London-based claims management company (CMC) Rebus Investment Solutions has taken the controversial step of publishing a list of firms it is pursuing claims against. Rebus specialises in claims for mis-sold Unregulated Collective Investment Schemes, which are highly complex policies which were incorrectly sold to a large number of ordinary retail investors.
Visitors to the Rebus website can view their ‘Adviser Watch List’. Most controversially, it lists not only firms who have had complaints upheld, but also those whose complaints are still under investigation. The list is accompanied by a disclaimer which reads: “Unless a final decision has been made by either the Financial Ombudsman Service or the Courts, Rebus makes no assertion that advisors under investigation by Rebus are guilty of any offence or misconduct,” however some parties may be concerned about the damage simply being included on the list could cause. Even the best run financial advisory firms will inevitably receive a complaint at some stage, and in the larger firms, receiving complaints is a routine occurrence simply due to the size of their operation. A fair proportion of complaints made against financial institutions also turn out to be unjustified.
Lawyers and financial advisers have attacked Rebus’s move. Harriet Quiney, a partner at law firm DWF Fishburns, said: “It is clear this is pure self-interest by Rebus so its claim otherwise really sticks in the throat.” She then highlighted the issue of firms having their reputations unfairly sullied by adding: “Rebus’ list could include companies which have had just one complaint in the last 10 years, which could give an entirely false impression.”
Comment also came from a financial adviser who has vigorously campaigned for tougher controls on CMCs. Alan Lakey, a partner at Highclere Financial Services, said: “This is not meaningful for consumers but a way of gaining publicity. The implication is consumers need to be cautious about using these firms.”
The greatest justification for the stance adopted by Rebus is that data on complaints received by smaller financial businesses is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. The regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), publishes complaints data, but only for firms who receive 500 or more complaints in a six month period, which inevitably means that it is mostly the largest firms who are included. The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) data goes further, but these only show firms who had both 30 cases referred to the FOS and 30 cases closed by the FOS in a six-month period. The FCA has said it reserves the right to publish warning notices on its website where it commences a disciplinary investigation, but it has not done so for any firm so far.
Rebus head of client relations Martin Taylor said: “This is about consumer protection. Any firm on the list that feels it is there unreasonably is free to contact us,” although he does not indicate how the company might respond if such a request was received.
It remains to be seen what the reaction of the Claims Management Regulator at the Ministry of Justice is to Rebus’s actions.