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.

Sport
sportGareth Bale, Carl Froch and Kelly Gallagher also in the mix for award
News
Japan's Suntory Beverage & Food has bought GlaxoSmithKline's Lucozade and Ribena
news
News
A tongue-eating louse (not the one Mr Poli found)
newsParasitic louse appeared inside unfilleted sea bass
Life and Style
Out and about: for 'Glee' character Bert Hummel, having a gay son was a learning curve
lifeEven 'cool' parents need help parenting gay teens
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Money
Anyone over the age of 40 seeking a loan with a standard term of 25 years will be borrowing beyond a normal retirement age of 65, and is liable to find their options restricted
propertyAnd it's even worse if you're 40
Arts and Entertainment
Perhaps longest awaited is the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road with Brazil’s Walter Salles directing and Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen as the Beat-era outsiders
books
Arts and Entertainment
theatreSinger to join cast of his Broadway show after The Last Ship flounders at the box office
Life and Style
fashion'To start singing with Pharrell is not that bad, no?'
News
news
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

Argyll Scott International: Risk Assurance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Hi All, I'm currently recruiting for t...

Argyll Scott International: Business Analyst - MGA - London Market - Insurance Broker

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Argyll Scott International: A Business A...

Ashdown Group: PR, Marketing & Events Executive - Southwark, London - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: PR Marketing & Events Exe...

Selby Jennings: C++ Developer – Hedge Fund – New York

$80000 - $110000 per annum, Benefits: Bonus and Employee Investment Scheme: Se...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible