The birth of the ISA: Is your portfolio in the right team?

You may not be able to add to your PEPs, but now the decision is whether to transfer or consolidate. By Rachel Fixsen
TOO LATE - your last chance to put money into a Personal Equity Plan has gone. But with more than pounds 80bn already tucked away in PEPs, the battle between financial services providers to get their hands on your investment has only just begun.

It has always been possible to transfer your PEP from one investment fund to another and even from one provider to another, although there are certain restrictions.

For instance, moving money between funds run by a single PEP manager is quite easy, but if you are transferring to another manager, you have to move one whole tax year's general PEP at a time, even though this might be split between different investments.

And some providers "bundle" plans taken out in different tax years, making them impossible to separate. In these cases, you have to move all or nothing.

Many investors have shifted PEPs from one manager to another in the past, but now that PEP funds cannot be added to, transfer activity could hot up.

"Quite a lot of PEP investors have five or six years' of PEPs under their belt, and they are now starting to review them - in the early years, they weren't too concerned," says Philip Warland, director general of the Association of Unit Trusts and Investment Funds.

PEP providers have been pulling out all the stops in the last few months to capture investment capital in the last PEP year. In that competition, the most that was at stake was pounds 6,000 per person, but in the battle for PEP transfers the sums are much larger, running into tens of thousands of pounds for each individual.

"There will be continued rumblings in the market," says Mr Warland.

Although PEPs are now closed to new money, they have been replaced by a very similar investment vehicle - the Individual Savings Account. Overall annual investment limits are lower than for PEPs, but ISAs do allow a much broader spread of investment.

However, financial services providers are still unsure how popular ISAs will be, and until they really take off the fight over existing PEP funds will go on.

There are many reasons why a PEP holder might want to transfer. You could just be dissatisfied with your PEP provider. Or you might have been investing for capital growth at the beginning, but now need an income stream, particularly if you are retiring. There may be no satisfactory income fund available from you current PEP manager.

If you have a substantial portfolio of PEPs where a large proportion is with one fund manager, you might want to spread your risk by shifting some funds to a different manager.

Or if your PEPs are scattered between different providers you might try to cut the paperwork by consolidating them under one provider - though not into the same fund.

Janice Thomson, of discount broker Chelsea Financial Services, warns against transferring PEP funds unless there is a very good reason for it. Valid reasons might be because your requirements have changed, because you want to change the geographical or sectoral balance of your portfolio or because your fund is consistently out performed by other similar funds, she says.

Stay put if you can, because transferring can be very expensive. If you are just switching to chase better investment performance, the move can prove counterproductive. PEP transfers are usually treated as new business and the initial fee can be as much as 5 per cent. There may also be a transfer charge and commission.

Transfers into Capel-Cure Myers' unit trust PEP, for example, is very expensive. There is a 5 per cent initial charge and this added to the transfer charge and commission cuts 6.9 per cent off the value of the investment, according to Money Management, a specialist publication.

However, some PEP managers encourage transfers by waiving the initial charge. Direct PEP providers such as Direct Line, Equitable and Virgin Direct make no initial charge or commission on money transferred into their PEPs, neither does Legal & General.

If you want someone to make the decisions for you on your PEP investments, you could opt for a fund of funds PEP. Henderson Investors offers its Transfer PEP where you can choose between an income or growth portfolio or a mixture of the two. The PEP is linked to Henderson's fund of funds unit trusts.

"Clients will continue to receive a spread of investment styles and investment houses," says Sarah Speake of Henderson Investors. Each fund of funds typically invests in between 12 and 20 different funds. Though funds of funds always involve a double layer of charges, Ms Speake says Henderson is able to negotiate discounts.

There is no initial charge for PEP transfers.

If you do want to make a change, you should first consider whether your existing PEP manager has another fund which would be better. This is the quickest and cheapest way to change your portfolio, says Janice Thomson. "This way you are not out of the market for a long period when you might lose out to market fluctuations," she says.

Transfers often take an unaccountably long time, she warns. If you just want to simplify your PEPs but keep the actual investments the same, an umbrella PEP provider such as Skandia or Eurolife can make sense. Skandia's MultiPEP offers access to 98 funds run by different investment managers including Fidelity, Perpetual and M&G.

"You have to consider whether it's a service worth paying for," says Janice Thomson. It can cost an extra 0.5 per cent a year. These services can help those investing for income who find it hard to keep track of the various cheques coming in.

But they become expensive if you or you adviser show no more interest in researching new investment opportunities and actively switching funds in your portfolio during each tax year.