FCA threatens competition investigation of investment consultants

Andrew Bailey FCAThe FCA is considering recommending that the investment consultant sector is referred to the Competition and Markets Authority and has recommended that HM Treasury considers bringing the provision of institutional investment advice within the FCA’s regulatory perimeter.

The recommendation is contained in the FCA’s asset management market study update published today, which also contains a damning indictment of the lack of competition amongst fund managers, who it accuses of failing to give institutional and retail investors value for money.

The market study says very few asset managers lower charges for retail business because the do not think it will increase business. While passive funds have fallen in price, actively managed funds have not, with the regulator finding significant evidence of price clustering around 1 or 0.75 per cent. It estimates £109bn of actively managed funds in expensive funds

that closely mirror the performance of the market, with a tracking error below 1.5, that are considerably more expensive than passive funds.

The regulator is severe in its criticism of investment consultants, saying their ratings do not appear to help institutional investors identify better performing managers or funds. The report says that while larger institutional investors are able to negotiate effectively with asset managers, investment consultants ‘do not appear to help smaller institutional investors negotiate or otherwise drive significant price competition between asset managers’.

The FCA highlights the concentrated nature of the investment consultancy market with the top three firms – Aon, Mercer and Willis Towers Watson – accounting for around 60 per cent of the market. It found levels of switching in the market are low, with 90 per cent of the investors in its survey having not switched consultant in the last 5 years. The FCA also found many institutional investors struggle to monitor and assess the performance of the advice they receive and whether investment consultants are acting in their best interests.

The FCA sets out concerns over investment consultants’ expansion into fiduciary management, offering a combination of advice, governance and carrying out investor instructions, meaning consultants are both distributors for and competitors to asset managers.

It also found that investment consultants accept hospitality from asset managers, such as concerts and sporting events, posing a further conflict of interest and potentially result in poor outcomes for end investors.

FCA chief executive Andrew Bailey says: “Asset managers are responsible for the savings of millions of people in the UK, making decisions which affect their financial well-being both now and in the future.

“In today’s world of persistently low interest rates, it is vital that we do everything possible to enable people to accumulate and earn a return on their savings which can meet their lifetime needs.  To achieve this, we need to ensure that competition in asset management works effectively to minimise the cost of investment.

“We want to see greater transparency so that investors can be clear about what they are paying and the impact charges have on their returns.  We want asset managers to ensure investors receive value for money through pursuing energetically their duty to act in their customers’ best interests.  The remedies that we are proposing today aim to achieve these outcomes.

“Low interest rates are necessary for the economy, but we have to do everything else we can to ease the burden on savers.  This is one thing we can do.”