I think many would answer that question with a Friedmanite ‘whatever the market will stand’. One major platform provider has just stated in their new business results that they are not seeing any, pressure to reduce margins, which I think is FD-speak for, wahey.
The real answer is a bit more nuanced and it really depends on who you are. There’s plenty out there on provider and adviser margins (try David Ferguson’s blog) so let’s concentrate on clients.
Clients are pretty constant in what they want. They’d mainly like to know how much money they’ve got and how it’s doing. The question is, how much should they have to pay for that privilege to be delivered by new technology?
It’s worth thinking of how other industries have responded to new tech. For no other reason than it’s close to home, let’s think about architecture. Not long ago, my dad would design your extension or your new office with beautiful draughtsmanship, tracing paper and templates.
Then Computer Aided Design (CAD) came in and, apart from the sadness of watching a time-honoured art form die, life changed massively for the better. It wasn’t cheap to buy but it did make life easier, plus he got to play with new kit which is always fun.
How much extra does my dad and thousands like him charge clients for using CAD? Nothing. They would consider the idea preposterous.
Spot any parallels yet? Clients, overall cost of investing should be falling as a result of platform usage, and in some cases it is. But not all. In any other industry this wouldn’t be a debate. The right price for the technology would be nothing, or less, and anyone who tried to make it otherwise would quickly feel the icy hand of Friedman on their shoulder.
If a platform is to demonstrate any client advantage at all it must be the case that it should allow clients to access investments and tax wrappers at a factory-gate cost (ie before the cost of advice) that is cheaper than buying direct.
If the platform is simply a tool then the adviser should pay for it. If it’s purely a strategic play for a provider then it should be written down as a marketing cost. Costs should only be passed on to the client if the overall cost of investing still reduces as a result.
How much is a platform worth? Strategically to providers, priceless. To advisers, well, that depends how much you like big boards and tracing paper.
To a client, less than nothing.