Sunday 19 August 2018

Charlie Weston: It's time watchdogs clamped down on 'confusopoly' as firms baffle us to extract more money

'The objective is to confuse the consumer to the extent that they will not be clear about what choice they are making and they can be talked into just about anything.' (Stock image)
'The objective is to confuse the consumer to the extent that they will not be clear about what choice they are making and they can be talked into just about anything.' (Stock image)
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

Are you confused about offers, tariffs and discounts being offered by product and service providers in the market? Then you are not alone, and you should not feel bad about it.

That is because companies deliberately set out to wreck our heads, in the hope that we will not move our business away from them. It means we end up being overcharged.

Economists call this confusopoly. This is when sellers of products or services set out to confuse the buyer in order to make more money for themselves by making it extremely difficult to work out what is the best product in the market. Often the products or services are similar. In this country, health insurance, mobile phone tariffs and mortgage rates are text-book examples of confusopoly at work.

The objective is to confuse the consumer to the extent that they will not be clear about what choice they are making and they can be talked into just about anything. And guess what? The consumer loses out.

Take health insurance. There are just three players in the market, but there are now 373 different health plans, up 13 from the end of 2015.

The market is hard for consumers to navigate due to the large number of products and the rate at which products or their prices are updated, according to the Health Insurance Authority, one of two regulators for the sector. This situation, of a multiplicity of similar plans with strange names, works against consumers. Older subscribers tend to the big losers, often paying 30pc more for cover than younger people.

The other regulator of insurers is the Central Bank.

Why is it beyond the wit of the Central Bank, the Health Insurance Authority and the Department of Health to get together and come up with proposals to counter the attempts by insurers to confuse us into paying too much?

The best way for consumers to fight back is to use a good health insurance broker.

The same applies when it comes to choosing a mortgage. You need someone to guide you through the financial maze.

People who are bamboozled by mobile phone contracts would be wise to download the free Killbiller (see KillBiller.com) app.

This is the brainchild of an Irish company. It burrows into your phone and assesses your usage, and recommends better-value plans.

 

Charlie Weston is the co-author with Karl Deeter of This Book Is Worth €25,000, published by Gill and available for €12.99 from all major bookshops. Sunday Independent readers can order the book with free post and packaging. Call 01-5009570, within Ireland and quote INDG17.

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