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U.K. Regulator Criticizes Financial Industry on Performance, Competitiveness and Pushes for Broad Reforms

The Financial Conduct Authority, the U.K.’s chief financial regulator, recently issued a report critical of the asset management industry after an 18-month investigation and proposed significant, wide-ranging reforms. The Financial Times reported that the FCA’s recommended reforms would make the U.K. one of the “toughest regimes in the world for asset managers.”  The FCA study found weak price competition across the asset management industry” and observed that U.K. firms, particularly retail active asset managers, do not typically compete on price. The report also faulted fund performance, and the relationship between price and performance: “[O]ur evidence suggests that, on average, both actively managed and passively managed funds did not outperform their own benchmarks after fees.” The report included a number of proposed remedies including: strengthening the duty on fund managers to act in the best interests of investors, increasing accountability, and introducing a minimum level of independence in governance structures – specifically, requiring two independent trustees on fund boards -- among other similarities to the U.S. mutual fund structure.  The FCA report also recommended improved disclosures to investors and initiatives to increase competitive pressures on fund managers.  Importantly, the FCA said it supports the disclosure of a single all-in fee to investors, which will include the asset management fee and an estimate of transaction charges. The Wall Street Journal reported that the industry has long lobbied against an all-in fee for investors and that the FCA report may increase pressure on active managers who are already squeezed by the growth of passive investing. 

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