The asset management industry is “100% committed” to meeting the transparency goals laid down by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the chair of the UK’s asset management trade body has said.
Speaking at a recent industry event, Helena Morrissey, chair of the Investment Association, admitted that member firms needed to do more to make the disclosure of costs more user-friendly or risk having measures imposed on them by the regulator.
“I come with a very clear message: The Investment Association is 100% committed to transparency of investment costs and to complete disclosure,” Morrissey told delegates at a symposium organised by the Transparency Task Force.
She was responding to the event’s theme of feedback on and discussion of the FCA’s Asset Management Market Study, published a month ago.
The wide-ranging report criticised the asset management industry’s “weak” competition and poor transparency.
Morrissey said: “The FCA talks about some of the things that they might do if things don’t go according to plan. It does give us the sword of Damocles hanging over us.
“Some might argue there is already a lot of disclosure, but it’s not done in a user-friendly way. We might think we’ve already done a lot to try to improve, but it isn’t good enough.”
The Investment Association is working on a standard method of cost disclosure, which was recognised in the FCA’s report, along with its own suggestions for improvements.
However, the regulator also said: “If we find industry-led initiatives are not likely to be successful or sufficiently comprehensive, we will consider the need for further regulatory intervention.”
The Investment Association – previously the Investment Management Association – has been grappling with the issue of cost disclosure for several years, with previous leaderships taking strikingly different stances.
After a period of public clashes with transparency campaigners, the association began to soften its tone under previous chief executive Daniel Godfrey.
Godfrey urged his members to embrace a new statement of principles and spoke publicly about the idea of a “pounds and pence” figure for investment fund charges.
However, Godfrey was forced to resign last year following opposition to some of his proposals by a number of the Investment Association’s biggest members.
Most recently, the association was fiercely criticised for a controversial report likening the idea of hidden fees to the myth of the Loch Ness Monster.
The Transparency Task Force’s founder Andy Agathangelou at the time labelled opaque fee structures a “festering sore on the face of financial services”.
Asked whether asset management firms were now more willing to support transparency measures, Morrissey said: “When I became chair, I felt the majority of people I talked to were waiting for regulation and were reluctant [to act].
“Now the majority feel they want to make sure our industry is in the right place, has the trust of the public and is well respected. A lot of that comes down to attracting talent that really recognises that we do something socially useful.”
She admitted that the association had gone through this shift in attitude “arguably too late” but emphasised that “it’s very important that we use things like this study to get the result we all crave”.