Harry Brennan, 4 OCTOBER 2019 • 6:02AM
St. James’s Place fails to make its terms and conditions completely clear to customers, according to a study by language experts VisibleThread.
It analysed 100 web pages at Britain’s biggest wealth manager, including investment documents, finding one in four sentences were too long, with the meaning of important information lost to complex and jargon-heavy writing.
Information around charges was particularly obscure, according to VisibleThread’s Fergal McGovern, who said much of the firm’s investment documents were inaccessible to people with an average level of education.
The study found consumers would need an above-average reading age to clearly understand the firm’s terms without rereading them.
This follows a similar report which found that 97pc of investment firms use language only few understand, with most of their websites harder to read than an academic paper on chess.
St. James’s Place has come under fire for its fee structure, which some deem opaque. Its “early withdrawal charge” – an effective exit penalty for customers who chose to leave within six years of becoming a customer – is particularly unpopular.
The City watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, was understood to be considering implementing an outright ban on such fees amid a wider push for transparency in the industry, but fell short of doing so.
Last month, brokers Hargreaves Lansdown, the nation’s biggest, scrapped its own exit fee.
A spokesman for St. James’s Place said: “We are committed to communicating clearly and our website aims to p
resent sometimes complex information, such as ‘Key Information Documents’, in a clear and concise way but in line with regulatory requirements.
“As a wealth manager focused on providing quality face-to-face advice, clients cannot invest via our website but instead meet with their St. James’s Place adviser, prior to making an investment, to discuss their personal objectives and options.
“We believe this is the best way for clients to make an informed decision, to navigate complex financial matters and ultimately achieve their long-term objectives.”
This article first appeared on The Telegraph