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Carney accused of "lack of understanding" in remarks on robo-advisors

31 January 2017  |  6187 views  |  0 Bank of england

The founder and CEO of online investment manager Scalable Capital has lashed out at the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, accusing him of a "deep miscalculation of priorities" for singling out robo-advisory services as a potential force for future financial instablity.

Scalable Capital chief Adam French has published an open letter to Carney, challenging views expressed by the BofE Governor at a recent G20 conference meeting.

At the event, Carney joined with Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann in rounding on the nascent robo-advisory industry as a source of concern for policy makers.

"Robo-advice and risk management algorithms may lead to excess volatility or increase pro-cyclicality as a result of herding, particularly if the underlying algorithms are overly-sensitive to price movements or highly correlated," Carney told the conference.

In response, French notes that assets under management by European robo-advisors at £1 billion are a drop in the ocean compared to the £6.3 trillion shepherded by the UK asset management industry alone, and points to a recent FCA Asset Management Study that highlighted concerns about the practices of incumbent asset management firms that need to be addressed.

In particular, French picks up on the practice of 'closet indexing', in which investors pay large fees for funds that do little more than mirror the index.

"So what’s most important right now?" asks French. "Exposing closet indexers for which clients overpay by £1 billion in unnecessary fees every single year or hit on robo-advisors who advocate for more transparency in investment management, push for lower costs and provide a better service for their clients than traditional products? Who don’t pretend to offer active management while just replicating an index? This is a deep miscalculation of priorities by the Bank of England chief."

On the subject of herding, French accuses Carney of failing to address a practice which is already prevalent among incumbents while neglecting the role that technology can bring in providing individualised portfolios that will be adjusted differently in changing market environments.

"The established players therefore have to make shortcuts and as such people get placed in exactly the same portfolios that are adjusted in exactly the same way as conditions change," writes French. "That means that in addition to a substantial portion of 'actively managed' funds being no more than index-trackers in disguise, the traditional approach of model portfolios leads to herding on a huge scale."

French accuses the Governor of making comments based on a "lack of information" and playing into the hands of the incumbent asset management industry.

"By making throwaway remarks like this there is a danger we will be stifling innovation when it is needed the most," he concludes. "People are unable to save for their futures as inflated fees, due to legacy technology and an unwillingness to change established processes, are eating into the majority of their returns."

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