James Daley

By James Daley

One of the things that I've noticed from analysing the trust scores in our tables is that high street retail brands often perform disproportionately well. The likes of John Lewis, M&S, and Debenhams all have trust scores well above average - even though in most cases, these retail brands are simply white labeling the products of other insurance companies and banks.

It's not hard to understand why people put their faith in these brands. Your relationship with a supermarket, where you buy your groceries every week, or a shop where you do most of your clothes shopping, is much more intimate than the relationships that people have with a regular financial services company. If you've been buying your underwear at Marks & Spencer for 50 years, and swear by the quality of their products, it seems like a rational transfer of loyalty - to assume that their financial products are also good quality.

Misplaced trust?

In truth, the underlying products and value offered by the high street retail brands operating in financial services is very mixed. And when you're comparing these brands in Fairer Finance's tables, it's an interesting exercise to read across the row to see how these brands stack up on complaints handling and transparency. Often, it's not great.

M&S, for example, has a below average track record on complaints handling - and some of its partners in insurance fare even worse. But this has yet to take its toll on the trust ratings that the brand receives. It's a similar story for Debenhams, whose trust rating is well above average, but who performs poorly in all other areas.

This should be an area of concern for regulators. It shows that it's possible for people to be blinded by their loyalty to a retail brand - a loyalty which when it comes to financial services shouldn't really be transferable. Being a good retailer doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to be able to provide high quality insurance or banking products.

I'm not saying that all retailers who delve into financial services do a bad job. In fact, many of them do manage to provide decent products and good service. But at the margins, some of these brands get away with offering poor quality products, in a way that other lesser known brands simply wouldn't. For that reason, these brands need more scrutiny than others in the market, and need to work harder to prove that they can be trusted in their own right as a bank or insurance company, not just as a high street retailer.