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Important consumer information remains difficult to find on comparison websites

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The Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets (AFM) has performed an investigation into the information provided by 33 comparison websites for financial products. Many of these websites still provide consumers with information that is difficult to find or insufficient about what, in precise terms, the websites do, how they earn their money, how a comparison is created and how complete such a comparison is.

Consequently, in the majority of cases consumers are unable to assess what value should be attached to the results of a comparison. The provision of information has, however, improved in comparison to the end of 2011, when the AFM performed an initial market scan among comparison websites.

At the time, the initial market scan showed that comparison websites did not provide sufficient information about the comparison that was made. That is why the AFM provided clarity in an interpretation concerning the information these websites should provide to consumers. The new investigation shows that, at this time, many websites do provide more information, but that said information is often difficult to find. This makes it difficult for consumers to find out what value they should attach to the results of a comparison.

The investigation shows that nineteen of the thirty-three parties indicate specifically what they do for consumers, but that said information can only be found easily in six of those cases. Eighteen of the investigated parties indicate how they earn their money, which is easy to find in five of those cases. Eight websites indicate how the comparison is performed. This can be easily found in only three cases, however. In thirteen cases, the information about the completeness of the comparison is satisfactory, whereby such information can easily be found by consumers in seven cases. Only one party provided all the information, and in such a way that it could be easily found.

The AFM has informed the investigated websites of the shortcomings, and expects that they will further improve the provision of information in the short term. The AFM website provides an example of provision of information in order to help providers get started. The AFM may take enforcement action if the providers of the websites do not improve their ways.

Consumers would do well to look critically at the provider of a website and the results, when making an online comparison. It may be useful for consumers to make a comparison for the same product via different websites, in order to make a balanced decision. Especially in cases in which the consumer doubts the value he can attach to the comparison, because, for example, it is unclear how many providers or products have been compared.

A comparison website should clearly state how it is rewarded by providers of financial products. If a comparison website receives a fee, for example for passing on leads or requests for an offer, or in the event of the purchase of a product or a service via the website, or for including products in the comparison, such remuneration may constitute a financial interest in recommending these products. It should also be clear whether a website is only making a comparison between various products, or if consumers can also purchase these directly via the website.

It is furthermore important to know how, precisely, a comparison is performed. For example, if this done purely based on the price, consumers can compare the conditions to realise a balanced comparison. An overview of which providers are included in the comparison also constitutes important information, because this allows the consumer to see how complete the comparison is.

All this information should be easy to find and should be placed logically on the site. This will allow consumers to locate it without having to search for it. This enables a consumer to determine, in a more effective manner, whether the comparison really does result in the best product for him.

The AFM promotes fairness and transparency within financial markets. We are the independent supervisory authority for the savings, lending, investment and insurance markets. The AFM promotes the conscientious provision of financial services to consumers and supervises the honest and efficient operation of the capital markets. Our aim is to improve consumers’ and the business sector’s confidence in the financial markets, both in the Netherlands and abroad. In performing this task the AFM contributes to the prosperity and economic reputation of the Netherlands.

The AFM is committed to promoting fair and transparent financial markets.

As an independent market conduct authority, we contribute to a sustainable financial system and prosperity in the Netherlands.

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