Which? planning £20m commercial expansion

 

Business Editor

The consumer association Which? is planning a £20m push to expand its commercial activities, which could make up a third of its profits in the next five years.

The charity is investing the cash being thrown off from its publishing arm into divisions that sell mortgages and write wills for customers.

Peter Vicary-Smith, Which? chief executive, said he was on the lookout to enter markets “which are broken fundamentally; where the model of competition isn’t working”.

The strategy marks a departure for the charity whose reputation is founded on supplying impartial advice.

Its expansion has raised concerns that Which? may become conflicted. Recent campaigns include calls to make energy more affordable, preventing the sale of dodgy financial products and the consistent unit pricing of food by the major supermarkets. But Mr Vicary-Smith insisted the company could strike a balance, adding: “We are absolutely upfront with people about what we are doing and why we are doing it.”

Which? now boasts it produces Britain’s biggest-selling monthly magazine, having overtaken golden oldies’ title Saga. It has a record 1.4 million print and digital subscribers, compared to 812,000 a decade ago. Group turnover is expected to be close to £100m in the latest financial year, up from £85m last year. Operating profit is expected to have risen again too, from £18.2m last year. A decade ago it was £6.7m. Which? has more than £100m on its balance sheet and unlike most other charities it is self-funding and does not take donations or government aid.

“We are spending behind the curve of the money coming in,” said Vicary-Smith. “The publishing business is doing really well, bucking the trend, but we can’t assume that is going to carry on forever.”

Which? launched into offering mortgage advice two-and-a- half years ago and now employs 100 at its broking operation in Bristol In the South-east, Which? also launched Trusted Traders at the end of last year, a database of 6,000 plumbers, builders and handy men that is being expanded to the Midlands and eventually nationwide.

Its legal services business advises on will-writing and consumer rights in the areas such as travel and motoring and is developing a conveyancing service but has no plans to follow the likes of PwC and insurer Direct Line in applying for an Alternative Business Structures (ABS) licence that would let it offer everything a law firm does.

Which? chairman Mike Clasper traces the change in the charity’s fortunes back to when the Consumers’ Association rebranded all its activities under the Which? umbrella.

“We used to campaign against faulty kettles or car repairs then Which? would produce a magazine of consumer advice and nobody would associate the two together.

“The core business was declining steadily and unspectacularly. Now it has grown dramatically,” said Clasper, who was the chief executive of airports group BAA and now also chairs zips and threads maker Coats.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine