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Tracking the pros and cons of active fund management

Two of the UK's most successful fund managers of the past two decades, Neil Woodford and Anthony Bolton, will be leaving their posts a few months from now, prompting volleys of comment and advice from fund brokers and platforms. But the fund manager merry-go-round is ignored by many of Scotland's top financial planners, who believe investors are better off in plain vanilla market-tracking funds - and they say the statistics prove it.

Jason Hollands of adviser ­Bestinvest says: "One of the stand out observations of 2013 has been the number of high-profile fund managers who either left the industry, defected firms, or announced plans to retire or move on. These include the biggest beasts of all, Anthony Bolton and Neil Woodford.

"We've long pointed out the high turnover of managers on actively managed retail funds, and when a manager changes on a fund you own, it is important to assess the case for continuing to hold the investment or moving elsewhere."

However, leading certified financial planners attending last week's Scottish conference of the Institute of Financial Planning have long been wedded to low-cost index-tracking funds for their well-heeled clients. Sandy Robertson, founder of Acumen Financial Planning in Aberdeen, commented: "We do not use active funds at all." Glasgow firms Loch Fyne Financial and Forty-Two Wealth Management are among other champions of index-tracking solutions.

According to new research for the True and Fair Campaign on fund charges, 46% of the UK's actively-managed funds are "copycat funds" replicating the stock-market index for much of their portfolio - compared with only 10% of equity funds in the US. Yet the higher charges levied by active funds for their management means investors are effectively paying a £3 billion surcharge for what is essentially index-tracking investing, the campaign says.

The research found around 40% of a typical UK equity fund is "identical" to the stock-market index, yet many "closet indexers" charge three times the fee of an index

fund.

Only 24% of UK equity funds were found to be radically different to the index, compared with 65% in the US.

Gina Miller, founder of campaign creator SCM Private, says: "We were shocked by the scale of what appears to be copy-cat funds in the UK investment industry."

Meanwhile, Financial Planning Week, which starts tomorrow, has prompted the Association of Investment Companies (AIC) to compile a list of questions to ask about your adviser:

lHow much do you pay, and is it per hour, a flat fee per job, or a percentage?

lIf it's a percentage, does that include all assets, ie cash and other assets they don't actively manage?

lWhat savings are being made from financial planning, for instance in income tax or capital gains tax?

lHow do your funds compare with sector averages over the past 12 months?

lHow often, and in what form, can you contact your adviser and what's included in your fee?

lHow does the adviser show your progress towards your objectives?

lIn meetings who does most of the talking? Is it a balanced, long-term relationship?

Jacqueline Lockie of the AIC said: "I think now that all clients know they are paying for advice, the question becomes: 'How do I know I'm getting value from my adviser?'"

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