Each month, we ask our industry to answer one big question!
Peter Carter is head of product marketing at MetLife UK
Platforms are already well-established and it is estimated that around 90% of advisers currently use them in some shape or form.
Research by Bankhall, which runs the Portavista platform, among its members found 16% place 61% or more of their business through platforms compared with 11% last year.
The future for platforms as a concept is bright but it is likely that only a select number will thrive for the simple reason that advisers will only be able to use one or two at most. The platforms that will be successful will have to become central to IFAs' business models.
That of course presents challenges to IFAs. They need to be aware of the potential power that platform providers will wield in the future.
Once they have committed to a platform provider it will be nearly impossible to break away as the costs of moving business will be prohibitive. If there are only a select number of platforms the challenge is obvious.
David Dalton-Brown is head of platforms at Fidelity International
Platforms today are much more than a supermarket of funds, having now developed a far broader range of products and services which support the needs of advisers and their investors within the pre and post retirement market. These developments have seen platforms grow rapidly, taking share from the major investment and life companies, and have helped to redefine the distribution landscape.
Platforms have enabled advisers to reduce administration costs and increase revenues by providing a more holistic, quality and automated service to their customers. By providing this holistic view advisers are able to manage more of their customers more efficiently. Platforms have changed the approach taken to supporting advice - allowing advisers to be investment led - making the selection of the tax wrapper become secondary - and now essentially a commodity.
Platforms will become a core component of the response by advisers to the RDR and the growing pre and post retirement needs of investors. Services such as new transparent, unbundled open architecture products, flexible fee services or new income and retirement solutions, will allow platforms to continue to grow.
Andrew Gadd is head of research at The Lighthouse Group
I think that it is important to differentiate when talking about 'platforms' between wraps and fund supermarkets. Wraps and fund supermarkets are similar, but while fund supermarkets tend to offer wide ranges of unit trusts and OEICs, wraps often offer greater access to other products too. Wraps also tend to support advisers that want to agree their own remuneration with their clients, instead of receiving commission. Looking at the future then I do see wraps becoming more widely used by advisers for certain clients. There are various advantages to wraps such as the fact that opaque charging structures are gradually becoming a thing of the past - many advisers and clients are looking for transparency to know what is being charged and by whom and wraps facilitate this. Two important considerations when looking at wraps are however, the ability to value legacy business (with-profit policies etc) and also re-registration of assets off the platform - this has in particular been highlighted by the FSA as an area for IFAs to consider. IFAs also need to consider their reputational risk should a wrap provider with whom they become associated decide to exit the market.
David Greenall is portal manager at Canada Life
In the TCF/RDR/credit crunch world, advisers are increasingly working to advice and service models that deliver value to their target clients while balancing fee income and costs. It is these advice and service models that will dictate the products they recommend. Platforms play a part in this but they do not cover all the products and advice areas required to give complete advice and therefore service clients appropriately.
The key in my view is for platforms and back office systems to develop the capability to host products across the advice areas, link to planning tools and the client management systems of both providers and advisers. This will enable them then to effectively support the advice and service models advisers employ and allow independent product choice, including specialist tax and trust options.
This really requires a collaboration between companies who operate in these arenas and the first to do this effectively will have a significant advantage in this competitive market.
Carl Howard is business director - investment platforms at Prudential
Investment platforms are increasingly becoming standard administration engines with the potential to drive significant efficiency improvements in an adviser's business. They can also play a role in the evolution of adviser businesses as the RDR is implemented.
Although there continues to be considerable media comment on wraps and the extent to which they may come to dominate the industry, we are sceptical about the predicted growth in true wrap usage. Although wraps may make sense for very high net worth clients we believe they are less compelling elsewhere. Rather, we anticipate continued growth and evolution of the more transactionally focused platforms, which add value for advisers by improving their underlying business models.
In the short term at least it is likely that the majority of platform based business will continue to come from ISAs and unwrapped collectives although, in the medium, we anticipate increasing volumes of insured products being written through platforms. However, progress here will be more gradual due to increased product complexity, the legacy nature of many current product holdings, and the absence of in-specie transfers.
We also expect to see the larger intermediary businesses continue to partner with or develop their own platforms as evidenced by Bankhall's launch of Portavista. Multiple provider platforms, which support advisers by offering a better balance between choice and efficiency, will increasingly emerge. We anticipate that the most successful platforms will be offered by large, independent, financially sound organisations.
Paul McMahon is managing director at AXA Distribution Services
I believe we will continue to see a growth in the adoption and utilisation of platforms. The impact of current economic conditions is likely to accelerate the determination of firms to address the challenges of improving efficiency, productivity and profitability. It is certainly our experience that determining which platform provider to partner with is increasingly at the very top of agendas for business owners. The potential benefits of platforms and recognition will become ever more central to successful businesses, particularly in a post-RDR world, and seems to be increasingly widely recognised.
However, evolution is not without significant challenges for all of us. The benefits arising from platform usage are increasingly self evident for business owners and for end consumers but change doesn't necessarily come easily. The successful platform providers will be those who recognise this and make the investment of time and effort to support firms through that change. That is something we in Elevate are especially focused upon with our dedicated business consultancy and services teams. We are also conscious of the need to ensure the regulatory authorities are fully conversant with how platform utilisation serves their ambitions for an increasingly viable advisory industry, serving a wider range of customers cost effectively. This remains important to the pace of adoption in the UK.
Jeremy Mugridge is platform marketing manager for Skandia
Platforms will be instrumental in the move towards the 'new model of advice' - a client-centric financial planning approach where adviser remuneration is flexible and predominantly fee based.
Most advisers will already be aware of many platform benefits, including time saving efficiencies, a wide product and fund choice, access to a robust and repeatable investment process and state of the art client reporting facilities.
As general awareness continues to grow then so will the use of platforms. The Skandia Financial Planning Index shows that 46% of advisers are already writing over half their total business on platforms. Advisers expect this to increase to 54% over the next year as they seek to harness the power of platform technology.
Successful platforms in the market will need to ensure that from a strategic development perspective they tick two very important boxes. Their platform must meet the current needs of advisers and secondly they need to anticipate future needs in order to stay ahead of the game. There have been a number of 'copy cat' new entrants but platforms must also show innovative qualities in order to remain a long-term player in this competitive market.
Chris Read is managing director at Dunstan Thomas
Our research into advisers who are already doing business through the platforms suggests that firms which are migrating clients onto wrap platforms are already reaping real benefits. The majority of IFAs said that moving clients onto a platform had enabled them to offer a more holistic service while cutting their administrative burden significantly.
Using platforms, advisers are often able to offer their clients a wider range of investment options. Unbundled and transparent charging offered by 'deep' wrap platforms was also seen as a real advantage to IFAs striving to be paid through fees for advice rather than via commission payments.
Some are even using wrap migration as the catalyst for laying out their service proposition to clients very clearly for the first time - meeting clients face-to-face more regularly, defining clients' risk profiles and offering continuous, even daily, valuations via a chosen platform.
All these benefits generate real customer benefits very fast. The IFAs we spoke to are seeing an average of four out of five of their clients migrating their assets across to a wrap when the benefits have been fully explained to them.
Most people believe that migration to wraps will accelerate over the next two years as platform providers improve their offerings and both the costs and time-scales, associated with migrating assets onto them, continue to fall. We personally think that deep wraps offerings have a very bright future and this perhaps explains why we are still seeing new platform offerings coming to market.
Adrian Shandley is managing director at Premier Wealth Management
The future looks bright for the platform market in the UK, for several reasons. Firstly, wraps continue to have fundamental flaws in their offerings, particularly with regards to valuing legacy assets and outsourcing to discretionary management. A modern IFA can probably achieve more through a good back office system and a platform than they can by totally committing to a wrap. If a platform is seen as one of your functions in conjunction with other facilities, then it can be very useful indeed.
Secondly, the events of the last eight months have demonstrated the advantage of being able to move client money quickly, cost effectively and without significant time out of the market. Again, this plays into the hands of the platform market.
Finally, some of the platform providers have woken up to the fact that their charges were high and have reduced them accordingly. Again, this has led to increased viability leaving greater scope for flexible adviser remuneration.
Paul Wilcox is chairman and technical director at WAY Group
Advisers today want and need to have far greater control over their clients' investments than ever before. Any good adviser will also expect to have instant access to accurate information about his or her clients as well as to be able to monitor their investments. Increasingly the ability to provide an added-value portfolio management service is a key element of providing an effective client proposition as well as establishing a profitable practice.
The advent of wrap platforms has therefore been a godsend to leading IFAs, both in terms of delivering an effective investment management and administration service as well as offering the ability to create greater intrinsic value in their business. An efficient wrap service delivers effective and hassle-free investment administration with instant 24/7 on-line portfolio valuations. Investment management via such platforms is similarly convenient and low cost.
With most wrap platforms the adviser can agree an individual fee arrangement with each of his or her clients completely independent of provider commission levels. The explicit charging of IFA fees and rebating of provider commissions not only offers transparency but also demonstrates integrity/creates a repeat revenue stream for the business and aligns with FSA's preferred approach of customer agreed remuneration.
The use of wraps in the market has become so strong that my own company, WAY Group, has now enhanced its industry-leading IHT plans to offer IFAs open architecture versions that are available on the Ascentric Wrap platform. Access to the plans on other platforms will follow and this development will enable IFAs to utilise our plans via wraps and select and manage their own underlying portfolios to meet individual client risk and return profiles. Equally importantly they can establish a fee structure with their client which sits comfortably with the specialist work required in handling complex arrangements.
Brooks Macdonald has bought Edinburgh-based wealth and asset manager Cornelian Asset Managers for a fee of up to £39m.