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Andy Bell: The FSA must not stop at platforms

Andy Bell AJ Bell grey

The eagerly anticipated platform paper recently published was broadly as expected. It is hard to be critical of the FSA as the consultation is borne out of a desire to genuinely understand the platform market.

Platforms have been part of the RDR consultation for a number of years and we are facing consultation overload. The FSA needs to implement its ideas even if, as framed, I believe they are flawed.

Part of my belief comes from a worry that, in addressing concerns relevant to the principles of RDR, the door to a wider review of manufacturing and wholesaling in retail financial services has been opened. Close this too early and the market is distorted. Keep going and the scope creeps ever wider.

The main points of the consultation came as no surprise:

  1. A ban on payments from product providers to non-advised and advised platforms effective from December 31, 2013. This will not apply to legacy business.

  2. A ban on cash rebates to clients relating to the advised sales of retail investment products effective from 31 December 2013. This ban will not apply to legacy business. A consultation will be held on whether to apply this ban to non-advised sales. The FSA’s starting point is that it will.

  3. Unit rebates will be allowed.

  4. A separate consultation will be held on applying all of this to adjacent markets such as Sipps, DFMs, execution-only brokers and Isa managers.

The first three issues are well-trodden ground which I won’t go over again. I’ll simply comment that the day the consultation was published felt like a mid-term by-election results day. Reactions came in from all industry quarters. No-one got the result they wanted, but everyone claimed a victory of sorts.

It is adjacent markets on which I’ll concentrate.

In getting this far the FSA has already struggled with that bane of major projects, scope creep. It is like decorating a house. You decorate one room and need to move on to the next. Before you know it, the whole house needs to be redecorated. The question is, where do you stop? My view is either the whole house is redecorated or we shouldn’t pick up the paintbrush.

Why?

As a firm which has expanded its Sipp offering to include an Isa and GIA, it feels like we are now doing what we have always done, just across three products. I see no logic in excluding Sipps.

RDR is pushing more advisers towards discretionary fund managers, sometimes independently and sometimes in conjunction with a platform. Ditto.

I struggle to see how execution-only stockbrokers don’t fall under the platform definition. I think the FSA has included discount brokers with execution-only brokers, as they typically would not be caught under the custody/settlement part of the platform definition. Ditto.

Leaving insurance companies on the sidelines conjures up conspiracy theories which are best avoided. Ditto.

The fish test works. If it looks like a platform, tastes like a platform and smells like a platform then it probably is a platform. However, I would wager firms are looking to challenge whether they are a platform in anticipation of adjacent markets being excluded. Whether there are ways of structuring themselves to avoid some or all of the restrictions, time will tell. My clear preference is that the FSA preserves the integrity of a fair market by treating all types of product and service provider consistently.

Andy Bell is the chief executive of AJ Bell

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Comments

There are 2 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Terry Halewood 10th July 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Where does the CP state that the ban on payments from providers to platforms ” will not apply to legacy business ” ?

  2. Good comments from Andy on the ‘fish test’.
    Also a comment on the banning of cash rebates to clients. I think we can all think of bad practices which should be banned but I don’t think that cash rebates would appear on many people’s list. Neither has the FSA been very active at banning much else. So why are cash rebates so bad that they deserve to be banned. Don’t bother reading any of the FSA papers on the subject – they offer weak and contentious reasoning with nothing compelling.
    But wait, when you do read the small print, you learn that cash rebates are not to be banned! Rebates can be paid in cash but then must be used to buy units!!! I suspect that the fund management industry ganged up and refused to have anything to do with unit rebates – so the whole job has been piled back onto the platforms! Remember, these are extra units which may have a very limited life as they may be cashed pronto to meet fee payments or help settle a pending transaction etc. Their life span may challenge that of the mysterious Higgs Boson particles – so what is the point?

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