed. If you don’t subscribe, put your office postcode in the box asking for postcode and guess what, you wont appear. Only when you scroll down to the left hand side the page and uncheck the box that says “only show sponsored results” will you appear. -AW

The only way that Unbiased could stay unbiased is for it to charge those who were looking for an adviser, a fee to access the research it provides.

The only way you can acccess the research at the heart of http://www.pensionplaypen.com is by paying a small fee.

It is a very difficult revenue model to crack, it means that those who are providing the service see many hundreds of customers approach the door and turn away when they see the entry price. But it is the only way of ensuring that what is inside is genuinely independent.

True independence is to be prized and it cannot be delivered if you are taking back-handers. I walked away from all the professional bodies demanding money to display our service and decided to put that money into straightforward advertising where people new they were being sold something.

We will be exhibiting http://www.pensionplaypen.com at Accountex on May 10-11th and paying a fee to Accountex for the plot. It is a fair deal, you go to Accountex to be sold ideas. Everyone at a trade show competes on the basis of the quality of its sales pitch and buyers know precisely what they are buying.

That’s what “unbiased” is.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
This entry was posted in advice gap, pensions and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply