September 1, 2009

There are snuffling and shuffling sounds as financial watchdog OFT (probably looks at bit like Churchill) stirs laboriously within its luxurious City kennel, idly rakes its flank with a hind paw, and, blinking in the light of early afternoon, turns its watery gaze on comparison sites.

Disturbing rumours have reached OFT’s limply dropping ears – rumours suggesting sites like Comparethemarket.com and Confused.com may be, well, confusing. More alarmingly still, some say such sites are guilty of “dubious advertising” (Gio Compario certainly seemed pretty dubious to Bankstone News).

Now, according to The Guardian, “The OFT is seeking comments from industry and consumer groups before 18 September, when it plans to embark on a detailed examination of practices that can trick people into believing that such sites offer the cheapest prices.”

As befits another dog who watches things, OFT’s cousin FSA had a bit of a look at comparison sites a while back, nodding in a mildly disapproving way. The aggregators were told to stop flagging up-front prices for motor insurance that turned out to be significantly lower than the final quote.

BIBA, The Guardian’s report continues, has campaigned on behalf of its members against the so-called “worst offenders,” noting testily that car insurance quotes are deliberately depressed by including excesses of up to £500.

Explaining how this stance aligns with its decision to welcome Gocompare.com to its member roster, BIBA fudged its way into a fulsome endorsement: “We are not against comparison websites. We just want them to ask the right questions. Gocompare.com doesn’t use assumptions and it guarantees to give a quote that becomes the final price.”

Might this unique distinction not have made a better focal point for an advertising campaign than an unfunny fat bloke in a dinner jacket?

The paper quotes Moneysupermarket.com’s estimate that almost half of the UK’s 24 million insured drivers go online to research premium prices and notes that only Direct Line and Aviva have resisted putting their products on comparison sites.

The OFT is not expected to report

…until next year.



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