The DFM Satisfaction Survey: Results are in

By Justin Cash, Editor, Money Marketing

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Adviser satisfaction with their discretionary fund management partners has improved in the last twelve years, new research from Money Marketing suggests, with more advisers adding to their panels or increasing the proportion of client assets in discretionary mandates.

Our annual DFM Satisfaction Survey saw 275 advisers weigh in this year on how they used DFMs, the charges they pay, and what they are really looking for in their outsourced investment manager.

Twenty per cent of respondents said they used one DFM. Nearly a quarter used two, while another 20 per cent used three DFMs.

Twelve per cent of advisers used five or more DFMs – though advisers note that this may include legacy relationships with clients or advisers they have taken on and must continue to service, rather than having a large number of DFMs as part of the firm’s core proposition.

Sixteen per cent of respondents did not use a DFM.

Seventeen per cent of respondents said they had added to the number of DFMs they use in the past year – twice the proportion that said they had reduced their panel – while 74 per cent said the number of DFMs they used had remained the same.

Advisers were given a list of the top 20 DFMs that were most widely available on platform, based on data from consultancy Platforum, to select as who they used as their primary DFM, as well as the option to input any other DFM or their in-house DFM if they used it as their primary discretionary manager.

Brewin Dolphin, Quilter Cheviot and Parmenion topped the list of most commonly cited providers to use as a primary DFM.

Nine per cent of advisers put at least 90 per cent of their assets with a DFM. The majority put at least 40 per cent of their firm’s assets with DFMs.

A quarter of advisers pay between 0.3 and 0.4 per cent to access their DFMs. Eighteen per cent pay between 0.4 and 0.6 per cent, 21 per cent pay between 0.7 and 0.8 per cent, and 20 per cent pay above 0.9 per cent.

Compared to when Money Marketing ran the survey last year, average fees seem to have remained flat, with a slight drop from 0.66 per cent to 0.63 per cent.

Advisers were asked to rate how important they thought a number of factors were when selecting a DFM, from brand reputation, to manager selection, cost, investment choice, performance and service levels, out of a maximum of 10.

Service levels were rated most important, with an average score of 8.17 out of 10, followed by performance at 8.09 out of 10.

Brand reputation was scored lowest in importance, at 6.29 out of 10, with manager selection the next lowest scorer, at 6.79.

On a scale of one to 10, a quarter of advisers scored their DFM a 10 in terms of how satisfied they were with their current relationship with them.

Another quarter scored it a nine, and 20 per cent scored it an eight. Only around 10 per cent rated their satisfaction as five or lower.

When it came to how that satisfaction had changed over the last twelve months, 16 per cent said they had become more satisfied with their DFM, compared to 7 per cent who were less satisfied. Four per cent said they were “considerably more satisfied”, 3 per cent “considerably less satisfied”, with the remainder rating their satisfaction as unchanged.

On the positive side, some advisers were more satisfied as their “working relationship has got closer” or reported “better service levels” from their outsourced manager.

Others reported specific improvements to the way investments were managed. For example, one adviser said their DFM “has listened to feedback about the investment strategy, as it was felt to be too cautious across the range and as such has changed the mandate”.

Another noted “better diversification and introduction of more uncorrelated assets for better risk mitigation and opportunity seeking”, and several applauded the communications from their DFMs around Mifid II regulations.

One adviser said: “Most DFMs just bunch together a suite of multi-asset managers. Any worthwhile, qualified investment adviser should be able to do that. We believe that a DFM’s responsibility should go beyond that.”

However, issues still remain for many advisers.

Some noted problems such as “internal management changes occurring too often” and “no costs and charges transparency”.

One adviser wrote: “[The DFM] is not very responsive to phone calls or emails when you have a query. If you query charges you don’t get the full response – it could be a lot better. It will prompt us now to do an earlier than due round of DFM due diligence for a panel.”

Another theme to emerge is several advisers noting how important truly bespoke management was for them, expressing concern that “the level of tailoring/personalisation has decreased over many years and continues to do so”.

Performance did not seem to feature so prominently in the feedback around satisfaction.

While one adviser said they were “a little disappointed” with DFMs’ performance during volatile markets in the fourth quarter of 2018, “their stance of generally not panicking during the period has to be applauded and respected.”

Reducing costs, however, was something that many advisers said they would like to see from DFMs to improve their relationship with advisers, as well as better transparency of those costs.

“It’s a race to zero and there is still the opportunity to capture a bit of market share and build a decent size business with a genuinely good value proposition before virtually all investors go down the self-invest or robo-advice route in the coming decade or so.”

“Charging in a clearly identifiable way would help as no two seem to present their figures in the same way so direct comparisons are difficult,” one adviser noted. “Standardised projections of costs would also be helpful as at present the return rates used to provide Mifid II charges reporting are all over the place.”

Other more technical points for improvement included processing of online applications and online reporting facilities.

Advisers also called on platforms to do more to help DFMs in terms of both investment management and reporting.

One wrote: “Force platforms into being able to effectively deal with Mifid II issues, particularly in respect to the 10 per cent quarterly reporting. Platforms seem to like taking on the client, but can then not provide the DFMs with the relevant information to report accordingly, which means it is being fobbed off on us.”

Overall it seems, provided service levels have not dropped, advisers still value DFM relationships highly though.

One writes: “DFMs are the right solution for high net worth clients. They offer those clients with large investible assets security in the triangulated relationship where the DFM offers advice on investments using the firm’s research and analysis tools, and the adviser (me) offers more holistic tax and financial planning in accumulating and accessing the asset. These clients feel more secure having a ‘professional’ fund manager dealing with the investment decisions regarding the assets directly”.


Adviser view

Kevin Forbes, managing director, Strategic Solutions

That some advisers appear to use five DFMs does seem like a lot given we know that 9 per cent of firms have less than five advisers in them. With 20 to 30 advisers, you can see how you would historically come by relationships that build up. The risk mapping would get very difficult though – almost as much work as doing it yourself. A balanced investor would be different across each.

What we have found is that most of the DFMs have started managing their own risk rather than managing client risk. They don’t want to be caught out on £25bn assets under management. Not in a greedy way, but some of them are very expensive models.


Expert view:

The benefits of a DFM panel

The results of the annual Money Marketing DFM Satisfaction Survey revealed that 80 per cent of advisers utilise more than one DFM and around one in six advisers had relationships with four or more DFMs.

It was also observed that there was a modest trend towards increasing the number of DFM relationships. So is there any evidence that there are benefits for advisers in using a DFM, and does it make sense to have a panel of DFMs rather than relying on a single provider?

The job of a DFM is to create and manage what economist Harry Markowitz described as a “good portfolio”; that is a mix of asset classes and individual components that provide protections and opportunities with respect to a wide range of potential outcomes.

Using the ARC universe of over 130,000 underlying private client portfolios run by around 90 DFMs, the evidence suggests that, on average, over the last five years DFMs have delivered superior risk-adjusted performance to their multi-asset class fund peers. That is encouraging and suggests that DFMs are able to balance risk and reward for their clients.

However, as every adviser knows not all DFMs are equally skilled in all market conditions. Each DFM has a particular investment philosophy and process. It therefore makes sense for advisers to operate a DFM panel where clients can select the DFM that best fits their preferred style. Breadth of asset classes employed; portfolio concentration; degree of deviation away from model; tracking error; and ESG considerations are a few of the elements that differentiate one DFM from another.

It is encouraging that, on average, the majority of their advisers are satisfied with their DFMs. However, it is unlikely that any single DFM will suit all of an adviser’s clients. The evidence from the Satisfaction Survey is that most advisers have realised that there are significant benefits in providing their clients with a choice of DFMs rather than a one-DFM-fits-all solution.

Graham Harrison is managing director ARC Research Limited

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