Stocks and Shares Isa Platform ReportSeptember 2017
Stocks and shares Isas (S&S Isas) have become mainstream investment vehicles in the UK. In fact, CoreData’s recent UK Investor Report found S&S Isas are the most prevalent investment type among consumers. The popularity of S&S Isas reflects the rise to prominence of automated and do-it-yourself investing. It also underscores a preference for investing via tax-efficient wrappers where investors can hold a number of different assets or funds.
The appeal of S&S Isas has also increased amid falling demand for cash Isas. The persistently low interest rate environment, coupled with the introduction of the personal savings allowance, has taken the shine off the cash Isa. Low interest rates — the Bank of England base rate currently stands at a record low of 0.25% — has translated into reduced cash Isa rates with the average cash Isa now offering a paltry rate of around 0.34%.
Such poor cash Isa rates led to tumbling demand. According to the latest HMRC figures, the amount invested in cash Isas plunged from £58.7 billion in 2015/16 to £39.2 billion in 2016/17. Over the same period, investment in S&S Isas increased from £21.1 billion to a record high of £22.3 billion. Meanwhile, the number of new cash Isa subscriptions fell from 10.1 million in 2015-16 to 8.5 million in 2016/17.
And with the UK CPI index standing at 2.6% in July and expected to rise over the coming months, the cash Isa is set to see an additional dent in demand as inflation further erodes returns.
With some current accounts now offering higher rates than cash Isas, investors are turning to S&S Isas in droves, in hopes of generating better returns. The fact that investment in S&S Isas surged to a record high in the aftermath of Brexit — a period of macroeconomic uncertainty when investors might be expected to seek the security of safe haven assets — also speaks volumes.
The S&S Isa sector is dominated by online providers – like many consumer segments. The prevalence of online providers in today’s digital world underscores the growing trend for automated investing as cost-conscious, tech-savvy investors look to bypass traditional distribution channels and go it alone. Investors are now increasingly opting to make independent investment decisions supported by online research, media resources and other information. Armed with this knowledge, as well as their own instincts and preferences, investors are showing growing desire to pick their own funds and build portfolios themselves. This suggests they are shunning professionals, which presents something of a threat for the traditional financial advice sector. Already challenged by the relentless rise of robo-advice and other fintech solutions, the appeal of a bricks and mortar, flesh and blood financial adviser is fading fast .
The increasing popularity of S&S Isas has continued despite the fact that new — and potentially competing — Isa models continue to roll off the Treasury conveyer belt. With the additions of the Help to Buy Isa, Junior Isa, peer to peer lending Isa and, more recently, the Lifetime Isa (Lisa) to the menu, investment-hungry investors appear spoilt for choice.
The announcement of the Lisa – which helps savers under the age of 40 get on the housing ladder or save for retirement – was accompanied by an increase in the Isa allowance to £20,000. There has been much talk about how these two measures, both of which came into effect in April 2017, will accelerate the move away from pensions and toward Isas as part of a fundamental realignment of the retirement landscape. And it wasn’t long ago that former Chancellor George Osborne mooted the idea of a pension Isa. Although this idea never saw the light of day, Isas are nevertheless playing an ever-greater role in the UK retirement space. Indeed, a recent CoreData report revealed that most consumers (52%) who intend to invest in the Lisa will do so in order to save for retirement.
Investor appetite for S&S Isas has seen more providers come to market in an effort to grab a lucrative piece of the Isa pie. The combination of fierce competition and regulatory pressures on fees and charges will likely see prices continue to fall and transparency increase — placing the end consumer firmly in the driving seat.
Stocks and shares Isa providers represent a diverse and varied group of business models, including adviser platforms, D2C platforms, stockbrokers, banks, asset managers and robo-advice propositions. The services they offer also vary widely from those offering a full suite of investments, research tools and telephone guidance to those with a limited range of investments and tools and minimal or no customer service. The ability to buy individual shares, investment trusts and ETFs all vary according to provider.
With so many different providers to choose from and so many different criteria to consider — including cost, reliability and security — investors face a bewildering task selecting a S&S Isa provider.
Comparing different platforms is complex. Evaluating which provider is cheapest, for example, is no simple task. The charge of the underlying assets will depend upon what investments are chosen — individual S&S, investment trusts, unit trusts, ETFs, active funds and passive funds all carry different charges. Investors then need to take into account the charges levied by the Isa platform. And here again, it is hard to compare like with like because platform charges can be a flat administration fee or a percentage of the value of holdings. With investors facing a number of charges including the platform charge, fund management charge and trading charges, comparing different providers can be a difficult undertaking.
So the question of which are the best Isa providers in the view of consumers becomes all-important. Investors naturally want to know which S&S Isa platforms perform best when it comes to criteria including reliability, fees and charges, security and research tools. With this in mind, CoreData Research has undertaken an in-depth study of the sector to establish the top-performing platforms from the standpoint of investors. CoreData surveyed investors and asked them to rate their S&S Isa providers in a number of areas. We then put the best platforms into a group of 31 and assigned these top-performers a platinum, gold or silver rating.
UK adults currently have a £20,000 Isa allowance. The whole amount can be put into a S&S Isa or a cash Isa or, alternatively, some can be put into a cash Isa and the remainder into a S&S Isa.
Isas offer long-term tax benefits. Investors do not pay any income tax on interest earned from corporate bonds within an Isa, while dividend income from shares held in S&S Isas are tax-free. Meanwhile, investors do not have to pay capital gains tax on gains made within an Isa — something that will come into play if the £11,300 annual CGT allowance is exceeded.Back