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Westpac may be caught betwixt two platforms

On-again, off-again review of Asgard platform appears to be on again, with St George owner questioned.

On-again, off-again review of Asgard platform appears to be on again, with St George owner questioned.

THE on-again, off-again review of the St George wealth management platform Asgard appears to be on again, with questions being asked about St George owner Westpac's running two full-service platforms under the one roof.

Investment platforms have become a key battleground among wealth managers in their drive for market share, particularly among the unaligned advisers. Platforms are used by financial planners in the processing and management of $400 billion of pooled investments.

Some parts of the St George empire are believed to be directing wealth management flows towards Westpac's flagship BT Wrap platform, rather than directing them into Asgard. These decisions have been made high up the St George chain.

Westpac's half-year results show BT Wrap increasing its funds under administration 5 per cent to $50.8 billion. While Asgard's funds under administration have fallen 2 per cent to $31.8 billion. Westpac has previously committed to Asgard but platforms require substantial investment to remain competitive.

Even with some of the nation's biggest platforms among its brands. Westpac may soon be feeling vulnerable on the platform front. AMP is expected to shift as much as $7 billion of white-label funds sitting in Asgard to its newly acquired AXA North platform and it has $3 billion sitting in BT Wrap. And with Commonwealth Bank buying the independent Count Financial, this could also see further funds leave BT Wrap. Also, DKN, which is subject to a takeover proposal from rival IOOF has $6 billion on BT platforms.

Acquisition probeELSEWHERE in funds management, the competition watchdog this week kicks off a probe into CBA's proposed $373 million friendly acquisition of Count Financial.

CBA management is believed to have made soundings to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission before it goes live on its bid but rival banks, financial planners and wealth managers will have until September 26 to argue to the ACCC against the planned transaction. ACCC approval is no formality, as was demonstrated by its decision last year to block National Australia Bank's move on AXA Asia Pacific. The major banks took from that decision that they were effectively precluded from making further acquisitions in banking and wealth management markets given consolidation since the global financial crisis.

Spin to greener pasturesTHE spin-of-the-day award goes to gold producer Unity Mining. It calmly announced in a release to the ASX a ''management update'' before proceeding to reveal that both its managing director and chief financial officer were heading off to greener pastures.

So, in a sense, the company has no management on which to update. An insider acknowledged it was not wildly convenient to announce the departures of both managing director Rod Hanson and CFO Tim Churcher.

But there was nothing sinister in it all, we were assured. Hanson recently turned 60, which is as good a reason as you can get to reset your life ambitions. As for the younger Churcher, he has snaffled a position with a yet to be named opposition gold company.

The pair have been synonymous with Unity for the past five years or so. Unity used to be known as Bendigo Mining, which Hanson and Churcher did manage to get back into production at the Kangaroo Flat goldmine for a time after its earlier failures.

The company renaming tells you that Bendigo ? I mean, Unity has very much moved on from Victoria. Make it an offer for the Kangaroo Flat mine on the outskirts of Bendigo if you've got some spare cash, because nothing else is happening there.

Unity's main go now is its Henty goldmine in Tasmania, a 30 per cent share of an African gold-focused company listed on London's AIM market and, last but not least, $48 million in cash.

Too good to be true?''LOCATED in southern Europe, bordering the Aegean Sea, Greece's natural resources are bauxite, lignite [brown coal], magnesite, marble and hydro-power potential,'' a marketing document for bonds issued by the Hellenic Republic calmly observes.

The market, though, is now convinced that Greece will default. Greek five-year credit default swap spreads, which insure government bonds, last traded at 3238 basis points, implying a 92 per cent chance of default. Yields on Greek two-year bonds yesterday moved to an eye-watering 57 per cent a year and 10-year yields are trading at more than 20 per cent. (reflecting an expected recovery rate over time).

To avoid default, Greece needs to meet European Union/International Monetary Fund fiscal backing to secure a bailout. The next ?8 billion ($A10.5 billion) tranche is due soon amid suggestions the key parties to the bailout are in disagreement with Greece about numbers and that Greece's cost-saving measures could fall short. The key issue for investors and politicians is whether Europe can continue to muddle through or will markets force an outcome.

Banking on competitionTHE long-awaited final report of the British Independent Commission on Banking was being studied in National Australia Bank's Docklands headquarters yesterday. Among the recommendations, which included the ring-fencing of investment bank operations from retail banking operations, was the call for a more competitive banking sector. The key point for NAB was the recommendation that any sale of Lloyds' 632-strong retail branch network should result in the emergence of a strong new challenger. This included ensuring that the entity that resulted from the divestiture ''has a strong funding position and sufficient scale''. All this makes NAB's Clydesdale Bank franchise in Britain even more valuable to London-listed financial upstart NBNK. Clearly NBNK, which is holding merger talks with NAB, needs the banking clout of NAB to make its bid for the Lloyds assets.

With BARRY FitzGERALD


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