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Inflation, ESG requirements and regulations contribute to cost management challenges, survey finds

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More than a third of investors have seen an increase in fund servicing costs in the past three years, a new report has found.

The Investors’ Costs and Fees 2023 report conducted by the independent global investment consultancy bfinance has found that investors across the globe are grappling with cost management challenges amid persistent inflation, heightened ESG requirements, and regulatory burdens.

The report found decreases in management fees but increases in other costs, including “ad-hoc” asset manager charges and fund servicing, while the challenges of non-transparency and non-comparability remain widespread across many cost components and asset classes, with many investors dissatisfied.

Since the Global Financial Crisis, investors have benefited from cost-compressing factors including low interest rates, downward pressure on asset management fees, and improved cost transparency facilitated by regulation, industry initiatives and more. However, significant cost-additive pressures are now emerging.

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In a rising cost climate, with high-interest rates, increased pressure for ESG compliance, and continuing market volatility, investors are pressured to achieve better “value for money” in many areas without compromising on strategic goals.

“Although we’ve seen some investors making major strides on the subject of cost management, this report really illustrates how far the investment industry still has to go before it reaches high standards of ‘cost transparency’ and ‘cost comparability’ in the eyes of asset owners,” Duncan Higgs, managing director and head of portfolio solutions at bfinance, said.

“This subject will likely come under greater scrutiny now that costs in many areas are rising — particularly in fees for fund servicing (custody, audit, legal) and various ‘ad hoc’ charges passed on by asset managers to their clients outside of the management fees. We still see real scope for investors to improve value for money, without compromising on strategic goals, in areas such as transaction cost analysis.”

Changing investor environment

On a like-for-like basis, 34 per cent of investors reported an increase in fund servicing costs over the past three years. The low size of these costs, relative to fund management fees, makes this increase more feasible, according to the report.

Regarding management fees, 46 per cent say these fees have declined, however, nearly one in four have experienced an increase in ad-hoc expenses. ESG-related costs, and how to charge for them, are widely cited pressure points among investors. Further, some investors have observed higher “market impact” costs following a period of market volatility and periodic fixed-income liquidity constraints.

The report also found there is a high level of dissatisfaction with transparency across transaction costs for asset owners, with only 27 per cent of investors happy with the transparency of market impact costs and 45 per cent for trading/brokerage expenses. In contrast, 83 per cent of investors are satisfied with the transparency of management fees, illustrating stronger adhesion to variable market impact costs.

Even more than cost transparency, investors are dissatisfied with cost comparability. Looking at transaction costs, 14 per cent of investors are happy with the comparability of market impact costs and 24 per cent with trading/brokerage expenses. This dissatisfaction is also seen across management and performance fees, with 37 per cent and 48 per cent of investors dissatisfied with these respective costs.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of investors are broadly satisfied with both the transparency and comparability of costs in fixed income, versus just 16 per cent in private markets and 18 per cent in liquid alternatives. Lack of transparency is a particularly significant problem in private markets, with 44 per cent of investors not satisfied with the current level of cost transparency.

“The data and anecdotal comments throughout this report really illustrate the extent to which investors are now facing cost-additive pressures,” Kathryn Saklatvala, head of investment content at bfinance and report co-author, said.

“This is a real contrast to the previous decade when low interest rates, downward pressure on management fees, and improved (though still imperfect!) transparency helped considerably to reduce like-for-like costs for investors.”

Inflation, ESG requirements and regulations contribute to cost management challenges, survey finds

More than a third of investors have seen an increase in fund servicing costs in the past three years, a new report has found.

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Maja Garaca Djurdjevic

Maja Garaca Djurdjevic

Maja's career in journalism spans well over a decade across finance, business and politics. Now an experienced editor and reporter across all elements of the financial services sector, prior to joining Momentum Media, Maja reported for several established news outlets in Southeast Europe, scrutinising key processes in post-conflict societies.

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