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THE TOP CLASS WEDNESDAY UPDATE SEES BOTH SIDES

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Back again, just as many of you head off on your half term hols. I spent a chunk of mine in Whitby, which is an excellent place. In just three days I experienced 75mph winds, fish and chips at the Magpie (twice) and an unplanned visit to a steampunk festival. You can’t get much more gloriously random than that.

Anyway, there’s lots to Update you on this week in Platform Land (still the worst theme park ever), but before I do here’s a wee thought I’ve been chatting away about as I’ve been out on tour speaking to lots of you over the last few weeks.

I know lots of planners are ‘meh’ when it comes to talking about platforms, products, investments and all that. And I get that. I got huckled by one planner after banging on about PROD, MiFID II and all the rest of it at a talk, and her point was that none of all that mattered at all. What was solely important was the bond of trust between her and her client.

I didn’t have a very good answer at the time, so I made a cheap gag about SJP and moved on. But then I thought about it some more, and here’s what I thought.

You do, I think, two things. The first is financial planning, which matters most. A good plan with average ‘kit’ will wallop good ‘kit’ with no plan, 100 times out of 100.  It is also unregulated. Neither MiFID II nor PROD nor the Dear CEO letter many of you will have received recently has anything to do with financial planning. You don’t pay FSCS levies for it.

The second – lesser – bit is the advice on and intermediation of long-term savings and investment products. This is highly regulated, and is the focus of all the regulatory activity you experience on a weekly basis.

What I’m about to write about is the second bit. That’s the bit that gets compliance, and regulation and all the rest of it excited. It is also, of course, the mechanism by which you take your compensation for the work you do in the first bit.

BACK TO THE SUBJECT, POLSON
Righty ho. So the first thing to mention is Wealthtime’s acquisition by Anacap, the private equity firm. This has been a long time in the making, but here it is now. The business will be led by Patrick Mill, ex-CEO of Alliance Trust Savings, and Richard Denning, ex COO/CTO of Novia amongst others. The Wealthtime senior team are still there too.

Wealthtime is a small platform by design – about £2bn AUA at the last count – but is loved beyond measure by most of its users. It also is the last platform standing in terms of offering a fixed fee shape now that ATS has found its new home in Embark. I think most Wealthtime users don’t really want change; they love the personal nature and almost club-type feel of the relationship they have there. But that’s not the commercial world, and so here we are.

PE involvement is always about whether the baby goes out with the bathwater (seriously, have you ever heard of a baby going down the plughole?). We will have to trust that the team there knows what its franchise is and knows that its challenge is to grow Wealthtime without losing what has made it special.

ANOTHER THING
Less well developed is the story on Ascentric; Royal London is considering its strategic options. Again, this story has been around for a long time, but we’re finally there. I don’t know what will happen here – too early to say – but I do know that the one thing platforms need is an owner who is committed. Whether that’s a PE firm, or a provider, or a set of individual shareholders, or a listing isn’t as important as that commitment. I think the platform market should have Ascentric in it, and whatever the outcome of this review I hope it gets it. I should say I think RL deserves credit for having stuck with Ascentric through some difficult and expensive years; I think it’s turning a corner now and is on the road back.

AND ANOTHER THING
We also need to talk about Quilter, or whatever you prefer to call it. I can’t get used to it not being Skandia, let alone OMW, but then I’m still upset that Kev isn’t in Acid Reign any more.

Today Quilter (nailed it) announce a price cut to their soon-to-be new platform. The detail will be up on lots of sites, but broadly speaking it means a five basis point cut for funds from about £25k up to £500k and a bit more from that to £1m. So a £130k portfolio (about average for that platform) drops by about four basis points. Not lots, but better in your client’s pocket than OMW’s (dammit).

Perhaps more importantly, you get new family linking protocols which go beyond spouse (which you’ve always had) and which cover multiple generations, from grandparents to grandkids and so on. This is very welcome. I think we need to do a piece of work on the relative generosity of platforms’ family linking offerings – let me know if you think that would be useful.

Quilter isn’t known for cutting its price – this is the first big change since 2012 except a removal of some drawdown charges – but of course it does get involved in tactical pricing as do so many platforms now. Nonetheless, this sort of thing is always welcome, and cements Quilter at or around the sort-of 30bps mark for typical cases before any deals. What will really matter to firms, though, is whether the crunch moments of replatforming are indeed well handled – that’s much more important than a few basis points here or there. So far we think it looks well planned and controlled (as well it might given how long it’s been on the go), but there’s a long way to travel yet.

So there you have it – three big bits of platform news, which you may or may not care about. I can’t control that.

BUT I CAN CONTROL THE LINKS

  • The FCA’s 2020 Sector Views are out. Loads of good stats in here, including some stuff on scammers. Also a nod to ‘platform or administration failures’ denting consumer confidence. Definitely worth a read; beware ‘consultancies’ reheating what’s in here and selling it back to you…
  • If you are interested in ensuring you are up to date with everything to do with platforms and would also like an easy comparison tool and full due diligence system, then we have one of those now. Please do give Platform Analyser a look. There’s a free version, and if you want to try the cool stuff it’s £25pm plus the tax, with a week free to evaluate it. We think it’s very good.
  • Last week we asked you to help us with rating platforms; that’s us getting you to tell us your stories. We’ve had a great response – thank you for all of the ratings done already – but we are insatiable and want more. So if you work in an adviser firm or a paraplanning firm we would really love to hear from you as part of our Platform Ratings survey.  It takes no more than 5 minutes to complete, and it’s anonymous. Here’s the link once again.
  • D2C news – as we were loading this week’s Update into the breech of the lang cat’s email cannon we heard that Vanguard has finally launched its SIPP. Just the 2 years late. Citywire has it all here.
  • And your music choice this week isn’t female fronted death metal – that’s next week – but instead has to be a tribute to Andy Weatherall. Loads of huge tunes I could choose, but here’s Fallen by One Dove – the band that introduced me to Weatherall. I heard this before I heard Screamadelica.


See you next week

Mark

Posted in: #Top Class Wednesday Update  

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.

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