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A tale of two fund cost champions

On the one side we have Daniel Godfrey, recently ousted as chief executive of the Investment Association and now hailed as a consumer champion.

On the other, we have the True and Fair Campaign from Alan and Gina Miller, wealth managers who aim to cut the cost of investing by investing in exchange-traded funds.

Neither parties make particularly comfortable consumer champions because they come from inside the industry.

However, their different stances are interesting against the background of the Financial Conduct Authority's (FCA) investigation into competition among asset managers.

The FCA study will look into whether consumers are getting value for money from fund managers, as well as looking at whether fund managers can control costs.

But do we really need a new study into fund fees? Speaking on the IC's Personal Finance Podcast, Mr Miller said: "I think it's a shocking indictment of the FCA. The FCA's job is to regulate the investment industry. Now if it has to do a study when it's been doing this job for quite a few years and it's going to take it until 2017, by which time, thankfully, there will be new legislation coming out of Europe that will actually do the job for the FCA anyway, where you will actually for the first time in 20 years see the total costs from beginning to end, I think the whole thing is slightly ironic."

None of the figures designed to tell investors about their funds' costs, the annual management charge, the total expense ratio and the ongoing charges figure, actually show all the costs incurred. So it was particularly interesting to see Mr Godfrey, writing in FT Money, make clear that fund managers "can set out, in pounds and pence per unit, every penny spent by the fund" over the past year. This would be a really useful figure. And it's such a shame for investors that under his watch at the Investment Association he didn't make this happen. Instead, he proposed a confusing disclose of at least six separate figures that wouldn't even show all the costs incurred by the fund.

Transaction costs, which reflect the price paid by investors for trading carried out within a fund, and can be one of the biggest costs, were not going to be included in the charges figures.

He is still sticking to his guns on this issue, explaining why on the FT Money podcast. "I don't think the figure should include transaction costs. You can't know at the start of the year how much you are going to buy and sell shares. I liken this to having someone come in to paint your living room. They can quote you a daily rate for labour before they come to your house, but the cost of materials and supplies will be in addition because they don't know for any particular job how much paint they are going to use and how expensive that is going to be. In any event if you were doing a DIY job you would be incurring these costs anyway by running your portfolio."

Sorry, Mr Godfrey, I'd still like my painter and decorator to show that they can reduce the cost of materials and supplies and use as little as possible when doing the job. Likewise, I'd like my fund manager to show, based on his past record, that he hasn't incurred unnecessary trading costs on his portfolio.

Mr Miller says: "Some funds are very, very heavily buying and selling shares and that cost can often be 50 or 100 per cent of the reported costs and you will not see that currently. But you will see that thankfully in a couple of years because of the European legislation. It will be added to the cost of investing."

It has taken over 20 years to bring in a requirement for genuine cost and fees transparency in the investment industry with new regulation via Mifid II just over a year away. This European legislation will require advisers and wealth managers to reveal in one number, in percentage terms and pounds, the total costs facing consumers over the life of an investment; at least once a year or on request.

However, the announcement earlier this month by the European Commission's Financial Services Department that Mifid II is likely to be delayed until 2018 means consumers may have to wait even longer for rules that will improve their basic rights and protections.

Before then, we may have the results of the FCA study but investors, unfortunately, will have spent another three years without knowing the full cost of their investments.