“Dog fund” report highlights benefits of independent advice

By August 31, 2023Investments
Image of a black and white dog wearing glasses on an orange background

The latest Bestinvest “Spot the Dog” report has recently been published, and in addition to turning the spotlight on funds that have lagged behind fund performance within their sector, the most recent report also highlighted a trend of underperformance within funds offered by restricted wealth managers.


The list no-one wants to be on

The biannual “Spot the Dog” report lists funds investing in Equities, that have underperformed their relevant market index over three consecutive 12 month periods and also underperformed by a total of 5% or more over the last three years. By using these criteria, the report aims to exclude periods of short-term underperformance, which can happen from time to time to even the best long-term performing actively managed funds. Instead, the report attempts to highlight those funds that have consistently underperformed.

The latest study listed 56 funds that have met the criteria, with nine of the funds holding assets under management in excess of £1bn. The most interesting feature of the latest report is that it highlighted the inclusion of a high number of funds offered by restricted wealth managers. One particular restricted manager, St James’ Place, had a total of six entries in the Bestinvest Dog List, with three of St James Place’ Global Equities funds that appear on the list, holding combined assets under management of over £26bn. Another restricted provider, Scottish Widows (where funds are managed by Schroder), saw two of its funds make the list.


The limitations of restricted advice

We have regularly commented on the differences between independent and restricted financial advice, and why we believe the former to be superior. FAS is an independent practice, whereby we can recommend products, solutions, and investment funds from across the marketplace. This contrasts with a restricted advice proposition, which can only recommend products from certain providers and could mean that the advice provided is limited to a single range of products or funds.

We are passionate believers that independent, whole of market advice has distinct advantages over restricted advice propositions, and the Bestinvest report only serves to strengthen our belief that independent advice offers a significant advantage.

This is particularly the case if your investment portfolio is managed by a restricted adviser. By using a restricted wealth manager, it is likely that the adviser can only construct your portfolio by investing in their own brand funds. As a result, if one or more of the funds offered underperform consistently, your options will be few as the adviser will be limited in what they can offer as an alternative. In the case of St James’ Place, three of the six entries in the Bestinvest list are invested in Global Equities. For investors who take a medium to high level of investment risk, allocations to Global Equities are likely to feature heavily in any diversified investment portfolio, and holding consistently underperforming funds in this sector sets the foundation for poor overall portfolio performance, on a relative basis against other propositions.


Independent advisers have the advantage

Contrast the position of the restricted advice client with a client of an independent firm. As the whole of the market is available to an independent adviser, a skilled adviser can select the most appropriate fund from the very widest range of funds offered to retail investors, and if one of the funds underperforms, there are options to switch into an alternative fund which is managed by another fund house.

At FAS, we have a highly disciplined process when it comes to fund selection. Our in-house Investment Committee undertakes a comprehensive review of all funds available to investors each quarter, using quantitative research initially, and then engaging in rigorous analysis of those funds shortlisted, considering the style, approach and track record of the fund manager in question. As part of this process, we regularly meet with leading UK fund managers, so that we can fully understand their fund selection process and investment strategy.

The vast majority of the funds we recommend perform well when compared to sector peers. Where a fund underperforms on a consistent basis, we carefully analyse the reasons for the underperformance and if the Committee feels it appropriate, we remove that fund from our list of recommended funds. Given that most investment platforms can provide access to more than 3,000 investment funds, an alternative will always be available.


Conflict with FCA Consumer Duty

The recently introduced Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) Consumer Duty rules introduced a higher level of protection for clients of advice firms, as the rules now oblige firms to act to deliver good outcomes for retail customers. The FCA now requires all firms to apply the new principles to the areas of products and services, price and value, consumer understanding and consumer support.

Given the depth of the review we undertook in respect of our response to the introduction of Consumer Duty, we do wonder how restricted firms have been able to demonstrate value for money and good outcomes for clients. When reports such as “Spot the Dog” point the spotlight on underperforming fund performance, the restricted advice proposition is unlikely to be able to adapt, and therefore we feel it is difficult to see how such a service is compatible with the principles of the Consumer Duty rules.


Time to question restricted advice?

If your investments are managed by a firm that offers a restricted advice service, the “Spot the Dog” report makes for compelling reading. Any investor holding funds through a restricted adviser should consider the investment proposition carefully and consider the impact that a limited fund range could have in the event of underperformance.

Speak to one of our experienced independent advisers here, who would be pleased to analyse an existing restricted portfolio and review your current financial arrangements.