Leading comparison websites have removed potentially misleading information from their sites after a Moneywise investigation found peer-to-peer (P2P) investment products included in the same best buy tables as high street savings products.
Industry experts also claim that several sites selling peer-to-peer products are “falling short” of what the regulator demands.
Moneywise looked at the UK’s leading product comparison websites and found issues with the four sites which offer P2P comparisons – Go Compare, Love Money, Money.co.uk and MoneySuperMarket.
Websites Go Compare and Love Money directly compare peer-to-peer investment products to cash savings accounts, something which could leave customers taking out a product without fully understanding the risks.
Fellow comparison site MoneySuperMarket includes risk warnings on its P2P pages but still refers to peer-to-peer products as “savings accounts”.
A further comparison site, Money.co.uk, also referred to P2P products as ‘savings’ on its website.
Anna Bowes, director of independent advice site Savings Champion, says: “Quite simply, peer-to-peer products should not be advertised or compared alongside traditional savings accounts, as they are not the same thing. Websites that do this are at best contributing to the confusion around these products or at worst actually misleading consumers.”
Cash lent through peer-to-peer is at risk if borrowers do not repay and customers may receive less than they put in if economic conditions worsen, something which is likely to lead to more defaults by borrowers.
In addition, unlike cash savings, which are protected up to £85,000 per institution by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, any money held in a peer-to-peer account is also at risk if the provider goes bust.
While each of the four comparison websites have some warnings about the risks of peer-to-peer, Neil Faulkner, managing director of peer-to-peer comparison service 4thWay, says these sites are “falling short”.
“Clearly, peer-to-peer lending is not a form of saving, but an investment with all the risks that come with it.
“After the industry itself, pushed by the regulator, has made such a big deal about shifting the language away from savings, the low standards at generic money sites are still clearly falling far short.
“Words do matter.
“For instance, Go Compare continues to compare these investment products in its savings comparison table alongside easy access savings accounts and Cash Isas. It even calls them ‘peer-to-peer savings products’.”
Andrew Hagger, financial analyst and founder of Moneycomms, adds: “I'm not sure these products should be bundled in with cash based savings accounts - despite the on-site warnings it is not comparing apples with apples.
“I would prefer to see P2P products classified under a separate 'investment' comparison to remove any possible misunderstanding or chance that people who are searching for simple savings products aren't lured in by rates of 5%-7% without really appreciating the risks involved.”
‘Savers may be unware of what they’re signing up’
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) told Moneywise that firms must ensure their communication with customers is “fair, clear and not misleading”.
The regulator’s own investigation into the peer-to-peer market is ongoing, and it is understood that the FCA is also concerned about the language used when discussing P2P products and whether customers fully understand the risks involved.
“They are more akin to an investment and do come with some risks,” warns Ms Bowes. “With more and more providers offering eye-catching ‘savings’ rates it’s fair to assume that some savers may be unware of what they’re signing up to and could be lured in under false pretences.
“Risk adverse savers may be unaware that these are not savings accounts at all, but are in fact investments, especially when they are advertised together – it’s an easy mistake to make.”
Mr Faulkner adds: “A lot more people are interested in saving than investing and consider it to be lower risk. There is a real chance of losing money if you invest in peer-to-peer lending without learning enough about what you're doing and some sensible, simple investment strategies.”
Victory for savers as sites make changes
Following Moneywise’s intervention, Go Compare says it is now planning to redesign its savings pages to remove peer-to-peer products and ensure that consumers are not being misled.
A spokesperson for Go Compare says: “Currently, people have to actively select the P2P option to see these products in our comparison tables. If someone chooses to see P2P options, all such products are clearly marked.
“However, we are in the process of removing P2P from our savings comparison tables.”
Money.co.uk has already made changes to its website after Moneywise’s intervention. It has removed the word ‘savings’ from the heading of its main P2P page – although the product is still listed in the savings subsection. It has also promised to carry out more work to improve its peer-to-peer comparisons in the new year.
“We want to make sure anyone using our comparisons is able to make an informed decision about whether peer to peer is right for them,” says Money.co.uk editor Hannah Maundrell.
“Thanks to the insights Moneywise shared we’ve tweaked how we refer to peer-to-peer accounts and we’re keen to hear from anyone else who has suggestions about how we might improve our comparisons.”
A statement from MoneySuperMarket says: “MoneySuperMarket is keenly aware of the need to give customers the facts they need to make an informed decision about what to do with their money, and takes care not to mislead any consumers who are interested in them.
“Peer-to-peer lending is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and is an entirely legitimate option for savers to consider. We only include peer-to-peer lending products in the specific peer to peer section. These products do not appear in any other savings section of our website. Instead customers need to take an active decision to reach a dedicated peer-to-peer page.”
Love Money did not respond to requests for comment.
How Moneywise covers peer-to-peer products
Moneywise does not currently offer a peer-to-peer comparison service for consumers, but we do write news stories and features on the peer-to-peer industry.
In the battle for better consumer understanding, this month we have moved all our peer-to-peer articles from the savings and banking section to the investments section of the Moneywise website.
In future, we will ensure that peer-to-peer products are clearly described as investment rather than savings products in articles, and we always include links to information about the risks of peer-to-peer in every article we publish online and in the magazine too.