Welcome victory in the war on investment platform fees

As regular readers will know, changes to rules on commission payments for fund supermarkets (or ‘platforms’) are forcing these companies to rethink how they charge for their services.

In short, your platform used to make its money via commission payments from the managers of the funds that you held through it. To make the cost of investing more transparent, these commission payments have been banned. So now platforms have to make their charges explicit.

This is good – transparency makes it easier for investors to compare services and makes for a more competitive market – but it has led to a few anomalies as platforms try to claw back fees lost in one area of the business by imposing new charges elsewhere.

Among the most controversial was a move by the popular Hargreaves Lansdown platform to charge a new fee for holding investment trusts.

Under the new regime, clients choosing to hold investment trusts alongside shares in an individual savings account (Isa) or self-invested personal pension (Sipp) would have seen their annual fees double from £45 to £90.

Previously, the platform had viewed investment trusts and shares as the same type of investment, and so they were subject to only one fee. But under the new structure they would have been categorised separately, thus attracting an added charge.

Unsurprisingly – given that shares in investment trusts are no different to shares in any other company, so hardly warrant different treatment – customers were not pleased and protested vocally.

The good news is that Hargreaves has been smart enough and responsive enough to attend to the complaints, and axe the fee. So from March, rather than pay a separate fee, customers will pay a single 0.45% annual fee for holding shares and investment trusts, capped at £45.

“It is clear that this particular aspect of our pricing change has been disliked,” Hargreaves’ chief executive Ian Gorham admitted. “I believe it is therefore the right thing to do to revert to a charging structure that clients are happy with.”

This will be a relief to those people who are otherwise happy with Hargreaves and no longer need to go to the hassle of finding a new platform. But it’s also very encouraging for all investors – as transparency ramps up the pressure on platforms and fund managers to compete, the smartest companies will pay attention to what we want. So don’t stop here – complain about other charges that seem unacceptably high or unwarranted too.

Merryn

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