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FCA finds weak price competition in some areas of asset management sector

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There is weak price competition in a number of areas of the asset management industry, according to the interim findings of the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) asset management market study.

The FCA launched the market study in November 2015 to assess whether competition is working effectively. It looked at whether institutional and retail investors get good value for money when purchasing asset management services.
 
The UK’s asset management industry is the second largest in the world, managing almost GBP7 trillion of assets. Over three quarters of UK households with occupation or personal pensions use the services asset managers offer.
 
Andrew Bailey (pictured), chief executive at the FCA, says: “Asset managers are responsible for the savings of millions of people in the UK, making decisions which affect their financial well-being both now and in the future.
 
“In today's world of persistently low interest rates, it is vital that we do everything possible to enable people to accumulate and earn a return on their savings which can meet their lifetime needs. To achieve this, we need to ensure that competition in asset management works effectively to minimise the cost of investment.
 
“We want to see greater transparency so that investors can be clear about what they are paying and the impact charges have on their returns. We want asset managers to ensure investors receive value for money through pursuing energetically their duty to act in their customers’ best interests. The remedies that we are proposing today aim to achieve these outcomes.
 
“Low interest rates are necessary for the economy, but we have to do everything else we can to ease the burden on savers. This is one thing we can do."
 
The FCA found that there is limited price competition for actively managed funds, meaning that investors often pay high charges. On average, these costs are not justified by higher returns. There is stronger competition on price for passively managed funds, though the FCA did find some examples of poor value for money in this segment.
 
In addition, fund objectives are not always clear, and performance is not always reported against an appropriate benchmark, while despite a large number of firms operating in the market, the asset management sector as a whole has enjoyed sustained, high profits over a number of years with significant price clustering.
 
Investment consultants meanwhile, undertake valuable due diligence for pension funds but are not effective at identifying outperforming fund managers. There are also conflicts of interest in the investment consulting business model which require further scrutiny.
 
The FCA has proposed a significant package of remedies that seek to make competition work better in this market, and protect those least able to engage actively with their asset manager, including: a strengthened duty on asset managers to act in the best interests of investors, including reforms to hold asset managers to account for how they deliver value for money; introducing an all-in fee so that investors in funds can easily see what is being taken from the fund; and a number of measures aimed at helping retail investors identify which fund is right for them, such as requiring asset managers to be clear about the objectives of the fund, clarifying and strengthening the use of benchmarks and providing tools for investors to identify persistent underperformance.
 
In addition, the FCA has proposed: making it easier for retail investors to move into better value share classes; requiring clearer communication of fund charges and their impact at the point of sale and in ongoing communication to retail investors; requiring increased transparency and standardisation of costs and charges information for institutional investors; exploring the potential benefits of greater pooling of pension scheme assets; and requiring greater and clearer disclosure of fiduciary management fees and performance.
 
The FCA is also consulting on whether to make a market investigation reference to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on the investment consultancy market and has recommended that HM Treasury considers bringing the provision of institutional investment advice within the FCA’s regulatory perimeter.
 
In addition, the FCA will undertake further competition work on the retail distribution of funds, particularly in relation to the impact financial advisers and platforms have on value for money.
 
The FCA is now seeking views about its interim findings.

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