The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has blocked a merger between FNZ and GBST on a provisional basis.
Following an ‘in-depth’ investigation, the competition regulator found that FNZ’s purchase of GBST could result in a “substantial lessening of competition”.
FNZ acquired GBST in November 2019 as part of a £150 million deal. Both companies have a significant presence in the UK and are regarded as two of the country’s leading suppliers of retail investment platform solutions.
The CMA is concerned that while there are significant differences in both firms’ business models, they compete closely in a “concentrated market in which there are few other significant suppliers”.
With only one other supplier, Bravura, offering similar capabilities to FNZ or GBST, the regulator warned it could also make it difficult for smaller firms to enter or scale-up in the UK.
“The merged business would be by far the largest supplier in the UK, holding close to 50% of the market,” the CMA said in a statement.
“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 statement added.
For British consumers who rely on investment platforms to administer pensions and investments, the proposed merger could lead to higher costs and lower quality services.
Switching retail investment platform solutions is often an expensive and complex process, and consumers are reluctant to change suppliers due to the risks involved.
Martin Coleman, chair of the CMA inquiry group, commented: “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 investment, facing higher fees and lower quality services.”
The CMA has presented options to address its concerns, which could include requiring FNZ to sell all – or part – of GBST.
Founded in 2004 by Adrian Durham, who currently serves as chief executive, the firm established its headquarters in Edinburgh 2005 and employs more than 500 staff in the capital.
Today, FNZ is responsible for over £400 billion in assets under administration, held by around eight million customers of financial institutions including Aviva, Barclays and Lloyds Banking Group.
In 2018, the firm achieved ‘unicorn’ status after a valuation of nearly £1.7 billion.