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Behind the headlines: What you need to know about platform pricing

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Three DIY investment platforms - Hargreaves Lansdown, AXA and Fidelity - announced new pricing structures this week, causing a flurry of news headlines and possibly some confusion among investors.

The reason behind the pricing announcements is that from April, all investment brokers and platforms will have to ‘unbundle’ their prices under new rules from the regulator aimed at making investing fairer and more transparent for the end consumer.

In real terms, this means customers will pay a ‘service fee’ to the platform as well as an annual fee on any funds held, rather than one ‘bundled’ charge as they did previously.

Choosing a platform can be a difficult task and while price should be a key consideration, it is important for investors to consider how charges will affect them over their investing timescale.

Hargreaves Lansdown, AXA and Fidelity may have all entered into a price war, with all three trying to coax in customers with headline-grabbing deals and incentives.

But a closer look at the effect of charges over a longer time period reveals a different picture.

“When you look at headline basis point charges, it can initially look like there are big differences [between the pricing figures unveiled this week by Hargreaves Lansdown, AXA and Fidelity],” says Mark Polson, an investment consultant at The Lang Cat.

“However this cost comparison table shows that actually the headline cost has pretty minimal effect over five years.”

Polson says that fund performance together with fund charges (and transparency of those costs), customer communications, usability of the self-service functionality and customer service experience are much more important, which of course is far harder to quantify and compare.

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