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Which? exposes St James’s Place's 'nonsense' fee claims

A series of undercover meetings by Which? Money with wealth manager’s sales staff exposes a lack of disclosure on charges.

 
Which? exposes St James’s Place's 'nonsense' fee claims

A series of undercover meetings with financial advisers from St James’s Place (SJP) by Which? Money has exposed a lack of disclosure on charges.

Which? Money carried out 12 undercover meetings with advisers from FTSE 100-listed wealth management company St James's Place. The researchers told the advisers they were looking for independent advice and had £100,000 to invest.  

The researchers wanted to know what the advice would cost and what they would get in return. Which? said all of the researchers were offered free introductory meetings.

Charges

Which? said four of the 12 ‘failed to talk in detail about the likely costs at all’. Meanwhile the others were relatively forthcoming with information about fees. 

According to guidance from the financial watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), advisers should explain the cost of their services to prospective customers verbally and in writing. Which? also noted discrepancies in the information that was provided. While some advisers said initial charges were 4.5%, others put the charges at 5%. The latter percentage equates to £2,500 from a £50,000 investment.

It said only seven advisers mentioned ongoing charges, with estimates ranging from 1.25% to 2.3%.

Which? said the estimates given in SJP’s marketing literature suggested customers pay a 5% initial fee plus 1.59% a year ongoing for a low risk portfolio and 2% or above for higher risk.

Which? added there were further ‘questionable claims’ by some of the advisers, with one saying: ‘there’re no charges, there’re no fees, the only thing is, if you do anything, that’s when I would get paid.’

Which? described this claim as ‘ nonsense’ as the customer ultimately pays for it at some point.

SJP told Which? the discrepancies in the initial charges quoted were because some advisers would have quoted just for advice (4.5%), while others would have included other charges. For ongoing charges it said some advisers quoted the annual management charge, while others quoted an estimate for all charges.

Which? said: ‘In our view, these inconsistent explanations aren’t acceptable. If a customer asks about investment costs, they should expect to be told all of them by default.’

While all the advisers provided documentation explaining charges, four failed to accompany the written disclosure with a verbal explanation, said Which?.

Independence

The researchers reported that a quarter of the SJP advisers did not explain whether they provided restricted or independent advice. According to the report, some advisers described SJP’s funds as ‘best in breed’ while another ‘astonishingly’ said he did not need to be independent as an individual because SJP was itself an independent business.

SJP told Which? it ‘does not believe that being restricted is in any way inferior to being independent,’ adding that the SJP advisers in question were trying to explain their ‘distinct approach to investment management’. SJP said it was ‘regrettable’ if those explanations appeared to dismiss the value of independent advice.

 

Guarantees

Which? also commented on SJP’s pledge to guarantee advice; if an adviser provides unsuitable advice SJP will pay redress. Of course, any advice firm might volunteer to pay redress to a client or could be required to by the Financial Ombudsman Service, though claims against firms that go out of business are a different matter and will likely result in a Financial Services Compensation Scheme payment.

Which? said it believed the guarantee to be of more value to SJP’s advisers than customers.

One adviser said to a researcher: ‘[The advice] is guaranteed to be correct and right for you… which is why I work for SJP really. Everything that I recommend gets double checked by them.’ To which the researcher replied: ‘Yeah, that is good. Otherwise you’d get sued, I guess.’ The adviser said: ‘This is it.’

SJP said its guarantee differs from the protection offered by the FOS and that the FCA does not offer any guarantee.

Which? said while many SJP customers are happy with their service ‘our investigation raises serious questions about whether they can make an informed decision about what they get, what they pay, and what they might get elsewhere.’

It added: ‘SJP’s expensive alternative pushes customers into a closed market where they can sell expensive funds as advisers are free to ignore cheaper or better alternatives. We were shocked that a quarter of the advisers we saw didn’t admit they weren’t IFAs. With several advisers not telling people what they’d charge – and in other cases providing low estimates, our investigation suggests it’s near impossible to make an informed decision when comparing your local SJP adviser to alternative options. We have shared our findings with the FCA.’

Read the full report here.

28 comments so far. Why not have your say?

AngryfromManchester

Jul 25, 2017 at 16:26

5% initial charge plus 1.59% p.a. for advice on a low risk portfolio! How can these advisors look their clients in the eye! It's bordering on criminal.

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richard tomkin

Jul 25, 2017 at 16:52

I thought the obfuscation and lack of transparency described here had been outlawed years ago.It seems that some elements of the financial services "industry" still regard the public as a gullible money tree with very low

hanging fruit,so as to fund their particular lifestyles.Estate agents are positively

saintly in comparison!

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Michael Stevens

Jul 25, 2017 at 16:56

St James Place is know for having some of the highest fees in the UK.

Their advisers live in a shelter situation. Clients unaware of the true cost,.and how it eats into their funds

Similar to Allied Dunbar

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Jonathan

Jul 25, 2017 at 16:57

Whats the difference between the advice they give for investing £100,000 as opposed to £200,000? I'd of thought you would get the same advice but they make double the money for one of them.

Another example of rip-off Britain.

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Harry P

Jul 25, 2017 at 16:58

In my view, it is criminal. These are simply examples of the worst excesses perpetrated in the 80's under self-regulation. Screw the client with excessive charges for funds which are nowhere near the best available (and how would the adviser know, anyway) and move on to the next sucker. Obviously, the client has to take some responsibility for their choices, but these guys are just scamming them. Just what the hell is the FCA for if it can't tackle such abuses.

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Jeffrey Hurst

Jul 25, 2017 at 17:05

I went to see an "Advisor" many years ago. His office was in a small country town near where I then lived. I was impressed with the extremely flash appearance of it whilst waiting in the reception area. i was then greeted by the adviser and led into an even more impressive room and I thought then that he must be making a good deal of money, especially as this was deep in the sticks rather than in London.

I was given a hard sell about how high the returns would be and agreed to bring my wife (apparently, this was required) for anther meeting in order to finalize our investment of a six figure sum. As I left I saw a new Bentley parked by the side of the building and there away decided that the cost of the service was going to be too high for me, so I phoned to cancel the next visit.

How right I was!

by the adviser

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Francis Wilkinson

Jul 25, 2017 at 17:10

ALL ABOVE IS CORRECT BUT THE BOTTOM LINE IS THEY HAVE DELIVERED CONSISTENTLY GOOD RESULTS OVER THE YEARS AND ARE RUTHLESS IF ONE OF THEIR FUND MANAGERS UNDERPERFORMS. DOUBT IF MOST OTHERS CHARGE MUCH LESS.

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Tony Peterson

Jul 25, 2017 at 17:18

I used to enjoy the seminars SJP invited me to. Free coffee and biscuits along with a hard sell so transparently near-fraudulent that I enjoyed trying them out with yorkers, leg breaks and off breaks. I haven't been invited for while. Wonder why?

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Jeffrey Hurst

Jul 25, 2017 at 17:23

Well, at least you got free coffee and biscuits. And I've never been invited back

either.

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Tony Peterson

Jul 25, 2017 at 17:55

Francis

Why are you shouting? What do you consider "good results"? Do tell.

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Norman E

Jul 25, 2017 at 17:56

Only coffee & biscuits? Round here it used to lunches! More seriously the FCA are very good at hounding small independant advisors out of business for less, but I bet they do nothing about St James Place.

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Philip Alan

Jul 25, 2017 at 18:38

Recently I've spoken to around twenty IFA's (including SJP) regarding transfering a pension to a SIPP. When asking what their charges are, if they talk percentages I end the conversation there and then. Have lost all confidence in how most of them operate. Fortunately I eventually found a IFA who was straightforward and honest.

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uncommercial

Jul 25, 2017 at 19:33

I'm curious. What do SJP advise for £100K investment - individual shares or funds or investment trusts?

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Tony Peterson

Jul 25, 2017 at 19:41

uncommercial

I think, from memory, any stuff that gives them maximum kickbacks.

You only get advice to buy individual stocks from those with no vested interest.

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Jeffrey Hurst

Jul 25, 2017 at 21:03

uncommercial

All you get is a selection from their list of unit trusts. No investment funds and no shares.

Look in the Daily Telegraph's finance section to see their list.

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uncommercial

Jul 25, 2017 at 21:10

Goodness, and they charge £5000 for setting that up? You'd be better off buying one of John Baron's portfolios if you don't have any ideas of your own. Less than £5 for a copy of Investors Chronicle!

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William Phillips

Jul 26, 2017 at 11:30

SJP pushes its range of OEICs exclusively, blurs the line between independent advisors and its own commission salesmen and charges through the nose for inactive management.

Where are the customers' Bentleys?

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richard tomkin

Jul 26, 2017 at 11:50

This discussion does beg the question why,given the degree to which the public are being fleeced by this firm,it is not better to buy shares in St James Place itself.They have been a good investment over the years,it seems.

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uncommercial

Jul 26, 2017 at 11:56

Good question, Richard Tomkins. My answer would be that it is risky to invest in companies that engage in dubious practices. As a possible example, I sold out of SafeStyle when I read allegations of dubious sales practices. I've no idea whether the recent sharp fall in its share price is related to that, but I'm certainly glad to have avoided it.

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Mikesmusing

Jul 29, 2017 at 10:10

It seems the past practice in financial services of fleecing a gullible, innumerate public continues. Still aided by a spineless, ineffective regulator.

SJP shares might indeed have done well. Hargreaves Lansdown too ...

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Andrew Vincenti

Jul 29, 2017 at 11:06

And I am quite the Fraudulent Con Artists - yes, the FCA - will do sweet eff a about this, as usual; except another expensive survey. They are thoroughly in league with the financial industry and this is really not surprising as the cheats who the FCA are from the industry by and large. And the only head who was going to get tough on the industry was sacked by Osborne, no wonder that person ended being employed by the industry itself.

I steer quite clear from any financial advisors. and I would advise every reader to do the same - they just a bunch of thieving crooks.

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Jonathan

Jul 29, 2017 at 13:26

I know someone that has a few hundred thousand pounds invested with St James Place. St James Place have put the money in a trust, which means it will be exempt from inheritance tax and the person takes 5% income out each year. There is still as much money in the trust as when they opened it, so it can work out a lot better than putting your money in a bank account. Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future performance.

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Philip Lawlor

Jul 29, 2017 at 16:35

From memory the FT did a piece a while ago looking at investment houses like SJP (and others), their changes and returns. The summary was that you could well be better investing the investment company shares themselves rather than the investments they propose...

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DREXEL

Jul 29, 2017 at 16:45

SJP has for the past couple of years sent a questionnaire to its investors asking their opinions. In it there is a question about value for money. I thought it offered poor value (in my case the OCF for the UT I held was 1.65%) and stated this.

I received some weeks later the results of the questionnaire indicating that investors were highly complimentary about the service offered by SJP and their 'Partner'. I noted only a very small proportion did not feel good value for money was being offered. I presumed either investors did not appreciate how high charges were for their investments or they considered the service and advice as a whole was worth it.

I no longer hold the UT and had bought it long ago when all UTs had a 5 - 5.5% initial charge, an amc of around 1.5% and the max discount available anywhere was 2-3%.

Wasn't it HL which first put pressure on providers to offer funds free from an initial charge (except maybe a 0.5% spread) and to discount the amc for many ? 😏

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Maverick

Aug 01, 2017 at 13:01

I'm reminded of the old saying that there aren't any good IFAs left. The good ones are all now living in Bermuda . . . .

With so much information now available totally free of charge on the internet (try Trustnet for a start), and the possibility of running dummy portfolios without spending a penny of your own money, there is little need to use IFAs.

Trust your own judgment. I do.

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Francis Wilkinson

Aug 01, 2017 at 16:23

You forget IHT trusts which require specialist setting up.My SJP trust is 25% up despite drawing 5% annually-IHT exempt.On that basis they are earning the fees as far as I'm concerned.

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Maverick

Aug 01, 2017 at 18:14

Francis - The trust needs specialist setting up (I am a retired solicitor), but what goes in it doesn't, so long as you follow a few simple rules. Are you sure you wouldn't have got a better deal by getting the trust set up by a solicitor - for a one-off fee - and then doing the investment yourself?

I once set up a joint-venture cargo handling company for two exporters working out of Portsmouth Docks. I bumped into the CEO of the smaller company a year or so later and he was delighted to find he was saving 10% on his handling costs. I didn't tell him that my client, the larger company, was saving 30%.

I suspect SJP work largely on the basis that what the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve about.

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Francis Wilkinson

Aug 03, 2017 at 12:08

Very interesting Maverick-you would have to be very sure the solicitor was a specialist as there must be pitfalls which you pay SJP to avoid.

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