Ping! It’s a New Year greeting from Alliance, Britain’s biggest investment trust. Ah, that’s nice. It’s always good to be remembered, especially by Alliance Trust Savings, the people who look after my substantial pension fund. It’s not a fortnight since I last heard from them, but the greetings then weren’t quite so seasonal. Under the ominously bland headline of “Changes to your Select SIPP” the unfortunately-named Garry McLuckie writes with news of a socking 80% rise in charges.

Now I can’t pretend that the service is expensive, even at the new rate of £135 a year. It remains excellent value for all but the smallest funds, but Mr McLuckie makes me nervous when he blethers on about identifying operational efficiencies while simplifying and reducing fees wherever possible in the face of ever-rising regulatory demands. Nowhere can he find room to remind me that the old rate was £75, and there is no pledge to hold the new rate for any minimum period.

There is one way I could bring the charge down, almost to the old rate, by putting my entire fund into Alliance Trust shares. This way, I would gain some tiny benefit from the increased charges being levied on the other customers, especially if it allowed ATS to turn a profit for the first time. Unfortunately, such a move would be a false economy, almost amounting to financial folly. Last year Alliance spent well over £200 million buying in its own shares, but the market still values the business at £300 million less than the value of its assets. Better times may lie ahead, but until this company can produce a compelling reason for its existence, I would not bet on it.

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