FCA kicks off wide-reaching platform market probe

The logo of the new Financial Conduct Authority is seen at the agency’s headquarters in the Canary Wharf business district of London

The logo of the new Financial Conduct Authority is seen at the agency’s headquarters in the Canary Wharf business district of London

The objective of the study is to check the general health of the marketplace and to provide evidence of its contribution to good client outcomes by looking into how they benefit from advisers' choices. "Through the market study we will assess what impact these relationships are having on competition and whether they are working in the interests of investors".

"Through the market study we will diagnose whether platforms" tools and investment solutions are meeting investors' expectations in terms of the way they are explained and the value they offer, ' said the FCA.

One of the UK's biggest investment platforms, Hargreaves Lansdown, saw its share price hit in May when USA firm Vanguard announced a cut-price service for United Kingdom investors.

The regulator has said it plans to complement its analysis of supply-side issues by exploring how the interaction between consumers, their advisers and platforms affects competition.

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"We can do this in a number of ways, including rulemaking, publishing general guidance, proposing enhanced industry self-regulation or introducing firm-specific remedies or enforcement action".

Bill Vasileiff, pictured left, managing director at worldwide fund platform Novia Global, welcomed the FCA's report, but warned against too many changes potentially further confusing the consumer.

In principle, platforms allow people to "pool" their money with other retail investors with the aim of achieving better investment returns, the FCA said as it called for feedback into its investigation to be given by 8 September.

In its Investment Platforms Market Study Terms of Reference (MS17/1.1), the FCA said the platform market, which has grown from £108bn in 2008 to £500bn in 2016, was becoming "increasingly vertically integrated", with commercial relationships existing between platforms, asset managers, discretionary investment managers and financial advisers.

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He said using a platform has many benefits but the FCA wants to make sure these are being passed on to customers in the form of lower adviser and platform fees.

Christopher Woolard, the regulator's executive director of strategy and competition, said: "With the increasing use of platforms, and the issues raised by our previous work, we want to assess whether competition between platforms is working in the interest of consumers".

Popular platforms amongst investors include AJ Bell, Best Invest, Cavendish Online, Charles Stanley Direct, Hargreaves Lansdown and Interactive Investor (Moneywise's parent company). "Often the charges are higher than those from the platform provider underlying the service and yet there is little added value".

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