James Coney  

Passive investing remains a growing trend

James Coney

James Coney

You cannot doubt the ability of Vanguard to cause a stir.

After promising for years it would launch a self-invested personal pension, it finally revealed that the new pension was coming in January.

The cost would be the same as its current Isas, so investors would end up paying around 0.35 per cent in total, which is less than you would pay on most investment platforms without investing.

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It prompted much fanfare from the passives fans, of which there are many among ordinary investors.

Sometimes their adoration is cultish.

At the same time, there was a general outpouring of dissent from the advice community who were keen to point out that active management was the best way to plot your way through turbulent markets.

Although Vanguard has been around since the 1970s, its presence in the UK is really limited to the past decade.

The rise in popularity of passives is also limited to the same timescale.

So when you consider that we have had unfettered rising markets since both of these things came about, it is easy to see why so many have become fans.

Any fool could have made money.

Cards on the table, I do love the Vanguard proposition, though I am not an investor.

The co-operative/mutual model where profits are ploughed into keeping fees down for investors is one that should have a growing place with the rise of ethical investing.

Passive investing seems to have also grown in popularity the same way as Monzo has in banking.

Both have relied on fans of the businesses to spread the good news.

And both have been influential in forcing change in the market, with Vanguard it has come through pressure on fees across the industry, and on Monzo it has come through better technology at the big banks.

But despite all this, the rise of passives is largely untested in troubling times.

When equity markets fall heavily, or for a prolonged period, what happens to those self-investors who thought making money was easy (and there are plenty of them)?

There are plenty of savvy self-investors that have planned for this and have built themselves a proper portfolio of passive stocks that will protect them.

As all professional investors know, it is when markets fall that your faith in a strategy is really put to the test.

But how many will not have planned and will quickly forget their strategy? I would warrant a few.

Passive investing is low-cost and makes investing more democratic.

But it cannot help ordinary investors devise a sensible retirement plan, it cannot teach patience, and it can still burn the fingers of those that do not know what they are doing.

Advisers are better to embrace the trend and show how they add their value by coming up with strategies to help investors through the storm, when it comes.