Pull up a chair and enjoy the investment platform price war

A price war is finally underway among fund supermarkets. Merryn Somerset Webb looks at what that means for your investing.

We love a price war. And it looks like one is really getting going among the online fund supermarkets and brokers. This week Hargreaves Lansdown's new charging structure kicked off with most clients being charged a basic levy of 0.45% of their assets every year.

That makes them cheaper for most people than they were (particularly given that they have also negotiated down substantially the management fees of the big funds they sell on). But it still leaves them at the top end in terms of overall pricing.

So, who's the cheapest? That's a much more complicated question than you might think. The new charges from the brokers might be transparent, but they most certainly aren't simple.The firms all charge in such different ways that it is hard to make a direct comparison. Instead, the best deal for you will depend on how much you have invested and what kind of funds you invest in.

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If you haven't much money invested (well under £100,000), you are usually better off with a broker that charges a low percentage of assets under management. Charles Stanley is one to look at here it charges 0.25% a year.

If you have more than that, you should look to those that charge fixed fees (because the more money you have, the lower a fixed fee will be as a percentage of your overall portfolio).

Here (if you aren't too nervous of putting money in Scotland to look at it), Alliance Trust offers pretty good prices, as does Interactive Investor.

Monevator.com also points towards the "intriguing" iWeb. This new Halifax-owned service doesn't charge fees on individual savings accounts (Isas) or trading accounts, but instead relies on "trading frequency" to generate returns. So, if you are a "disciplined infrequently trading investor", it could work out pretty well for you.

The table below shows some of the better brokers and the cost structure they offer. However, it isn't comprehensive and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. We'll be putting up a longer version at Moneyweek.com soon, so you will need to look at that and do some sums based on your own investments before you can see what will work for you.

But once that is done, there's one more thing you might want to do before you switch haggle. Several clients of Hargreaves Lansdown have recently taken to online financial forums to "boast that they have been able to secure better deals after threatening to transfer", says The Daily Telegraph.

How much better? They claim that, with over £100,000 invested, they have been given a "special charge" of 0.25% a year. That's significantly less than the 0.45% charged to most people with under £250,000.

Is it true? Hargreaves says that "from time to time, exceptional arrangements may be appropriate". Bestinvest has also been offering deals and Mark Polson of industry analyst Lang Cat tells The Daily Telegraph that "we are aware of a number of providers who are offering account fee discounts and other reductions on fees to retain customers".

We expect prices to keep falling from here as those special deals end up being the basic price for everyone. But in the meantime if you think you are paying too much, call and ask to pay less. It looks like it might just work.

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iWeb (www.iweb-sharedealing.co.uk)£25 account opening charge. Sipp: £22.50 a quarter under £50k; £45 over£5Yes
Interactive Investor (www.iii.co.uk)£20 per quarter (dropped if you also have a Sipp); Sipp: £144 a year£10 (first £20 per quarter knocked off quarterly fee) + frequent trader discountYes
Alliance Trust Savings (www.alliancetrustsavings.co.uk)£22.50 per quarter. Sipp: £186 a year£12.50 + frequent trader discountYes
Charles Stanley Direct (www.charles-stanley-direct.co.uk)0.25% a year on first £500,000 of funds, then 0.15%; 0.25% on shares & ETFs (max £150). Sipp: £120 a year£0 on funds; £10 on ETFs and sharesYes
Cavendish Online (www.cavendishonline.co.uk)0.25% a year£0 on funds; 0.1% on ETFs and sharesNo
Hargreaves Lansdown (www.hl.co.uk)0.45% a year on first £250k of funds; 0.25% on next £750k. Shares Isa: 0.45% p.a. (max £45) on ETFs, shares and bonds. Sipp: 0.45% p.a. (max £200) charge on same£0 on funds; £11.95 on ETFs and shares + frequent trader discountYes
Youinvest (www.youinvest.co.uk)0.2% p.a. on funds (max. £200); Sipp: £5 a quarter for £10K or less; £15 on £10K to £20K; £25 on 20K+£4.95 on funds; £9.95 on ETFs and shares + frequent trader discountYes
Fidelity (www.fidelity.co.uk)0.35% p.a. on first £250,000 of funds and ETFs; £5.10 monthly for share account£9 for ETFs and sharesNo
The Share Centre (www.share.com)£1.80 to £14.40 a month, depending on account type1% (£7.50 min) + frequent trader discountYes
Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.