James Daley

By James Daley

While doing the research that underpins our transparency ratings, I spent a lot of time mystery shopping insurance companies - pretending to buy policies direct from their websites, or being referred onto them by comparison sites.

I'll be honest, it's not a barrel of laughs. But it's an important part of the role of modern day consumer groups - helping people understand which companies are presenting information in a fair and transparent way, and which ones aren't.

I've already met with many of the companies that we rate, to discuss our findings - and they've all been receptive to the feedback. But one company that stood out as not being very pro-consumer was Saga, which has taken the time to prominently display small print saying that it doesn't permit mystery shopping on its website. Or to be be precise, it says:

"You will not (directly or indirectly) perform, authorise, encourage or assist others to perform “mystery shopping” of this website, that is to say, the accessing of this website for the purpose of obtaining any insurance quotes (or other related information), other than a genuine insurance quote for your own personal use."

What are you hiding?

Mystery shopping is something of a niche sport. There aren't many people who engage in it - but if I was to have a bet on who the most prolific mystery shopper is, I would say it has to be the Financial Conduct Authority. Presumably, the FCA wouldn't take too kindly to being told not to check up on companies - and the Saga disclaimer left me wondering what it has to hide.

There's more than one or two skeletons in Saga's closet - it's no model when it comes to transparency. And I've often thought that it should be held to a higher standard, as it targets an older demographic.

So, sorry Saga - but I think that it's important you allow people to mystery shop you - and if I'm honest, I've done it dozens of times. By telling people not to scrutinise you, it makes it harder to believe that you're a trustworthy brand. My advice would be to ditch the clause. Even if your lawyers tell you there's a good reason to include it, it sends entirely the wrong message about the way you like to do business.