Kathy Vincent, BT General Manager, Platforms and Investments

This article published in the May print edition of Professional Planner was produced in partnership with BT.

Kathy Vincent remembers well the day BT slashed headline pricing on its flagship Panorama investment platform to 15 basis points, a move that precipitated a fierce and sometimes contentious price war between the major players in the adolescent industry.

“That was announced in my first week,” Vincent (pictured) says, recalling her induction as general manager of BT’s platforms and investment division in mid-2018. “We were just crazy busy.”

Since then, it’s fair to say that a lot has transpired in advice. During 2019 the Hayne royal commission played havoc with the institutional advice ecosystem and advisers struggled through both bruising regulatory upheaval and a taxing new set of educational requirements.

Then 2020 came, and the world changed. For the platform industry, something else changed as well. Once the pricing war subsided and the industry settled on a much softer cost band, platform providers found themselves competing on something advisers value just as much, if not more, than modest pricing; functionality and service.

Call it the third great growth spurt in the platform industry’s rapid development. First there was the technology, then came the cost equalisation. In 2020 – and could there be a better time? – the focus is now on how to make the platforms more practicable and serviceable.

A BATTLE OF PRICING AND TRANSPARENCY

When the investment platform’s pricing war kicked off in mid-2018, BT paved the way with its move to a 15bps asset-based administration fee and an attendant media blitz.

According to Vincent, who had literally “just walked through the door”, the focus at the time was as much about transparency as it was pricing.

“We took quite a leading position in making the explicit choice to make platform pricing more transparent,” she says.

“To some extent price will be a dynamic that advisers will always contemplate in terms of best interest duty, but we wanted to take a stance on being as transparent as we could and talk about it more.”

At the time, the industry had its technology in place. BT, in particular, had invested heavily into making Panorama the most prominent platform on the market. Yet increased margin pressure at every level meant the industry had to adjust to lower, two-tiered pricing.

“That was the next wave,” recalls Mark Hoven, chief executive at Adviser Ratings. “Having twin offerings based on functionality and price.” After BT moved on pricing its major competitors followed, including AMP’s MyNorth, MLC’s Masterkey and IOOF’s Pursuit. For advisers and their clients, the clarity of simple-to-understand, cheaper pricing eased the strain.

“Clients in the old days used to pay through the nose,” says Troy Macmillan, chief executive at TWD Advisory in Perth.