Why the banks are losing the platforms war

The much-talked-about structural change in the advice profession appears to be gathering pace with further news of up to 80 advisers leaving institutional dealerships in October.

A more balanced view of this would include how many were wanted, or actually terminated for financial reasons. One imagines this would reflect the banks cleaning up their act – which includes getting rid of sub-scale advice practitioners which don’t reflect the future of advice. One bank has been doing this for the last six months.

Nevertheless, the figures are high and the question is whether they will go higher in 2018. It’s a genuine structural change. As the defectors leave they source manufacturers’ margins which results in the margin landscape changing against the old guard. This is particularly painful for the old wrap platform market which the banking sector bought into in the early 2000s as an elixir for distribution.

The trouble is they haven’t adapted to change. In some instances they still think they control each compartment of the wealth chain. The truth is that consumers and advisers are beginning to control this in line with most low-cost digital plays.

Things have changed dramatically in the platform market and we are seeing market analysts and portfolio managers in the listed sector responding favourably to the growth of alternate new age platforms such as HUB24 and Netwealth – two prominent new providers seamlessly taking market share from the bank market through functional technology, price and engagement with advisers – particularly the larger practices hungry for control. And if current trends continue this will not slow down thanks to further defections that seek to embrace the change the new players offer.

At the root of all this is a major shift taking place in the value chain driven by price but enabled by technology. The issue for the banks is tricky, they have been the margin takers for decades but in the new world the takers are the advice businesses themselves. Advice practices with contemporary management now have the upper hand with the same purchasing power thanks to the new platforms, coupled with favourable fund manager pricing. Surprisingly, this also means margin benefits shifting to fund managers that have been treated deplorably by the bank platforms for years. They’ve been called “partners” but at a price set by the platform in return for FUM. It’s been a one-way street with little regard for consumer interests in the relationship.

In the new scenario the banks, in acting as packagers and distributors, lose, the fund manager wins, the adviser wins and the end client wins. So, it’s pretty hard to argue against unless you have KPIs to retain and grow headline revenue, suppress margin compression and keep everyone happy. That will be a tougher job moving forward compared with the past 10-or-so years.

In layman’s terms, what’s happening is the new platforms enable breakaway practices to access and establish their own managed accounts.

The platform then provides the public offer document and typically helps to establish a credible governance package with an investment committee. Suddenly the practice can move from a bank-owned portfolio model to a practice portfolio. It means they can negotiate price with the fund managers if they are large enough and it means the model portfolio is changed from clustered inhouse investment offerings to a best-of-breed manager.

The area not typically discussed is the way the older platforms have financially bullied fund managers for inclusion and now for some, it’s payback time. In the past, a bank platform would charge a manager to be on the platform, charge a manager special relationship fees and then, to add insult to injury, look for sponsorships at their dealer conferences. Pretty unfair. This also all adds up to large MERs that the consumer pays, so it’s hardly surprising consumers back away and consider low-cost ETF models without need for advice.

In the new world, the manager can increase margins because they don’t have to pay it away for distribution /relationship rights. The practice will look for a lower margin for implementation than a large platform would for packaging. The MER comes right down so the consumer wins, the practice wins the manager wins. The old platform loses. It has always made sense to think through the eyes of a client – never more so than now for the challenged legacy platforms if they are to regain credibility and market share. Merry Xmas to the thought.

First published: 6 December 2017