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BlackRock, Aegon and Columbia Threadneedle fail ‘fee disclosure’ test

BlackRock has appeared on a list of investment companies failing to disclose fees adequately to some pension clients, more than three years after the fund manager worked with the UK regulator to improve fee transparency for the sector.

BlackRock, which has $8.7tn of assets under management, was among 29 fund managers assessed as not meeting minimum standards to help pension trustees get a handle on costs.

Since 2019, asset managers in the UK, managing tens of billions of pounds of retirement cash, have faced requests to disclose their fees and charges, using standardised templates developed by an industry working group, convened by the Financial Conduct Authority.

The templates were developed to help pension trustees identify charges, and challenge fund managers on fees. It followed a 2015 market study by the FCA that found evidence of weak competition in the asset management sector.

ClearGlass, a company that works with pension funds to secure charge data from asset mangers, will for the first time today publish a list of managers that met its minimum quality standards for the provision of cost and performance data.

Since 2019, ClearGlass has requested and received cost and performance data on more than 8,000 portfolios managed for pension clients by more than 400 asset managers.

It found 242 asset managers had met its minimum standards, which included data being accurate, properly formatted, client specific and in the relevant reporting period.

Conversely, 29 managers, including BlackRock, Columbia Threadneedle, Aegon UK and Credit Suisse did not pass the quality test set.

“Those who failed did so due to bad data, late data or inappropriate data,” said Chris Sier, founder of ClearGlass who was appointed chair of the institutional disclosure working group, the body formed by the FCA in 2017 to improve fee transparency.

A BlackRock executive sat on the working group, which helped develop the standardised cost templates.

BlackRock said its clients received all the required disclosures to help them make informed decisions on the value of their investments. “In this instance, as discussed in advance with ClearGlass, the format of our disclosure did not meet their required criteria,” the asset manager said. “Over the course of 2021 we will work with ClearGlass to deliver our disclosure in the format required.”

Mr Sier said some pension clients who had successfully obtained data using the new templates had found their costs were up to twice as high as previously believed.

“This is because charges that were previously hidden, such as transaction costs, are now in view on the template. It’s starting to impact where pension funds are pitching to manage their money.”

Columbia Threadneedle, which did not pass the minimum standard, said: “Client reporting is an important part of service to clients. Last year we introduced a new reporting process for ClearGlass clients and most received the information requested. However, as it was a new process it took additional time to deliver the requests to deadline at the outset. We’re confident we now have a robust process to meet ClearGlass’s requirements.”

Credit Suisse and Aegon UK declined to comment. The FCA also declined to comment.

This month the government decided against mandating the use of the cost templates in favour of encouraging wider take-up by trustees through a new reporting requirement in annual scheme returns.

Fund groups that failed the ClearGlass standards test

Aegon UK
AKO Global
Albacore Capital
Alcentra
Alpha
Anchorage Capital
Apax Partners
Ares Management
Arrow Capital
Ashmore
BlackRock
CBRE
Chequers Capital
Coatue Management
Columbia Threadneedle
Credit Suisse Asset Management
Davidson Kempner
EQT
GSA
Housing Solutions
Icon Infrastructure
Insight
Macquarie
Red Kite Capital
Rohatyn
Royal London Asset Management
The Children’s Investment Fund
Thoma Bravo
Two Sigma
Waterland

Minimum standards for a clear pass

  1. An asset manager must, for the majority of their data submissions in the last quarter, have provided data in one of the currently accepted data standards (CTI, ILPA).

  2. Submitted data must be complete, accurate, properly formatted, and include client specific (rather than pooled fund-level) numbers for the correct reporting period.

  3. Submitted data must be provided at the latest by the date specified by the client.

  4. All interim inquiries (such as data checks by ClearGlass) must be dealt with quickly and appropriately.


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