I’ve been banging on a bit on twitter recently about not being in favour of the Great Direct Platform Price War. However, thinking more about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that the actual price war is fine. It’s the narrative in the media that is the problem. For me, a narrow focus on price alone, especially in the direct world, does no one any great favours. Race to the bottom and all that. Yes,Â it’s a great thing that prices overall are coming down. Competitive forces will mean that those propositions that are able to sharpen their pencils will do so, to the benefit of the Great British investing public and those than can’t will probably go out of business or become niche players. Hey ho. Such is life.
Here at the lang cat, we have produced pricing tables. These are ‘pure’ platform pricing tables. They don’t account for fund costs. As Mark Polson’s always stressed, these tables are jumping off points. They are a basis for self-investors to be able to see, at a glance, which platform provider is most competitive at various investment sizes. Self investors then need to go away and do their own investigation. In addition to the amount they have to invest, they need to understand what type of investor they are and how they will behave (regular trader, passive investor, funds only, investment trusts, shares! the list goes on). Only then will they be able to make an informed decision.
Jason Holland, MD of Bestinvest, who is no advocate of the price war, posed this question to me: Is a Romanian Dacia better than a BMW or Mercedes? Yes – if all you compare is cost, not the actual car. It’s a fair point. But it does neatly gloss over one very important thing. Many people can’t afford a BMW or Mercedes, so a cheaper alternative is very likely to be ‘better’ for them. Which goes back to my point about knowing what type of investor you are.
There are people in the industry knocking the press for fixating on price. I think that’s a bit unfair. It’s this very industry that has been fuelling the price war fire in the media, the personal finance journos have been doing a decent job reporting on the various announcements that the PR reps of the various platforms have been releasing. And guess what? the vast majority of those announcements have been about price.
Clive Waller at CWC Research sent me a fair challenge on Twitter. He suggested the narrative was down to the PRs to influence. And he’s spot on. If this industry wants to move the focus from price alone and move the story on Ã¢ÂÂ then we just need to get on and do it. New kids on the direct platform block, Strawberry Finance, did it last week by placing a really good case study with the Mail on Sunday. For my part, I’m trying to move away from price alone for one of my PR clients (AXA Self Investor).
So here’s the challenge to all the PR reps out there at all the direct platforms. If you don’t like the price war narrative; change it. Provide personal finance journalists with interesting case studies. If your platform is one of the more expensive ones, demonstrate why it’s more expensive. But for god’s sake, please don’t say it’s a ‘value’ proposition. We have some pretty strong thoughts about that kind of guff here at the lang cat.
In the end, there are no victims in a war of this kind, only participants. It’s up to the participants what they want to get out of all this, and up to them to move the debate on.