Financial Advisors Found Using False Credentials

Report says firms listed on comparison service sites falsely claim to have advisers with CFP status.

Some UK Financial advisers featured on online comparison services are misleading the public about their credentials, according to a report from British consumers association Which?

The report analyzed 43 advice firms listed on financial adviser comparison service that stated they employed certified financial planners with certification from the Chartered Institute of Securities and Investment (CISI). However, Which? found that 27 of 43 firms did not employ any such advisers.

It also found that seven out of 24 firms (29%) falsely claimed to be accredited by the Society of Later Life Advisers (SOLLA), and 14 out of 72 firms (19%) falsely claimed to have advisers with chartered financial planner status. The report also said that other online directories for financial advisers, VouchedFor, and the Money Advice Service’s (MAS) Retirement Adviser Directory, contained inaccurate information about the qualifications of the advisers listed on the respective websites.

However, Which? pointed out that the discrepancies in certifications are not necessarily the result of intentionally deceptive advisers. For example, some certifications lapse if not renewed annually. It also said it’s possible for a firm to be chartered, but not the individual, which could lead to confusion on the advisers’ part.

The organization previously reported on similar rates of false results on Unbiased in March of 2016, when it found that 61% of advisers claiming to be CISI-accredited did not appear on the provider’s official lists.   

“At the time, Unbiased promised to work with the CISI to weed out the false listings,” said the report. “However, after reviewing the site and speaking to both organizations, it has emerged that Unbiased has not made an effort to regularly liaise with the CISI … the persistent high rate of inaccurate and misleading listings suggests there is more work to be done.”

Which? said it was told by Unbiased Chief Executive Karen Barrett that the company is currently working with accrediting bodies to check the accuracy of its listings, and is working to find a good solution to check them more efficiently.

“If we get to hear of any advisers falsely claiming to hold the certified financial planner designation, or any of our designations, we will investigate this immediately,” Kevin Moore, CISI’s global head of business development, said in a statement in response to the report. “If subsequently we discover the adviser is fraudulently misrepresenting themselves, we will take disciplinary or legal action against that individual, and this could result in that individual losing their membership of the CISI.”

Although Unbiased had the highest rate of inaccurate results in the study, both VouchedFor and the MAS Retirement Adviser Directory also contained “significant numbers of misleading records,” said Which? On VouchedFor, two of 21 advisers claiming to be chartered financial planners were not actually chartered, and both of the advisers that claimed to be accredited by SOLLA failed to appear on the provider’s official list.

Meanwhile, on the MAS directory, 16% of those saying they were certified, 9% of those saying they were chartered and 5% of those saying they were accredited by SOLLA did not appear to actually hold those accreditations, said the report. However, it added that this is “a marked improvement” over what was found in September 2016, when “a large number of advisers” listed on its directory were found not to have the qualifications they claimed.

The report included the recommendation that consumers look for additional qualifications when choosing a financial adviser. It said the process of becoming certified is “probably the most rigorous of the credentials we looked at,” with only 22% of advisers passing the exam and only 8% passing the required case study.

The problem of financial advisers with false or misleading is not exclusive to the UK, as investors and consumers in the US face the same issues. According to the SEC, many fraudulent investment schemes involve advisers who are not licensed or registered.  It suggests investors use the SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure (IAPD) website and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)’s BrokerCheck website to determine whether a person recommending or selling an investment is licensed or registered. It also allows users to check out the person’s background, including any disciplinary history. 

In November, FINRA fined J.P. Morgan Securities $1.25 million for failing to conduct timely or adequate background checks on approximately 8,600, or 95%, of its non-registered associates from January 2009 through May 2017. FINRA said it found that for more than eight years, J.P. Morgan did not fingerprint approximately 2,000 of its non-registered associated persons in a timely manner, preventing the firm from determining whether those persons might be disqualified from working at the firm.  

US Federal securities laws require broker-dealers to fingerprint certain associated persons working in a non-registered capacity who may present a risk to customers based on their positions. FINRA said fingerprinting helps firms identify if a person has been convicted of crimes that would disqualify them from being associated with a firm.

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