So things move on apace in the clean share class / rebate war, and the industry continues to eat its young with gay abandon. The latest development to shine in is from everyone’s favourite consumer champion, Standard Life, who today announced it’s going to launch a whizzo range of SUPERCLEAN funds onto SL Wrap.

SUPERCLEAN funds are CLEAN because they have no rebates in them, so no tax nonsense, and SUPER because they’re totally lush, happening and cheaper than the usual clean share class, which doesn’?t get any capital letters and is so totally mid-March and, like, yesterday’s news. So SL has put the fund managers, collective arms up behind their collective backs to get the old double-secret rebates reflected as closely as they can in the new transparent versions.

The normal first-line reaction to SUPERCLEAN share classes is that they will completely bork re-registration, as only the platform in question will have that class. SL reckons it can deal with this by creating a conversion mechanism for business re-registering on and off. So you move the fund to SL in class C, and once it touches down SL converts it to a SUPERCLEAN class, presumably using straight-through processing and the medium of dance. And the reverse for business heading away.

I think this announcement has pretty big implications. Here are a few of them.

  • First, we’ve settled the question about whether fund managers will launch platform-specific share classes. They will, unless SL is trolling on a mammoth scale, which would be awesome but isn’t very likely.
  • Next, if SL does believe it can generate between 6-11bps better outcomes for customers, it should do that.
  • But SL is out of step on its own price, and I know it well enough to know that one of the key drivers to get SUPERCLEAN classes on will be to protect its own margins, keep the total cost of investing, on, the market, screw the fund managers and relieve pressure on platform pricing. That’s not really good enough, especially for the SIPP which is almost comically overpriced (SL is chucking deals around just now, so it knows it too). SL is ‘semi-bundled’, which is the most labyrinthine charging structure known to man – trust me on this, I used to have to explain it to people – and so you can see how all this is lining up for its move to the sun-drenched uplands of full unbundling.
  • It’s fun to see fund managers get screwed, so well done there.
  • The conversion thing has to work. This feels like a bit of a unilateral solution from SL; not sure that’s all that positive to be honest. I’d prefer to see an industry standard way of doing this, and today it looks like one may be emerging. This is one to watch very carefully.
  • It goes without saying, probably, but SL won’t be building unit rebate functionality. I’m ready to call this as the death knell for that particular money pit, with the proviso that we could get a curve ball in the platform paper. But most likely not.

What’s really interesting, though, isn’t SL. It’s how the other platforms react, which I suspect will be with poorly concealed fury. Cofunds, FNW, Skandia, all have greater scale than SL. Skandia will try to do SUPERCLEAN, will Cofunds and FNW? AJ Bell has the same AUA near enough, and Transact isn’t far behind. Will they push? What about platforms growing quickly but from a lower base? What about pushing from custodian level, are FNZ’s other clients going to be happy settling for a poorer deal than is being run through the pipes that power their platform? Will AXA say, fair enough? and play nice?

I don’t think so.

Watch for all kinds of tactics to get SUPERCLEAN classes going across the piece. Want your funds in our guided architecture / multimanager proposition? Best pony up a SUPERCLEAN class, and to make it easy we’ll just take the one SL’s got. Cheers.

Don’t want to play, fund X? No problem. Fund Y will play and we’ll happily point out to our user base what a great deal they’re giving as opposed to your manky old clean share class which doesn’t have any capital letters. I mean, there’s no benefit to us in having a good relationship with you, because you’re obviously bezzie mates with SL and Skandia, right?

And so on.

If SL’s plans pay off, today is a good day for the denizens of Lothian Road. But I’m not sure the competitive advantage it delivers will last that long. Once it’s clear fund managers will show some leg, it’s game on and open season. I’m reminded of the good old saw about Lord Beaverbrook and haggling over price.

A big day, then. And when we’re looking back in a year’s time, for good or ill, let’s remember that it was SL who opened Pandora’s SUPERCLEAN box and let all the little sparkly fairies out.

Note to idiots: no, SUPERCLEAN is not really a trademark.