24 Mar 2023

Necessity or marketing gimmick: should investment companies shun ISA season?

The death of ISA season has been declared for more than 20 years. But as we approach the end of the tax year, and the latest ISA season reaches fever pitch, is it time to ask whether it is worth it?

Dan Pike
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A fixture in the calendar for most personal finance journalists, PRs and marketing teams, from February to April announcements of new offers, discounted rates and sign-up bonuses hit consumers’ inboxes on almost a daily basis, alongside the well-worn warning to use your annual ISA allowance while you can.

But is it really an opportunity for investment firms to reach a rapt audience with their propositions? Or is it a waste of time, requiring huge resources to cut through in arguably the most competitive period each year for share of voice? Or is the truth somewhere in the middle?

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Whether or not ISA season is a success for investment companies depends on how you look at the data, and how much you read into it. Last year, the Investment Association heralded ISA savers pouring a net £934m into retail funds in the 2022 season, against a backdrop of record outflows in Q1 in total. Positive on the face of it. Yet this was half the level seen in 2021. And in 2019 and 2020, net inflows in the period did not top £200m. And yet, even if the evidence suggests ISA season does produce a bounce, is that “new money”, or simply saving that is being pulled forward?

The theory behind ISA season is fairly straightforward. The deadline of the end of the tax year, combined with the limit investors can place in an ISA in a given tax year, presents a natural impetus for investor action – and an opportunity for awareness-building campaigns from firms looking to target investors when they are most likely to invest.

Whether that theory stands up in practice is again debatable. Perhaps for high-net-worth individuals.  But with ISA limits now standing at £20,000 a year and inflation taking its toll on disposable income, mass market savers are far less likely to be concerned about using their full allowance. And for investors, chucking in a large lump sum at the end of a tax year means they don’t benefit from pound cost averaging – a key way to navigate market volatility.

What does this mean for ISA season comms strategies?

From a media perspective, ISA season is again a dual-edged sword. On one hand, the concerted focus in personal finance sections and dedicated sections in nationals and consumer titles, supported by an advertising peak, means there are more opportunities to discuss your platform, trusts or funds in the run up to the tax deadline. But the competition is at its toughest.

You will have to work harder to cut through the noise, either through exceptionally creative campaigning and/or more investing heavily to grow your share of voice as others do the same. But if you have not built trust in your brand in the rest of the year, or consistently engaged with media to build positive relationships, you are already at a disadvantage, and your return on investment in the period will be lower.

So, is ISA season dead? Not quite. Should investment companies shun it? Possibly. It depends on the firm, the wealth of customer they are seeking to acquire, the resource it has at its disposal for the year ahead, and its broader marketing priorities. But one thing is clear: ISA season should not be the be-all and end-all of the annual marketing plan. As investment companies know all too well, it does not do to put all of your eggs in one basket.

By Dan Pike

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