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Govt benchmarks may set the criteria for ISAs

The Government looks set to propose a system of benchmarks for the Individual Savings Account in the Budget to make ISAs more attractive to investors.

The benchmark proposal could force product providers to meet set criteria in the areas of cost, access to funds, performance and risk.

Following a secret meeting at the Treasury two weeks ago, trade bodies have been asked to submit ideas on how the ISA could be benchmarked.

Treasury officials revealed that Government ministers would not consider kitemarking for ISAs but want a mark that shows the product offers "basic value".

Benchmarks are likely to focus on reducing ISA charges but could also be used to impose minimum performance standards on funds.

The proposal is the first time that a standard of value has been applied to ISAs. So far, standards such as kitemarking have been limited to stakeholder pensions.

Trade bodies at the meeting included Autif, ABI, the Building Societies Association, British Bankers Association and several Financial Services Authority regulators.

But Autif director general Philip Warland warns that benchmarking the ISA is fraught with difficulties since it would not necessarily guarantee performance or value.

A benchmark for the cash deposit portion of the ISA would be relatively simple, but it would become increasingly difficult for equity-based ISAs.

Warland says: "It is easy to benchmark a cost but you could mislead on the value."

BSA director general Adrian Coles is sceptical of the proposals and says benchmarks would add an extra layer of complexity.

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