Unbiased’s advice head: ‘There is no directory war – it’s just choice’

ossei-michael-unbiased-2016

You cannot please everyone all the time but Michael Ossei is certainly having a go.
As head of adviser product and services at Unbiased, Ossei has the unenviable task of juggling the demands of advisers and consumers within the commercial framework that makes it all possible. Not easy, given the rebrand Unbiased unveiled in May has been unpopular with some sections of the adviser community.

Ossei says: “People don’t like change and we have changed a lot in the past 12 months. If those who had last visited our website 12 months ago came back now they wouldn’t recognise it.”

Ossei’s background is in technology and marketing but his childhood dream was to be a professional footballer. Not being fussy, he says he would have been happy to win the World Cup with either England or Ghana, his parents’ native country.

But faced with the bleak reality that this was unlikely to happen, Ossei started looking for work at the beginning of the digital revolution and, over the next 10 years, found himself doing everything from online marketing to web design.

“The more I learned about products and services, the more knowledge I gained in the technical and marketing side of it.I was learning about the needs of the user.”

By the time he joined comparison site uSwitch in 2010, he was already used to working with financial services firms. After a brief spell at the Money Advice Service, Ossei joined Unbiased in 2015.

“It had all the right foundations but from a technology and marketing viewpoint it was at a crossroads, so I thought I could add something to it.”

Fresh faces

Unbiased’s controversial new look was created by digital design agency Three Straight Lines. The aim has been to attract more consumers, generate more enquiries for advisers and showcase new features, such as Location Plus, an add-on service enabling advisers to increase their prominence within the search results for a particular region or postcode if they are able to service it.

Ossei says Unbiased conducted research among its adviser users to find areas where it could improve and add value because some features that were being paid for as part of a subscription were not being fully utilised.

Now features such as call tracking and recording, as well as a client message inbox, are provided alongside a range of add-on services, which are  available at an extra cost. The idea is advisers pay only for the extra services they use.

However, not everyone is happy about paying separate costs on top of subscription fees. In particular, Location Plus has been criticised by some as commercially driven and a compromise of Unbiased’s impartiality.

Ossei rejects the suggestion. “Location Plus is a benefit for businesses that have extra capacity and those that can offer remote adviser services. If you are one of 80 advisers in an area and you are on the second page of the search results, you might think ‘how do I get higher?”

“Unbiased is not Google, where people can change that position. It’s fixed according to postcode or the filter people put in, such as female advisers, for example. With Location Plus, you can be at the top of the search results for a month. It is a paid-for position but as long as an adviser can service that area, they can have it as an add-on.”

Ossei says the one-month limit ensures the service is rotated, with no bias towards bigger advice firms that might otherwise be tempted to hog the top listing indefinitely. “But being on top of the listings doesn’t take traffic away from the second tier,” he adds.

“If you are one of 80 advisers in an area and you are on the second page of the search results, you might think ‘how
do I get higher?”

Some advisers have even complained about the new moose character on the website – a mascot designed to help consumers identify the Unbiased brand and ultimately get them engaging with advice.

So why was an overhaul of Unbiased necessary? Do the changes really benefit advisers or have they been financially driven?

“The rebrand was necessary as we needed to update. We had all the insight and we needed to take it to the next level. So we thought: ‘Let’s try to differentiate ourselves. Let’s build a brand with nice images – something that’s clear and concise in its message and that focuses on connecting people’.

“We understand there will be resistance but advisers have got to look at the benefits of what they get out of this.”

Directory wars

Ossei refutes suggestions that the rebrand was another step in a “directory war” with competitor VouchedFor. In his view, the two services  target different markets, with VouchedFor focusing on individual advisers and Unbiased working with both individuals and firms.

“There is no directory war – it’s just choice. Consumers need choice and trusted brands.”
But in striving to “do it better” than its peers, Ossei says Unbiased has listened to what consumers want. If someone wants advice, they usually require a quick response, so Unbiased has created a 48-hour window for advisers to say yes or  no  to consumer enquiries, through the accept and reject method.

“People assume we created the accept/reject metric on a whim. But if consumers make an enquiry, they want a response immediately. If one adviser rejects an enquiry it will stay in the system and go to the next matched one on the list.”

Consumers are clearly a high priority for Unbiased. Ossei says those getting the right advice are likely to refer friends and relatives to the same adviser, so the potential reach goes beyond the initial connection.

He acknowledges advisers should have a say in the services Unbiased provides and how they are delivered, especially as it has such a long history with them.

But at the same time, he feels there needs to be some give and take; advisers need to understand that things will change from time to time in response to changing consumer needs and different ways of promoting advice.

“We are a commercial organisation but we’re not doing this to try to make even more money.

“We want advisers and consumers to understand that we are there for them. We want everyone to benefit.”

CV

2015-present: Head of adviser product and services, Unbiased

2014-2015: Product development manager, Money Advice Service; senior product manager, 118 118 Money

2010-2014: Senior commercial product manager (financial services), uSwitch

2000-2010: A range of digital marketing/web development roles at various firms including TotalStay, Venda and Walker Media (now Blue 449)

Five questions:

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?

Always ask why. Take a step back and look at the situation, as sometimes you can get engrossed in the moment and need some distance.

What keeps you awake at night?

Keeping advisers and consumers happy.

What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?

The ongoing impact of the RDR.

If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…

Arrange an FCA open day and give the general public a behind the scenes glimpse of some of the things we do for them and why.

Any advice for new advisers?

Embrace change.