Platform focus: The critical difference for Zurich’s platform

Seath-Miranda

This week we take a look at Zurich’s intermediary platform proposition, which the Swiss insurer launched in 2013. The platform has a mix of workplace and advised assets on it, with 89 per cent sitting in the pension wrapper.

Assets under administration stood at £17.1bn in Q1, growing by 4.3 per cent quarter-on-quarter. The Zurich sales team has maintained steady net flows of around £600m for the last three quarters.

Zurich relies primarily on Openwork for a large share of its assets, alongside a number of other strategic partners, such as Bellpenny. Efforts to diversify to other non-restricted advisory firms continue and we do see signs that more are starting to use it, typically as a secondary platform.

The fact Zurich offers pre-funding is cited as an important feature. We think this is helping the platform win advisers that are outsourcing discretionary fund management and we have had a number of conversations with those that use it as a secondary platform to hold clients’ assets in outsourced model portfolios.

Zurichplatforum

For instance, one adviser recently told us that because he uses Brewin Dolphin’s model portfolio service, where re-balancing occurs monthly, Zurich’s ability to pre-fund switches is critical. This effectively means that once a trade has been confirmed during the re-balancing process, Zurich will pre-fund investment switches so that the adviser and client do not have to wait until the trade is settled before buying a new fund. This reduces the risk of time out of the market.

Other platforms do pre-fund – Transact and Axa Elevate being two cases in point – but Zurich is also prepared to pre-fund pension relief at source and cash withdrawals (once the sale price is confirmed by the fund manager), so it offers a range of options. We see this as a key differentiator.

Zurich is one of a number of players that will be ready to offer a Lifetime Isa on its retail platform for the 2017/2018 tax year. It also has a high degree of flexibility for clients looking to take income and withdrawals. Indeed, it is one of only a few platforms to offer a single consolidated payment from across all tax wrappers.

While Zurich is gaining traction with a wider group of advisers, primary platform users are largely Openwork members. In our quarterly survey of advisers, nearly all of the respondents that named it as their primary platform were from the network. One Openwork adviser (who appears not to have embraced being restricted) commented: “We are mandated to use it but mainly it is our paraplanners and admin that struggle with it.” Those that use Zurich as their secondary platform also complain about usability and say they can find it difficult to navigate. However, praise for pre-funding shines through.

Interestingly, Zurich is launching a digital guidance proposition on its workplace platform, which offers digital analytics and tools for workplace savers. There are no current plans to make a similar proposition available for the adviser platform. However, if this new offering does take off, perhaps Zurich should think about opening it up to advisers wishing to offer their clients simple and engaging tools. No doubt much depends on Openwork’s views but we will wait to see if Zurich decides to take the plunge on the intermediary platform.

Miranda Seath is senior researcher at Platforum