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Unbiased criticised for listing firms with FCA restrictions

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Unbiased criticised for listing firms with FCA restrictions

Adviser search engine Unbiased has been criticised after New Model Adviser® found a number of advice firms which have had their permissions restricted by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) on the database.

When searching for financial advisers through the browsing tool on Unbiased New Model Adviser® came across three advice firms which have recently had their permissions changed through agreements with the FCA.

Bank House Group, or Bank House Investment Management, was one of the firms which appeared on the search.

In January the FCA issued a final notice on Bank House telling it to stop carrying out any regulated activity after it failed to comply with earlier voluntary restrictions to stop Sipp switches.

Robert Ward, Bank House’s former managing director, said: ‘This is one to ask Unbiased as we effectively ceased trading in December so would have no influence on what they do.’

BlackStar Wealth Management was another firm which came up on the Unbiased search engine. Although it does not say when it came in to effect, the FCA entry for BlackStar says the firm must ‘immediately cease all regulated activities’ until it has appointed a skilled person under a Section 166 order. 

‘The firm should implement a process of ongoing independent pre-sale checks of all its future investment advice,’ the FCA said. BlackStar was unavailable for comment.

Holborn Assets Limited also appeared on Unbiased's search engine. Last month the FCA told Holborn not to carry out any pension transfers ‘introduced by overseas advisers until independent verification via a Skilled Person is provided to the FCA that a robust and compliant advisory process is in place’.

Holborn's entry on Unbiased said it was able to advise on pension transfers. 

When contacted, a spokesperson from Holborn said: ‘I have now edited the entries to remove reference to pension transfers. This was simply an oversight.

‘We are clearly not currently providing any regulated DB transfer advice. We are working with the FCA to resume DB transfer advice and expect to have this resolved in the next few months all things going well.’

Phillip Bray, director of The Yardstick Agency, said Unbiased should be carrying ‘out regular checks to make sure the advisers on the database hold the necessary permissions’.

‘For advisers who have had their permissions withdrawn for new business they should be removed from Unbiased because if someone is seeking financial advice they need to be able to write new business,’ he said.

‘They should be running a check against the FCA Register and any claim an adviser makes should be confirmed by Unbiased. If you have a firm who has still got their FCA permissions for new business but maybe has a FOS (Financial Ombudsman Service) complaint then I have some sympathy for Unbiased as it can’t start policing people like that.'

Bray added any errors are damaging for all the advisers who use Unbiased.

‘It is all about credibility. The consumers who use Unbiased need to be assured it is a credible service and every time a situation is highlighted where an adviser is on there who shouldn’t be, it undermines the credibility. So Unbiased should check these things,’ he said.

Last month New Model Adviser® found a number of errors on Unbiased over firms which claimed to hold chartered status.

When approached Unbiased declined to comment. 

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