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Too clever to be true?

Howard Lake | 23 January 2009 | Blogs

We all remember the old adage that if something appears too good to be true then it probably is. But, every once in a while an initiative surfaces which seems, at face value, to buck the trend.

I was intrigued by the forthcoming service from Clever Squirrel which enables the public to donate to charity by giving no money whatsoever. The basics are that most financial investment products and insurance policies contain elements of fees for advisers. Not news so far.

What I didn’t realise is that because of the amount of products sold directly to the public, these fees often go unpaid and are simply kept by the financial services provider. Clever Squirrel has teamed up with Charities Trust to work under the auspices of the Financial Services Authority and reclaim this money for charitable donations.


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So, Clever Squirrel finds the money and Charities Trust handles the donations. Charities need to register and individuals need to sign up giving investment, pension or insurance details and a signature for Clever Squirrel to begin searching for pots of cash.

At this point, my internal voice starts to whisper into my ear "in this age of identity theft and fraud, are you going to give all these policy numbers and a signature to an organisation you’ve never heard of?". Perhaps I’m simply not an early adopter of new and unproven things or perhaps I just worry too much. If the idea is as good as it appears, then charities stand to benefit significantly.

The second premise, which unfortunately fuels my scepticism further, is the encouragement to get others to join the scheme. If we do, then any money discovered in the new recruit’s policies and investments will be split half between your charities and half to theirs. If it’s all about the charitable giving, why are we being asked to recruit members?

Because…. it is also a social networking forum (Facebook, Myspace, Grapevine etc. etc. etc not enough, clearly) which by default requires volume to justify future advertising revenues.

Despite that, it does still sound like a beneficial venture for charities, although I’m still not sure whether to sign up when it launches in February. Must be a mixture of my natural scepticism and being old enough to remember some decidedly dodgy pyramid schemes from the ’80s!