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Home > Opinion > John Lappin

Wading through the outsourcing divide

From next year, one of the biggest divides among advisers will be between those who outsource the management of their clients’ investments and those who do not.

By John Lappin | Published Jun 11, 2012 | comments

To be more precise, advisers look like they may be split into those who have opted out of investing their clients’ money – in terms of picking funds and allocating assets on a strategic and tactical basis – and those who will seek to retain those skills and offer those services as part of what they do for clients.

The situation is complicated further by firms who are centralising their investments and leaving advisers to deal with financial planning and assessing the risks their clients need or wish to take – “internal outsourcing”, in other words.

An informed client would probably like an adviser to have some all-rounder skills on overseeing investments, even if their tasks are confined to financial planning

Many leaders at the big advice firms would like to see most investment decisions taken away from advisers. They may perceive advisers’ influence on clients’ portfolios as dangerous, especially after the failures of investment products such as the Arch Cru fund range.

All of this throws up a host of issues. Do advisers need different skills if they outsource investments to a discretionary fund manager (DFM), a multi-manager or an outside firm?

Have we really got a settled picture of where responsibility lies between an adviser and an outsourced investment manager?

As a useful stress test, advisers may wish to consider what would happen if something went wrong in a small but not insignificant section of a DFM portfolio.

What would happen if the FSA were to visit? Would the contractual arrangements and oversight of the portfolio stand up to scrutiny? Advisers should not rely on the regulator applying natural justice.

Moreover, firms and advisers not actively involved in investment may also wish to consider the risk that investment knowledge could fall if it is not used day by day – even if, in theory, such knowledge has been beefed up by the exams.

An informed client would probably like an adviser to have some all-rounder skills on overseeing investments, even if their tasks are confined to financial planning.

Through the relationship with their adviser, some clients will have seen a gradual evolution of what they hold. Ten years ago this may have meant a number of funds, inside and outside a pension wrapper. Now it may be a much more coherent portfolio. That portfolio could be substantially outsourced.

Others may be confronted with a more sudden change in emphasis along with the other charging changes if a firm has gone down, what you might call, a ‘radically outsourced’ direction from where it has been recently.

Most investment advisers who believe in what is on offer will have the skills to talk their clients through the change.

However, there must be an alternative approach where an adviser firm tells its clients it may bring in outside investment intelligence, but fundamentally the firm will make the decisions and retain the liability for them. Surely that still has a great deal of appeal for advisers trying to market their services.

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