how hidden are hidden charges

It’s not a new debate, but it is one that has gathered pace again lately and one that is unlikely to go away until something definitive is decided upon. So who is saying what now and is it going to make a difference?

how hidden are hidden charges


Of the big fund houses, Fidelity has been making noises lately for an "industry standard to make fund charges more transparent".

Along the same vein, Alan Miller co-founder and CIO of wealth manager SCM Private, has called for a complete overhaul of the investment management industry in the UK.

But on the other side of the spectrum, Richard Saunders chief executive of the IMA, recently lambasted those who deliberately stir the hidden charges pot and said they are in fact a complete myth.

So who is right, who is wrong, and who is just wading into the debate for the sake of face?

Both sides of the coin

In the details of his campaign, Miller said his firm is launching a True and Fair Code and labelling scheme that will "enable consumers to compare investment products and providers on a like-for-like basis, with a clear and understandable breakdown of costs and fees".

The True and Fair Code will provide potential investors with a full and clear schedule of fees and one simple all-in cost for investments, known as the Total Cost of Investment (TCI).

Miller said new research conducted by SCM Private showed "one of the largest hidden elements – dealing costs" is currently running at £18.5bn per annum.

Yet these are the costs Saunders refutes: "While some commentators claim they are not disclosed to investors, these costs are readily available in fund literature and investment fund regulation requires their disclosure."

Saunders added that the IMA’s latest analysis showed for actively-managed funds transaction costs were 0.31% of average assets, of which two-thirds were accounted for by stamp duty. The IMA said on average higher transaction costs in actively-managed funds are "more than offset by returns".

So what does Fidelity have to say on the matter? It wants full disclosure of fund and distribution costs and implementation of a new measure called Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) to help investors compare different funds and providers.

Middle ground

I recommend a hybrid of SVM Private and Fidelity’s new regimes called Total Cost of Investment Ownership (TCIO).

Fidelity shouldn’t mind given its commitment to "urge the industry to work together" and because its format for displaying the breakdown of costs is "open to discussion".

As for the IMA, since one of its members has now broken rank (Fidelity) and put its not insignificant weight behind the "Unveil Hidden Costs Camp", I think it better have a rethink, don’t you?



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