Competition watchdog provisionally blocks FNZ-GBST merger

A merger between two suppliers of retail investment platform solutions has been provisionally blocked by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) as it could be anti-competitive.

Competition watchdog provisionally blocks FNZ-GBST merger

Martin Coleman, chair of the CMA inquiry group

FNZ purchased GBST in November 2019. According to the CMA, their merger could lead to UK consumers who rely on investment platforms to administer their pensions and other investments facing higher costs and lower quality services.

The merged business would be by far the largest supplier in the UK, holding close to 50 per cent of the market.

Although there are differences in the business model that the two companies use, with FNZ providing an integrated software and servicing solution and GBST being a software-only provider, the CMA provisionally considers that they compete closely in a concentrated market in which there are few other significant suppliers.

In particular, the CMA’s investigation found that FNZ and GBST have competed consistently against each other in recent tenders to supply major investment platforms in the UK and that customers view them as close alternatives.

The investigation provisionally found that the merged business would face limited competition, with only one other supplier, Bravura, offering similar capabilities. Switching retail investment platform solutions is an expensive and complex process. The reluctance of customers to change suppliers, as a result of the risks involved, can make it difficult for smaller or less well-established firms to enter or scale up in the UK.

The watchdog has set out potential options for addressing its provisional concerns, which include requiring FNZ to sell all or part of GBST. Views are invited on the provisional findings by 25 August 2020 and on the notice of possible remedies by 18 August 2020.

Martin Coleman, chair of the CMA inquiry group, said: “The evidence we’ve seen so far consistently points in the same direction – that FNZ and GBST are two of the leading suppliers within this market and compete closely against each other.

“That’s why we’re concerned that their merger could lead to investment platforms, and therefore indirectly millions of UK consumers who hold pensions or other investments, facing higher fees and lower quality services. We’re now inviting comments on our provisional findings and possible remedies.”

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