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Comparators ‘on notice’, ACCC warns

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says it is monitoring comparison websites following its report on the industry highlighted concerns about lack of transparency.

“Comparator websites can drive competition and deliver significant savings and other benefits to consumers, but any new industry may have a few bad apples,” Deputy Chairman Delia Rickard said.

“Emerging issues in the online marketplace are an ACCC priority and players in the comparator website industry are on notice that we are watching.”

Early next year the regulator will release guidelines for comparators on complying with competition and consumer protection laws, along with consumer guidance to ensure people are comparing “apples with apples”.

The ACCC says it will “continue to monitor the comparator website industry and, if necessary, take enforcement action”.

Concerns on transparency include the extent of market coverage, savings achieved by using comparison sites, whether comparators are independent and undisclosed commercial relationships affecting recommendations.

The ACCC report, released on Friday, focused mainly on private health insurance, energy and telecoms, and followed consultation with more than 20 stakeholders including regulators, comparator website operators, service providers, consumer groups and industry associations.

The leading insurers in the personal lines market have refused to share data with the comparators, or allow their products to be sold by them.

Potential benefits of the websites include helping smaller players compete, saving consumers’ time and effort, averting “choice paralysis”, downward pressure on prices and product innovation.

iSelect CEO Alex Stevens says the report was timely and highlights the benefits of comparators, as well as the need for vigilance. “Developing and maintaining consumer trust is fundamental to the continued success and growth of our industry,” he said.