Here's another reason for investors to love Neil Woodford: He's just stopped charging for research

 
Catherine Neilan
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Star manager Woodford is paving the way for real change in the investment industry

Here's another reason for investors to love Neil Woodford - though rivals might not share that feeling: the star fund manager has become one of the first to stop charging clients for research.

Starting from 1 April (though no April Fool's) his startup Woodford Funds will bring the cost of investment research outside the firm's flagship £80m Woodford Equity Income fund - but with no increase to the existing annual management fee.

"[Since the fund's 2014 launch] we worked hard to keep our costs low and our pricing structure simple. We have always recognised, however, that there is more to be done on fees and today we are pleased to announce the next step in our drive towards fee transparency," Woodford chief executive Craig Newman said in a blog post.

"From 1 April, one element of the cost of transacting – that of research costs – are being paid by Woodford, rather than by the fund. Importantly, we are not increasing our fees to cover this additional cost. Investors are, in effect therefore, getting a price cut, which will immediately benefit the future performance of the fund."

The group has also committed to giving investors greater transparency on what fees they are paying, with all transaction costs to be closed on a monthly basis.

"Ultimately, we are disclosing this information to help you better understand the total, true cost of investing," Newman said.

Why is this such a big deal?

The cost of investing in actively managed funds has become a bone of contention in recent years, with an FCA-backed report published in 2014 suggesting that the hidden nature of costs meant that managers had no incentive to lower fees due to "structural deficiencies in the fund management industry".

The opaqueness of the system meant in some cases managers were not even aware how much the total costs added up and could even be treating them as buffers to offset poor performance.

For investors this can mean a huge dent in returns. Campaigners at Australian investment service Stockspot claim investors could lose out by as much as AU$100,000 in 20 years.

Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, backed the move.

‘Woodford isn’t sitting on his laurels, and is leading the charge when it comes to transparency in the fund management arena," he said.

"The decision by the company to pay research charges will lower costs for investors in his fund, which is currently available from 0.6 per cent, already ahead of many competitors, despite the manager’s pedigree.

"Meanwhile the disclosure of transactional costs lays down the gauntlet to other fund managers to open themselves up to similar levels of scrutiny."

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