Those ‘OMG… I’m going to get fired!’ moments in the life of a PR are actually quite rare. Thankfully. But they are moments that stay with you for ever. My biggest OMG moment came on 17 January 2008 when a relative non-story (I would say that, wouldn’t I?) around the temporary closure of a property fund made the front page splash of the Guardian with a screaming “Northern Rock style run on fund” narrative (on the same day a plane crash landed at Heathrow, by the way).

It was entirely my fault. I didn’t think the story was that big, the journalist I pre-briefed did.

Things really kicked into ‘Crisis Management’ mode the day that story broke. I dragged my sorry self into the office and sheepishly apologised to the CEO and Director of Comms, who were remarkably understanding under the circumstances. I dusted off the Emergency Response manual and got to work drafting reactive statements, taking and making calls and tried to kill the story before it got out of hand. And it worked, more-or-less. The following stories were all balanced and fair and it all blew over relatively quickly. And I wasn’t fired.

But it only worked because there was a process in place to manage a crisis scenario. Everyone around me pulled together. Everyone followed the plan and there was no blame or recrimination.

I only mention this because when I was reading the Davis report of the inquiry into the events relating to the press briefing of information in the FCAs 2014/15 business plan this morning – admittedly with a certain amount of Schadenfreude – something struck me as a bit bizarre.

Actually, a few things struck me as bizarre, but this above all others:

4.94 – When the events unfolded on 28 March 2014, the FCA was taken by surprise. There was no emergency action plan in place to deal with an adverse market reaction to a story which appeared to have originated with the FCA.

There was no Crisis Management plan in place! That’s frankly unbelievable and unforgivable given the size and influence of the FCA.

If there had been a proper action plan in place, I’m sure that something could have been done to lessen the impact of the story. Instead, it looks like a bunch of people ran around panicking whilst simultaneously donning Teflon suits, rather than just manning-up, taking responsibility and knuckling down quickly to minimise the damage to the industry.

And there’s the lesson for all of us in communications and PR. Stuff happens. Mistakes are made from time to time. But when things go wrong, if you don’t have a plan to put it right, quickly, events will take over and you’ll be left looking a little bit useless.

It really is this simple. Plan for the worst* and hope for the best.

*We can help you do this by the way. And it won’t cost you £4m.

Pensions: we’ve got your best interests at heart


That’s the sound from the pensions industry and a good part of the advice profession in respect of the idea that pension savers might take their pots and run.

And harrumphing turned to apoplexy the other day when some upstarts from a firm called Wise Pensions noised things up with talk of a pensions credit card.

I don’t know anything about Wise Pensions other than they are part of the Wise Group and they have a name that’s asking for trouble if something goes wrong.

But I do know a guy called Steve Bee (@pensionsguru) who I used to work with at a company called Scottish Life (shortly not to be called that any more; a sad day).

Steve used to tour a lot and from time to time I would go with him and present to IFAs. You had to sit through me banging on about whatever before the guy in the dark glasses with the overhead projector came on (those of you who know Steve will get that).

I remember on a tour in (I think) 2004 or 2005 that he talked about the idea of having a pensions cashcard. Sometimes you’d put money into the hole in the wall, and sometimes you’d get money out. It would move pensions from being ‘far’ money to something people could relate to, and it would cross that bridge of making the intangible tangible. Something as simple as a bit of plastic can do that. It would rehabilitate pensions in a single stroke and make them sexy in a way they’d never been.

Steve was right. It took 10 years or so, but we’re here.

The patrician elements of our industry have been quick to condemn this as irresponsible. “You can’t be trusted!” they say. “You can’t get your hands on your pension money until you prove to us you won’t do anything silly with it!”

This is as logical as not allowing your toddler to play with the ball until they prove they can share it nicely with their sister. And it’s just as patronising.

Treat people like children and they’ll act like children. Whether it’s the IMA saying that people can’t deal with transparency on fund charges because they don’t know how their car’s engine works (grrrrr), or the pensions industry saying that people mustn’t take money in the way they want to, it’s like we are asking for a toddler tantrum and thrown food. With pension reform, savers are being offered a chance to never have to interact with pension companies ever again. That sounds good to a lot of folk, I’d suggest.

Another wise man, John Lappin of Mindful Money, said a brilliant thing to me the other day – that pension savers with a decent amount in their pot will be prudent in retirement – because they have been already. They’ve done their bit. They’ve proved they can play nicely with the ball. They should be trusted.

And if people with smaller pots (maybe above triviality but not enough to buy a decent annuity or get into drawdown) decide to take the money, pay off debt or go on holiday or whatever, why not? It’s their money. At the lang cat we call this phase GYMBOAGetting Your Money Back Out Again. It’s our name for decumulation. The key being it’s the client’s money, not ours as an industry.

People doing this are acting rationally, despite protestations to the contrary. They’re acting in accordance with one of the most fundamental economic principles – that of utility. They are saying they will derive more utility or enjoyment from using their money in that way than having an extra £25 a week or so for the rest of their life (which is about right for a £25k pot for a male, age 65, good health, 50% spouse’s pension with a 5-year differential, G5, no escalation) . They get to decide that.

And if that’s the sum of their pension provision, then they’re depending on either working in retirement or state benefits or both anyway. All they were doing was replacing some or all of their own means-tested benefits. Those of us paying tax would probably rather they didn’t do that, but you know what? The country will stand.

Everything’s up in the air at the moment. Guidance, pension freedom, sunset clause, adviser charging – it’s not a time to bet everything on knowing how it’ll all turn out. But we do know that people like control. We do know that most people are sensible most of the time. We do know that there are dafties out there. But dafties will be dafties.

So where do we start as the pensions world breaks apart in a way which suggests we might not get assets to hang onto for as long as we had planned? No-one’s sure.

But trusting people isn’t a bad place to begin.

No, you can’t have it. You’ll only spend it on Octonauts figures.

Innovation or indecision. We decide.

Reading the FCA’s Project Innovate feedback statement over a cup of tea this morning triggered some lively debate at lang cat port authority about life, the universe and how financial services has changed (or not, depending on your point of view) in the past couple of decades.

Just pop an ISA in the basket whilst you're at it. Thanks!

Just pop an ISA in the basket whilst you’re at it. Thanks!

We were quite excited to see Amazon, along with several venture capital and crowdfunding types in the list of non-confidential responders to the FCA. And – trade associations to one side – a bit depressed by the relative lack of representation from the ‘traditional’ life and pensions sector. Don’t the established players care about innovation anymore? Are they capable of it?

Existential angst hung in the air …

Two memories from my early career sprang to mind. One, of a respected lifeco senior manager saying he didn’t think open architecture investment products/platforms could ever catch on (ha ha). The other, the story of how a well-known airline had to outsource creating a seat that could convert to a proper, flat bed to a luxury yacht manufacturer. Because the airline engineers where too flummoxed by technicalities and established development processes to do it themselves.

Paralysis by analysis is a pretty easy trap to fall into.

In our industry, whether you’ll receive a kicking from the regulator for daring to be different gives an added frisson of danger when it comes to stepping into the unknown. So we’re all for Project Innovate if it gives people the confidence to push the boundaries more.

The Innovate feedback statement reflected the usual tension between people wanting the FCA to tell them what to do and hold their hand (Daddy FCA, please make this world safe for us) and people wanting the FCA to back off, stop wasting levy payers money and just let them get on with it (Do you think we’re stupid? We know what we’re doing. Treat us like adults, please.)

But in reality the FCA can only ever do so much. To some extent they will always be running to catch up: group personal pensions, Alternative Trading Systems in the wholesale market, platform service providers – all things that emerged as square pegs to the regulatory round hole until policy makers caught up. For my money, industry indecision – risk, risk, rabbits, headlights – is the real enemy here.

How prepared are we to commit to change – to blow the whistle and go over the top in the name of properly ‘out there’ ideas? Or are we still too worried about the potential consequences? Are we still prone to take refuge in endless information gathering and finger pointing at the regulator?

The presence of a giant internet business like Amazon on an FCA Project Innovate list should be a wake-up call. Better make up our minds and innovate if we’re going to embrace the changing face of financial services and live to fight another day. Or stand by and suffer death by wilful indecision.

Only we can decide.

Guest blog from Rob Bray

Rob Bray is a Wealth Architect, which is probably some kind of a financial planner or something, with Imperious Capital. He’s also a loose cannon and a great writer, all of which makes him someone we’re chuffed to have doing a guest blog on the site. Rob sent me this note after reading The Value of Nothing and I bent his arm up behind his back to let me publish it. This is just as Rob wrote it, minus a couple of swears and stuff. Over to Rob.

You know, I’ve been trying to get platforms and advisers to get this for 5 or 6 years now. But it is REALLY hard to push an industry that has spent a lifetime on being given sweeties from providers to advisers to understand the bleedin’ obvious.

  •  the value relationship is between the adviser and client
  • and NOT between the client and provider

Stuff like smart rebalancing (reduces client tax = better client returns which is as good as reductions in costs), tax calculations etc are better than back office integrations which make the adviser’s life easier but do not necessarily add value to the client. Well, they might do if the IFA reduces her fees as a result or provides a better service…. but good luck articulating the latter.

I’ve been using a (ropey) analogy for all these years

  • clients are passengers seeking to cross the Atlantic
  • IFAs are travel agents
  • platforms are the ocean liners

Clearly, not all passengers will see value in the same way. Some want the lowest price and are happy to go steerage. Others want to sit at the Captain’s table. Some want to get there quickly and don’t care about the discomfort of a cat (ahem…. different sort of cat). Whatever. The key point is they can make a value judgement based on a visible aspect of service.

What drives me potty is when the ocean liners want to spend money on, say, better uniforms for their staff. Or, let’s say, better working conditions for the guys in the boiler room. Passengers don’t give a monkey’s. Try selling a higher priced ticket on the basis of “well, we provide better aircon for our stokers”.  You might find a few, socially conscious passengers who will buy into that along with cheap wool for some more badly made, home-knitted uniforms – and that’s okay if that’s a proposition you want to promote as a niche.

My pea brain rationalises that if I can get passengers there quicker, or cheaper, or in better luxury for the same cost: I’ll get more or better clients and make more money. If that puts a strain on my back office, I’ll pay more monkeys (lots of simians in this story) to bash away on typewriters to get the work done. I want the margin on the table between the client and me so we can decide what to do with it rather than any spare margin being spent by the platforms to provide something that I then have to work out how to justify to the client. Of course, I can’t: because rather like corporate hospitality, golf days and trips to Paris, many of these things are the new inducements to IFAs to use the provider rather than a reason for clients to be placed with a provider.

[/ End of sermon]

It's really not.

It’s really not.


Orchestrated Maneouvres in the Wealth


Yeah, sorry about that.

So it’s been a while since I wrote here, which is daft, but no-one said I was smart. Anyway, I wanted to rekindle the blog a bit, so you’ll have to put up with it, unless you stop reading here, when you won’t. So that’s all good.

Skandia Old Mutual Wealth (OMW; which my phone insists on auto-correcting to a jaunty ‘On My Way!’ – grrrrr) yesterday got freaky with the tweaky and announced two new tweaks to its charging structure, just too late for our new advised platform guide, The Value of Nothing, which is available etc etc. Here’s what it did:

  1. a removal of the £100 (well, £99 and change) annual minimum charge
  2. a removal of all drawdown charges.

We’ll do them in order. The removal of the minimum charge is more a symbolic thing than anything else. It only kicked in below assets of £20k or so, and that’s not enough to trouble most clients of advisers. However, the principle of a provider making their proposition so punitively expensive for smaller investors on the basis it didn’t suit them commercially never sat well with me, or with many others, and really if SkandiaOldMutualInvestmentWealthSolutions didn’t want smaller investors it should have set a minimum investment size and have done with it. So this is a welcome correction to an anomalous structure and should, I expect, remove a couple of red lines on a TCF report somewhere. On My Way! – dammit – OMW is still a relatively expensive place to put a £10k ISA, so I shouldn’t imagine there will be many regrets.

We’d normally publish new heatmaps when there’s a change with a big provider like this, but there’s no point really as our ‘maps start at £20k and it’s only below this that it makes a difference. So if you’ve got the new Guide – and if not then shame on you, go here to sort that out – it’s as you were in terms of the competitive position.

Much more interesting is the removal of drawdown charges. Again, we’ve got an in-depth analysis of drawdown in the Guide, but one of the points we make is that the new price benchmark for getting your money back out again (GYMBOA, you’ll be reading it everywhere soon) is zero. Zero is what Aviva and FundsNetwork charge. It’s what Nucleus has always charged. And now it’s what OMW charges too.

This is good. Generally speaking, it’s normal practice in providers to soak those with the most money (those in later life who’ve accumulated wealth) for the most in charges, either on a percentage basis or through fixed activity fees like drawdown. But the technology behind platforms, even the more bare-bones efforts, is generally capable of paying out income on an an automated basis. Additional admin is generally down to inefficiency or user error (some complex cases aside) and, of course, it’s the client’s money anyway and why should they pay more to get it back out a bit at a time?

Behind the scenes somewhere is a spreadsheet postulating that although there will be a loss in drawdown revenue, this will be more than made up for by increased persistency (keeping money on the platform longer) because advisers will not transfer clients away just pre-retirement to access lower charges, especially for multiple crystallisation scenarios.

I don’t know if that spreadsheet is right: it doesn’t matter, really. A decent whack of the market now allows investors to access their own money without paying extra for the privilege, and that’s to be applauded.

If we must put up with ad valorem charges, then the least the providers charging them can do is to be gracious enough to treat them as an all-included feast. And that means resisting the temptation to bilk those in their third age.

Ooooh, that looks nice

Oooh, that looks like an excellent platform guide. What happens if I click the image?


Graham Greene gets insured fund economics

The first blog from me for a very, very long time. Once you get out the habit of this stuff it’s hard to get back into it. Never mind, here we are now. I know how you’ve all missed it, so much so that you’ve barely felt able to articulate how keenly you feel its loss.

Stuff like that.

Anyway, felt moved to write after the Skandia volte-face on a bulk switch of its insured Invesco Perpetual High Income money over to the new Woodford fund. This would have involved something like £640m of OPM (Other People’s Money), so it wasn’t a small thing. Today, after howls of protest from advisers, Skandia has woken up and realised this is a bad idea. Not only on the grounds of the fact that there’s little obviously wrong with Barnett’s stewardship of the IP juggernaut he took over from The Neil, but also on the grounds that it was going to charge investors 1% for the privilege of implementation of a decision those investors had no hand in. Not cool.

Now, I think we should move past the fact that Skandia came late to the party, and celebrate that it got there at all. Much like Aegon’s recent Damascene conversion on ‘orphan’ business, it’s churlish to moan when the result is right. As it stands now, advisers and investors can choose whether to move to the Woodford fund, there will be no 1% charge, and the TERs have dropped a little too.

So fair play to Skandia. The rest of this isn’t about Skandia; it’s about insured funds generally.

Reaction to the concept of switching an insured mandate like this has been apoplectic in some quarters. Those who are observers of the inner workings of lifecos, conversely, have been barely surprised. As Graham Greene nearly said, “You cannot conceive, nor can I, of the appalling strangeness of the insured fund sector.”

Platforms and unbundled mutual funds have become so much our currency, that some folks seem to have forgotten that when you use an insured external fund link (EFL) in an insurance or pension contract, you are not investing directly in that fund. You are investing in a box, which may or may not invest in that fund at particular times. The insured fund ‘mirrors’ the EFL to a greater or lesser extent depending on the amount of finagling that’s going on. Some mirrors are ‘tight’ and reflect the underlying performance of the fund closely, others are what we would call ‘pish’.

We also should remember that the charge for the EFL has bugger all to do with the actual cost of the fund to the insurance company. You may be accessing the EFL at, say, 1%, but the lifeco may be getting it at an insto rate of, say, 0.15%. The difference between the two is available for distribution to deserving causes, such as long term incentive plans for directors.

I don’t know the economics behind the Skandia decision, and neither do you (although I suspect you do at the back there, you sly old devil). But there will be some; that’s the nature of this kind of business.

Recently I’ve been seeing a resurgence in both proposition teams and advisers thinking more closely about off-platform products and whether there is a way of bringing the insured world (which was so great and client-centric we had to remake the industry to get rid of it) closer to the post-RDR, PS13/1 compliant, shiny new world.

If this episode serves to remind us of one thing, it’s that if we are interested in transparency of client outcomes as a first step on the road to improving those outcomes – something that will take a while – then insured funds and products need to be brought under exactly the same regimen as their unbundled cousins. Anything else is ludicrous.

Just ask Greeney.

“Most things disappoint till you look deeper. Apart from insured funds. They're fine."

“Most things disappoint till you look deeper. Apart from insured funds. They’re fine.”

FCA Guidance Consultation (GC14/3)

In an effort to avoid offending fans of any other literary greats (and quite possibly the FCA), I’ll keep to the point this time. I’ll even resist the urge to draw one last parallel between Jane Austen’s Emma (which while often considered Austen’s most accomplished work, is distinguished by the fact that nothing of note actually happens) and Guidance Consultation 14/3 (GC 14/3).

OK, so I might have failed in the whole not-offending-the-FCA thing there but that’s the feeling which comes from reading GC14/3. It rounds up existing regulation in one place (which is very helpful but not news), offers some clarifications based on this and sets out the next steps. There is a lot of potential but this is just the start of the process and it could be this time next year before we see this come to fruition. Such is life and consultation papers.

So what did GC14/3 have to say for itself? Here are a few snippets we think are worth a mention.

The Duck Test – challenged

The FCA had previously intimated that whether or not advice has been given could be determined largely by the customer’s perception: ‘if it looks and feels like advice, it probably is advice’. GC14/3 qualifies that somewhat, stating that while the consumer’s perception is important, it will not always be correct and will not on its own determine whether advice has been given. Rather it’s more about external perception: would a ‘reasonable observer’ view the service as meeting the criteria of a personal recommendation? It’s still open to interpretation but might provide a little more comfort for providers.

Consumer perception – the human factor

As part of the GC14/3 work, the FCA commissioned consumer research. I already talked about this in a previous blog so won’t dwell but one point which is worth a mention is the importance of the medium by which information is communicated to consumers in the non-advised space. It seems most are pretty clear that non-advised services which are accessed online are just that. Non-advised. It’s when human interaction exists that scope for confusion appears to creep in alongside. While nearly all direct platforms offer telephone support to some extent, the majority guide you to FAQs or email. On reflection, that might not be a bad thing.

So where is the line between advice and not advice?

Clearly this deserves more than a few lines but since that’s all we have let’s see what we can do.

It’s not necessarily what is said that determines whether information crosses the line into investment advice as how it is presented. In essence, if there is an ‘opinion or judgement’ then it’s looking like advice. So, information in emails and mailings about fund launches, changes in manager and performance could be putting a toe over the line of advice if the information is presented in such a way as to ‘influence’ or ‘persuade’. A few terse meetings of comms teams could be underway by now.

Simplifying simplified advice

Some firms have apparently shelved plans for simplified advice services as, despite have the tech and enthusiasm, being unsure of or overestimating the requirements of FCA rules resulted in risk costs being factored in that rendered plans commercially non-viable. It was reported that, in some cases, direct investment services had been launched instead. Might we then see a surge of simplified advice offerings in this brave new world? There is certainly a market for it. There are good support tools on offer but for some, the option to get advice on an as-you-need-basis is the perfect compromise and, if it can be done cost effectively, is good for all concerned. The fact that advisory firms offering simplified advice cannot call themselves independent (as simplified is classed as restricted) could leave this field more open to platforms.

Providers need support from the FCA to avoid stepping over the advice line and anything which encourages consumers to engage with their investment is good news.  The tech is there and we could see some innovative stuff coming to the market if it can be carefully untangled from regulatory uncertainty, given a gentle pat on the rump and sent on its way.

Miss Woodhouse demands (more accessible and useful disclosure documents)

In Jane Austen’s Emma, during the rather bad-tempered picnic to Box Hill, mischief-making Frank Churchill addresses the assembled party. He asserts that Miss Emma Woodhouse wishes to be entertained and so demands from each of them ‘one thing very clever… or two things moderately clever; or three things very dull indeed.’

Mr Frank Churchill’s highly questionable motivations aside, this raises the question of who wouldn’t prefer to read one very well written, to the point and engaging item instead of two not so good or three truly impenetrable items? We all would, wouldn’t we? It’s common sense.

Sadly, the financial services industry as it currently stands is heavily weighted to the ‘three things very dull indeed’ end of the scale when it comes to disclosing information to customers. This is largely symptomatic of providers being unclear on what exactly is required of them by the regulator and throwing everything at it bar the kitchen sink to be on the safe side.

An unfortunate consequence is that consumers are deterred by this wall of words. Multiple, lengthy documents to cover even simple products with additional charging structures and key features are overwhelming. The end result is that these documents are either skimmed (at best) or quietly ignored, meaning investors are not making informed decisions and are at risk of detriment.

But, this could be about to change for the better.

One of the main issues addressed by Guidance Consultation 14/3 (GC 14/3) is the provision of information about financial services to customers. As part of this work the FCA commissioned research into how customers experience and engage with this information.

The outcome confirmed what we already know (but validation is always nice): customers want

  • the ‘must know’ facts in easily digestible nuggets of plain English
  • a clear and consistent format for ‘must know’ facts and for charging to help comparisons
  • telephone support, with easy to find details
  • clear information at purchase on recourse
  • reminders of the key points of purchase before the final decision is made

This resonates with much of what we’ve been saying for a while about how providers present information to customers and we know we’re by no means alone in this. We’ve been looking at the direct investment market rather a lot of late (but we’ll come back to that) and have seen a mixed bag indeed but no-one who really seems to quite hit the mark.

The FCA plans to work with providers to understand why they do not communicate with customers in a more accessible way, then establish the role that the Handbook plays in this. This is a big thing; a bold move and heartening to see.

While the FCA isn’t exactly putting its hand up to drowning accessible investor disclosure in a bucket of COBS rules, the good souls at Canary Wharf must know that they’re going to take what’s referred to in the field as ‘an absolute kicking’ from pretty much everyone they speak to. And that will have to be reflected in the eventual consultation paper.

The aim is to remove the ambiguity and give firms confidence to choose between belt and braces in terms of content. A consultation will follow later this year which could, potentially, see the end of certain (unspecified) disclosure rules which are not benefiting customers.

Emma is a matchmaker but I’m not convinced even she could plan a happy union between the FCA, advisers and providers. It could be a step in the right direction though and the first step on the inevitably lengthy journey from three things (T&Cs, KFDs and charging structures for example) very dull indeed to one thing very clever.

Which brings is neatly back to our having been busy in all things direct lately. No spoilers but we’ve been busy and we’re going to be making quite a lot of noise about it in the next few weeks. Eyes peeled and ears perked…


Tightening the ZIP – Zurich makes a move

It’s been, ooh, I dunno, weeks or something since a platform mucked around with its charging structure. So it’s with a sense of relief that we heard from our friends at Zurich last week that the Zurich Intermediary Platform – the only platform whose acronym is named after a clothes fastening – has stepped up and done the decent thing.

Now, when ZIP came out we gave it a bit of a monstering on the charges front (whilst observing that its non-standard front end was actually really nice). The structure as it stood could only have been designed by committee, with too many tier points and, unforgivably, charges to three decimal places. An example if ever there was of the numbers monkeys winning out over the needs of the customer.

Thankfully, with Zurich’s reprice, three decimal places are a thing of the past, and there are now fewer tiers as well. Some investors, especially at the lower end, will be quite a bit better off, and that’s a good thing.

This is all very timely, given TR 14/10 and GC 14/03 (the links go to the papers themselves; we’ll do a blog on these very shortly). Specifically, GC 14/03 recommends that information should be accessible to the most inexperienced self-investor. The research found that customers want small chunks of ‘must know’ basics, in plain English and in a clear and consistent format so they can find what they need to know and make informed comparisons. Not exactly ground-breaking but a robust and timely reinforcement which we hope will lead to real change for the better. We suspect that charges calculated to the nearest thousandth of a percent don’t measure up.

OK, on with the show. Here’s what Zurich has done:

Screenshot 2014-07-14 20.48.15

Prior to this we had 0.45% up to £50k and 0.325% (snark) between £50k and £100k.

It’s a basic tiered structure – no fixed elements, no caps, steps, or anything to mark it out from the norm. Family linking is available as long as the combined portfolios are over £200k. The SIPP (‘Retirement Account’) has a £75 annual charge, but that’s waived for new investors before 5 January 2015. We’re not a fan of ‘new investors only’ offers, but there we go. Cash is subject to a well-disclosed skim of 0.1% per annum. Trading is £10.50 a pop apart from big trades, if it moves Zurich will pretty much pre-fund it, and that’s about it.

So what do we think? First of all, once again we must just point out that this constant market adjustment shows that price does matter. It’s not the only thing, of course. We never claimed otherwise. But charging remains a key element of suitability – and we expect to see this brought into sharp focus in the due diligence thematic review later this year.

Let’s check the heatmaps (as ever in blogs, just a cut; subscribers get the full thing). ISA/GIA first:


and now SIPP:


ZIP’s pricing is sort of unexciting now, which is probably what the guys were going for – fair enough. It’s on the market, not leading the market, and is basically unremarkable in most ways. It’s certainly harder to make jokes about, which is a bummer for us. So amber-ish mid-table positions all round, except for the no-fee period on the Retirement Account.

We know distributing through large intermediaries is a key part of Zurich’s skillset, and those deals are always done at custom rates around the industry. Book price isn’t that important. So we note a couple of things – it may be that getting support from more regional firms is increasing in importance. And the trimming at the bottom end from the old shape is useful – with average platform holdings well under £200k across the market, this remains the key battleground and the one where ZIP has made the biggest change.

Not much more to say really; the market continues to close up, and those providers – ZIP included – who stress ‘value not price’ will really need to work out how they differentiate their propositions. Those who can will be able to resist commoditisation and resultant price pressure. Those who can’t – we all know how that goes.



Mark’s Big Self-Congratulatory Blog

Bollocks to self-effacing stuff today.

Every so often, bits of validation of what you’re doing happen, and this is one of those days.

Last summer, we were putting our annual Guide to Platform Pricing together. It was a bit of a landmark one for us, because for the first time it wasn’t just me, late at night with a bottle of Glenfarclas, a calculator, a laptop and a load of post-it notes. Steve and Sam had joined and were kicking my ass to make it better.

As part of the Guide we wanted to debunk the idea of there being one platform to rule them all in terms of pricing, so we created an awards section. We thought about doing an event thing off the back of it, but it filled us all with fear and loathing. There are quite enough events already. So instead, we wrote the section as if it were an awards ceremony, and had a giggle doing it.

It came time to promote the Guide and we turned to our old friends from MRM Digital for a hand. Given how much time we all waste on Twitter, it seemed obvious to do a Twitter ceremony, so the MRM guys went about setting this up for us. You can find out more about it here.  It was a laugh.

Anyway, at the 2014 Investment Marketing Innovation Awards, we picked up two plaudits:

  • Highly Commended for Most Innovative Event, jointly with MRM
  • Winner of Social Media, jointly with MRM

I’m incredibly proud of both of them, but something else happened that made me even happier than the Highly Commended or the win. I’ll explain.

We were also shortlisted in the Best Campaign category. Now, we didn’t win, but we got in there among some massive names with multimillion spends and that’s pretty incredible for a wee company with 6 folk in it out of Leith.

This award considered our relentless profiling of direct platform pricing using our now-infamous heatmaps in the national press. The guys here, particularly Steve Nelson and Mark Locke, have been tireless in doing and placing the analysis in an attempt to help investors understand what’s going on in this rapidly evolving space. It hasn’t been a campaign in the traditional sense; we have no budget and have spent literally nothing other than our time – lots and lots of time. To be shortlisted alongside Aberdeen, Investec (with a little agency called M&C Saatchi) and Henderson Global Investors is unbelievable. Nucleus won, by the way, which is also cool. The year of the little(ish) guys.

We’re taking this as validation of our approach – to make the complex simple, and to never stop poking the industry in which we work with a big, pointy stick.

And if we can do this for ourselves with no budget at all – imagine what we could do for your business if you chucked a bit of budget our way.

Self-congratulatory blog over. Now for a drink. Slainte.

There really are no words for these three.

There really are no words for these three.