Oct 022013
 

I’ve made a number of updates to the UK online stockbroker comparison table and individual entries for UK international stockbrokers in the directory to reflect fee and service changes over the past few months. Most of these are relatively trivial changes, but there have been a handful of more significant events.

  1. Charles Stanley has stopped offering personal CREST accounts through its online Charles Stanley Direct arm (the former Fastrade service) and has hugely increased the fees for the service through the Charles Stanley telephone broking service (effectively to £420 per year once all fees are taken into account). A number of the firm’s other charges and commissions have also increased recently, suggesting that the traditional brokerage business is now concentrating solely on fairly large clients and steering all smaller accounts to Charles Stanley Direct (which represents its attempt to take on the part of the market currently dominated by Hargreaves Lansdown). Investors looking for a more low-cost CREST sponsorship now seem to be limited to Redmayne Bentley or Stocktrade. The personal CREST account comparison table has been updated accordingly. UPDATE: The Fidelity Share Network service, which is based on Charles Stanley’s online platform, will apparently continue to offer CREST sponsorship on the same terms as before, even though Charles Stanley’s own-brand service won’t.
  2. Meanwhile, Stocktrade has made some fairly significant changes to its service. These include:
    • Many international markets are now available online. Previously overseas stocks could only be dealt by phone.
    • Online and phone dealing rates have been made the same
    • Investors can now hold foreign currency in their accounts, rather than settling only in GBP as before
    • FX conversion fees have been switched to a tiered basis. Under the old charges, Stocktrade followed a rather unusual approach of converting at market rates, but charging a fixed fee for doing so. The new system looks as if it should be more favourable to smaller accounts.
  3. Saxo Bank is introducing an inactivity charge for UK clients – £25/quarter, waived if you trade once in the quarter. The new fee applies to dealing accounts only, not to ISA and SIPP accounts (although these are already subject to annual administration fees). This is obviously a change for the worse for less frequent investors, but is not surprising – there is a clear trend towards charging more admin, inactivity and custody fees among brokers, reflecting the loss of revenue from lower levels of trading activity in recent years.
Apr 262013
 

The UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) – the new, allegedly improved successor to the FSA – has published the long-awaited “platform paper” setting out new rules on rebates of fund charges from fund managers to investment platforms.

This follows the Retail Distribution Review rules that came into effect at the beginning of the year, which banned financial advisers from receiving ongoing payments made by fund managers (a practice known as trail commission). The FCA will now bring in something similar for investment platforms, which are the intermediaries where the investor or adviser can access funds from many different fund firms in a single place.

These rules will radically alter the way that UK platforms and fund supermarkets charge for their services, since most currently rely on these rebates as some or all of their charges. In future, they will need to charge investors directly for their services.

For more background on how rebates and charges currently work, see this earlier article on RDR and unbundled pricing. Below is a quick summary of the FCA’s new rules and what they may mean for investors. Continue reading »

Apr 012013
 

There have been a number of changes to services offered by UK brokers over the last few weeks. I’m still in the process of updating all the pages to reflect these, but here’s a brief summary of the major ones:

  • Saxo Bank has closed its Modern Wealth Management service and is transferring existing clients to the Saxo Trader service. This seems to have positive and negative implications: The firm appears to be retreating from the UK fund supermarket business altogether, but is bringing an ISA wrapper to Saxo Trader, which may now be the most cheapest ISA for international markets where CREST settlement isn’t available.
  • Charles Stanley has closed its Fastrade service and relaunched it as Charles Stanley Direct. Changes are extensive – the key ones are that online trading fees have been reduced to £10 per trade, but there is now a custody fee of 0.25% per year (min £20, max £150) waived if you trade more than six times every six months. Given that one of the Fastrade service’s strongest selling points was that it offered at-cost personal CREST membership, the introduction of a custody fee will probably work out as a cost increase for less active traders using it for that purpose.
  • In addition, the number of brokers offering personal CREST membership shrunk further. NatWest Stockbrokers apparently no longer offers this to new clients, so has been removed from the personal CREST accounts comparison table. Fyshe Horton Finney – which offered a relatively expensive personal CREST option – went into administration and its clients were taken on by Redmayne Bentley.
  • iDealing now offers direct access to Euronext Amsterdam and Brussels.
Mar 082013
 

As mentioned by users of this site and elsewhere, TD Direct Investing UK has informed non-residents in a number of countries that it will be closing their accounts. Japanese residents seem to be the most commonly affected, but some clients in the Middle East have apparently been told the same.

I had been expecting that the firm might start to steer non-residents towards TD Direct Investing International in Luxembourg (formerly known as Internaxx) instead of the UK arm, but it seems that some of the users who are having their accounts closed have been told that TDDII won’t accept them either.

Exactly what lies behind this isn’t clear – areas such as complying with money laundering regulations are an obvious possibility, but the underlying reason could be a wider drive to simply admin and cut costs. Regardless, the extremely short notice period means that many affected clients are understandably not very satisfied.

There’s a discussion on the UK stock broker accounts for non-residents post about alternative providers, although the choice among UK-domiciled brokers is likely to be slim.

Jan 232013
 

In recent days, a few people have noted that UK broker Selftrade has stopped opening new client accounts. The text on the account page has been reading “We are undertaking a review to enhance some of our processes, so we are unable to progress your application at this time”, which could mean anything.

Today, an article on Money Marketing sheds a little bit more light:

Execution-only platform Selftrade has stopped taking on new customers with the platform voluntarily varying its permissions following discussions with the FSA.

Exactly what’s going on is still not clear, but the involvement of the regulator will not reassure some users. For obvious reasons then, Selftrade is at pains to stress that whatever it is has not involved any losses to clients or the firm: Continue reading »

Jan 222013
 

Justin Modray of Candid Money has launched a rather useful new tool for UK fund investors: An interactive fund platform comparison that lets you check how much a given fund or basket of funds will cost you across multiple platforms and helps identify the best fund supermarket/discount broker combination for your needs.

So far there are six fund supermarket/broker combinations on there – Alliance Trust Savings, Bestinvest, Cavdenish Online, Clubfinance Frequent Trader, Interactive Investor and rPlan. Several others are on the way – ICICI and TD Direct Investing (which are both Cofunds brokers, like ICICI) and Sippdeal.

The notable omission is Hargreaves Lansdown, which has declined to take part. Given how uncompetitive its charges look these days, that’s no surprise.

It would perhaps be handy to have Saxo’s Modern Wealth Management service in there as well at some point, but other than that the tool covers all the providers currently included in the UK fund supermarket comparison table on this site.

Jan 212013
 

I’ve updated the TD Direct Investing profile and the UK international stock brokers and online brokers tables to reflect the new fees announced a while ago. They won’t take effect until the beginning of February, but obviously at this juncture nobody should be signing up on the basis of the current fees.

I’ve also overhauled the Barclays Stockbrokers profile to merge the entries for the International Trader and Foreign Dealing Account into one record – it seems slightly more logical that way, since an investor can run both services within the same account.

Jan 172013
 

I’ve recently noticed that UK discount funds broker Commfreefunds as stopped taking on new clients – this is apparently because the firm is planning to launch a new service, presumably in line with the changes brought about by RDR and the platform review.

The firm was one of the cheaper options for investors with smaller portfolios to access the Cofunds supermarket, rebating all broker commission in exchange for a 0.19% annual fee. With it now out of the market for now, Interactive Investor will generally remain the cheapest Cofunds option for larger portfolios, while Clubfinance is probably the lowest-priced option for smaller ones (although ICICI’s new service may be competitive for those in between).

I’ve updated the fund supermarket comparison table to reflect this.

Jan 152013
 

Anybody who follows the UK financial services services market will be well aware that the Retail Distribution Review (RDR) is set to shake up the financial advice model and the pricing of many investment services. But the UK isn’t alone in this – while RDR is the first major review to come into effect, a number of other countries have been looking at similar measures.

The FT has a recent piece on the pending commission ban in the Netherlands – it’s probably paywalled for most readers, but the first couple of lines give the gist:

Dutch banks are putting pressure on asset managers to review their fund ranges in light of a self-imposed ban on inducements that will debut in January 2014.

Managers say they must create share classes that have commission payments stripped out if they want to maintain their lucrative business ties with large distributors such as ABN Amro, Rabobank and ING.

It’s interesting to see that the Dutch banks (in the Netherlands, as in most continental European markets, banks are the main fund distribution channel) are being fairly proactive about this. That contrasts with the UK experience, where many parts of the industry have left things as late as possible: Some kind of ban on trail commission to discount brokers and platforms seems almost certain within a year and yet very few firms have introduced unbundled direct-to-consumer pricing.   Continue reading »

Jan 102013
 

The temporary but large reduction in funds available for investment on the Alliance Trust Savings platform – give quite high profile coverage in the Daily Telegraph – is another example of why picking a new fund supermarket requires caution while the effects of the Retail Distribution Review are still working their way through.

I am not inclined to castigate ATS too much over this – it is reacting to RDR and the platform review far more pre-emptively than most of its peers and it’s to be commended for moving to clean pricing as quickly as possible. Perhaps the change could have been better communicated, but ATS seems to have a fairly comprehensive RDR changes page to update users on progress.

The new terms on fund charges [PDF] generally look significantly better. Obviously, you need to allow for ATS’s charges on top of the clean fees, but seeing some firms already bringing their fees down on a transparent basis should hopefully drive competition across all platforms. Continue reading »