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Prix de l’ARC – Aegon hit the wrap market

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So after writing up Cofunds‘ new charging structure a couple of months ago, I think I’d better do the same for the newest kids on the platform block, Aegon.

Before I do, I think we should take a moment to congratulate Aegon on a) getting to market and b)being really open, upfront and transparent about their new proposition. Being open is a double-edged sword – it gives opponents something to swing at – but it’s the right thing to do.

Right. Summary time. For those of you that haven’t been watching, Aegon have linked up with Novia to bring a platform to market. It’s called ‘Aegon Retirement Choices’ (ARC) and hits the bricks today. Underneath it is the GBST technology platform, Novia’s administration and FinEx’s investment analytics. The retail platform will launch first with the usual mix of ISA, GIA, SIPP and offshore bond and a corporate version will follow next year. You can find some press reports on it here and here.

The big job for Aegon will be to get enough competitive differentiation in their proposition to catch the attention of IFAs looking for a new supplier in the run up to RDR. There are a couple of nice bits in the new proposition – it has a gross nominee account which is v handy for offshore bonds (something only Transact, Nucleus and of course Novia can compete with). However, offy bonds remain a minority sport on platforms so while this is welcome it’s probably not a massive attention grabber.

Much more interesting is the fact that clients with existing Aegon holdings can have them taken into account for wrap pricing. So a client with a £50k GPP pot and a holding of £55k on ARC will get the wrap price for £105k not £55k. That’s an excellent idea and one which lifecos grappling with persistency would do well to pay attention to.

However, it’s a fact of life that everyone will concentrate on charges. They’re tangible, they have an impact on client suitability and everyone loves talking about them. Here’s the ARC structure:

Here’s where it gets interesting. By itself this is not a particularly competitive structure and for me there are just too many tiering points. But Aegon aren’t idiots and are as capable of getting a copy of Synaptic Comparator as anyone else. So we must assume that there will be a strong trading function behind this offering account-specific terms, along the lines of Standard Life Wrap’s large adviser discounts. Without it it’s hard to see the Aegon sales guys getting past the price gatekeepers at most large – and many small – IFAs.

From this we can deduce that Aegon’s price structure is designed to be more competitive when pensions wrappers are included. Given their heritage and positioning of the ARC platform as a retirement savings vehicle, that’s not surprising. But the fact remains that collectives pricing remains the hook for many IFAs in platform decisions, and ARC may find this part of its proposition under pressure relatively quickly.

I’ll be interested to see a little deeper into the fund rebates ARC has achieved and – importantly – what the insured fund costs are. If Aegon can offer a good range of funds at very low rates then some of the pressure on the platform pricing could be eased.

So there you have it. First impressions are that this is well put together, as you’d expect from a proposition with Novia, GBST and the ex-Elevate CEO inside it. There are relatively few stand-out points at first glance and a lack of aggression in pricing will mean the Aegon sales team will need to draw on all their ingenuity to get traction. But I suspect this will be a good proposition to use and for advisers with a large bank of Aegon insured clients it may well be worth checking out early.

Now all we need is Zurich to unveil its pricing. Things are hotting up…

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About Mark Polson

lang cat founder and boss. Expert on all things platforms, pensions and investments. Prolific writer and public speaker, even when people ask him not to be. Knows more about Scandinavian black metal than you, and isn't afraid to prove it.