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PLATFORM EDGE: ALISTAIR HARDIE

It is often said that there is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about.

It is perhaps an indication of its impact on the market that Standard Life’s Sipp continues to generate so much interest.

There has been considerable coverage of our decision to appoint Fidelity FundsNetwork as our preferred supermarket platform for Sipps.

It is clear that the rationale for choosing a single supermarket at this stage in the life of the proposition is not perfectly understood. This article will hopefully clear up any uncertainty.

The first point to make is that Standard Life’s Sipp has been an enormous success since launch and has enjoyed a response beyond our most optimistic expectations. That is due, in no small part, to the influence of advisers in the pre-launch development of the product.

We listened long and hard to what advisers said they wanted. Three key requirements emerged – service, service, service.

As a consequence, we spent two years developing a proposition that was capable of delivering the high standards of service required by advisers at a reasonable cost. The best way of achieving this goal was to work with preferred suppliers.

Having a strategic relationship with a specific business partner ensures that both sides understand their roles and responsibilities. This allows you to develop systems and procedures for an efficient, cost effective and high quality service.

This ethos is apparent throughout our proposition as demonstrated by our choice of Stocktrade as our execution-only broker, Donaldsons as our property administrators and Keeble Hawson as our commercial property solicitors.

We adopted precisely the same approach with the selection of a fund supermarket to complement our own Sigma fund range. Sigma has proven to be popular and can meet the portfolio needs of the majority of clients but it was recognised from the outset there would be a demand among a proportion of our customer base for a full supermarket. Consistent with the Sipp model, we set about finding a suitable business partner. After a tendering process followed by due diligence, Fidelity FundsNetwork emerged as the provider best placed to support our proposition. With around 900 funds from more than 50 providers, the FundsNetwork platform was an ideal complement to Sigma.

Furthermore, in FundsNetwork, we have a business partner with which we can work closely in developing processes and systems that can support an efficient, cost effective and high quality service.

Working with a single business partner allows us to develop business-to-business links that mean investment instructions are carried out, costs are controlled and we hold detailed information of each trade and up-to-date values. This approach makes for a better customer service experience.

It also means that where an adviser has an established relationship with FundsNetwork, any deal placed through Standard Life can be obtained on the same terms. The business partnership is underpinned by service level agreements. We know them and they know us. If and when problems arise, they can be resolved quickly.

In forming a business partnership, we have created what we believe represents the correct balance between choice and cost for Sipp at this stage in its evolution. It may be at some point it becomes appropriate to introduce additional business partners. We already work with more than one discretionary fund manager – six to be precise – because this is what was appropriate for meeting the needs of adv- isers and their clients.

We would not want to compromise the balance between choice and cost – particularly if it threatened service levels – but working with more than one supermarket is always an option.

We listen to what advisers tell us. If it became clear that there was sufficient demand for us to introduce additional business partners into our proposition, we would act on that. Our Sipp has been so successful since day one because we listened carefully to what advisers told us. That is not a behaviour from which we intend to depart.

Alistair Hardie is product marketing manager (Sipp)

life& pensions at Standard Life

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