“The choice has clearly broadened over time. We have listened to what advisers and clients are looking for in terms of reporting and improved our service. We have recently created straight through processing of [online] applications on MasterKey which is a huge improvement, especially for advisers launching applications.” The functionality, which was introduced last year, allows online applications to be submitted to MLC’s systems automatically, with no manual back-end processing required. “Many products and platforms con- tinue to be quite paper-based and being paper-based they are slower than electronic systems, so we have a strong desire to move as many of the ways in which our clients transact with us online to provide those clients and their advisers with as much flexibility as they want in terms of how they work with us,” Clancy says. Another significant development has been the launch in 2005 of the MLC MasterKey Fundamentals range, which mirrors the MasterKey investment platform but the funds have no embedded commission.
“MLC has been a long time advocate of a position that says investors should have a good understanding of what they’re paying in terms of fees and should agree to it and have the ability to turn it off if they’re not happy with the service that’s being provided to them,” Clancy says. “We launched a few years ago the Fundamentals series of funds which was at the time a landmark, especially for such a large institution in the Australian market, that provided that level of flexibility, choice, and transparency to build trust with the client.” Having shut down National Australia Asset Management in the early 2000s, National Australia Bank (the owner of MLC) got back into direct funds management in 2007 through NabInvest, a business which supports and invests in ‘boutique’ funds management firms. NabInvest owns Northwood Capital, which is both part of MLC’s Australian equity strategy and has a standalone Australian shares fund on MasterKey, and alternatives investment manager Antares, which has an Australian shares fund on MasterKey.
However Clancy says a Chinese wall in the form of independent manager research teams and a separate decisionmaking process split between different committees, allows MLC to maintain independence between NabInvest and MasterKey. “We also have a separate board – separate legal entities with executive and non-executive directors,” he says. “The quality and the standards of MLC’s multimanager funds is something we treat as very important. We have gone to great lengths to make sure the right decisions are made, both in reality and by perception, because it is so important.” Over the last 10 years the platform market has grown to a point where there are now multiple platforms of different types and numerous players competing for the investment dollar.