Investment Platforms 2017August 2017
With the FCA kicking off its wide-ranging platform market study, the issue of replatforming taking centre-stage and back-end technology providers tightening their grip on the sector, platforms have certainly been making the headlines in 2017.
With competition between providers now under the regulatory spotlight, it is vitally important that platforms gain insight into what advisers most desire and demand from their providers and understand what drives them to use one provider over another.
Platforms are now woven into the daily fabric of advisers’ working lives. They have become indispensable parts of adviser business models. The central role they have come to play is reflected in their rapid growth over recent years. According to FCA estimates, the platform market grew from £108 billion in 2008 to £500 billion in 2016. And with platforms continuing to benefit from the pension freedom reforms – with DB transfers, in particular, fuelling recent platform flows – the sector is set for further growth.
But in the immediate future, the spectre of regulation looms large. In July 2017 the FCA published the terms of reference for its platforms market study, a key focus of which will be whether platforms offer good value for money and if they consider the best interests of end investors when competing for adviser business. The wide-ranging investigation will also examine what factors advisers look at when selecting, reviewing and switching platforms. In addition, the study will look at the rise of vertically-integrated firms and the commercial relationships between platforms, asset managers and adviser firms.
While some in the industry have welcomed the importance given to vertical integration, others have voiced concerns that the study’s focus on price could result in bad outcomes and unintended consequences for consumers.
Away from the regulatory arena, there has been much focus on replatforming over recent months as the trend for ditching in-house technology in favour of external solutions continues. The pace of replatforming projects has picked up considerably, with the likes of Aviva, Old Mutual Wealth, Alliance Trust Savings, Ascentric and FundsNetwork all undergoing technology migrations. Meanwhile, Aegon and Cofunds are merging their platforms onto an upgraded version of Aegon’s ARC platform. The replatforming process can be a lengthy and expensive undertaking resulting in accessibility issues during the client migration stage and such considerations should be carefully weighed against the long-term benefits to customers.
As most players gravitate toward just a handful of back-end technology providers, questions will inevitably be asked about how platforms differentiate themselves in a crowded market. The dominance of just a small number of back-end technology providers also throws up concerns that any glitches or issues encountered by one provider could have widespread knock-on effects. In this respect, the back-end technology space would benefit from the entrance of new players.
Meanwhile, platforms are being challenged by a tech tidal wave sweeping across the investment landscape. The Financial Advice Market Review’s call for automated, cost-effective solutions to help close the advice gap has encouraged the coming to market of nimble-footed tech-driven propositions offering various robo-advice and D2C propositions. And these technologies of investment seem to be converging and coalescing as the lines between robo-advice, D2C platform and passive provider blur. At the same time, a new kind of actively-engaged mobile investor is rising to prominence amid the ascendancy of mobile investment apps. This is all part of a drive to cost-effective, automated investing that presents something of a challenge to traditional distribution and intermediary channels.
These developments have encouraged more D2C platforms to enter the fray. But those platforms catering to both the adviser and D2C spaces must ensure they have clearly defined and separate propositions in terms of pricing and fund range. Platforms offering both adviser and D2C services must look to ensure these different arms do not conflict or encroach on each other.
Ultimately, technology is opening up and democratising financial services to a broader base of clients. Adviser platforms will need to embrace — rather than succumb to — digital disruption and adapt to a new investment landscape in which fintech features prominently. Platforms have proved remarkably adept at adapting to shifting market fundamentals and dynamics over the years, expanding well beyond their original administrative remit. And they must continue to evolve their propositions to maintain their central importance.
The platform market is highly competitive and the task of achieving profitability and scale has become that much harder. Amid such stiff competition, it has become even more important for platforms to generate high levels of satisfaction among advisers. And this study suggests the winners will be those platforms that perform best when it comes to service, functionality and product range.