‘Neither agree nor disagree’ (or 'neutral') is a legitimate response to a psychometric assessment; it is has been widely used and tested in academic settings.
There should be no danger of seeing even an unbroken string of such answers as a non-response, provided the client has answered honestly.
Psychometric traits tend to be normally distributed so we would expect to see many people expressing moderate views on well-balanced questions. Forcing them to take a specific side would not reflect the reality of their neutrality.
A psychometric scale is also about the overall score across many questions, not the responses to individual questions – that is, it is the statistical distribution of responses across the whole score that matters.
Of course, this works only if:
- the items are well understood; and
- the scale can pass statistical tests determining reliability and validity.
It is also important that sufficient questions are used to minimise any idiosyncratic responses to specific questions – again something we test rigorously.
The FCA’s definitive position on this isn’t clear, because their comments tend to reflect the fact their attention is focused on poorly designed questionnaires.
The FCA does not automatically view these as a non-response, though they have expressed concerned that such responses may (with poorly tested or selected questions) lead to a ’non-answer’, particularly where there is a risk that the middle option is selected because of 'lack of understanding' or 'lack of investment experience'.
Viewed in the context of other questionnaires, which often require a higher level of financial literacy than it is right to expect, this is a concern we share.
The Oxford Risk assessments are tested on large populations for understanding and are specifically designed so as not to require any investment experience to answer them: we don’t want to test knowledge, we want to test risk tolerance.