UK-based provider of life insurance, retirement and investment products Aberdeen Standard Life has made recent headlines when it rebranded as abrdn in July 2021 after Phoenix Group purchased the ‘Standard Life’ trademark in May 2021.
The declared goal of abrdn’s business model, which is organized along three vectors (Investments, Adviser, and Personal), is to help clients become more successful investors.
Its mission is to develop investment solutions for clients in all markets throughout the world so that they may increase their ability to seize future opportunities.
Through its Elevate platform, abrdn aims to help wealth managers and financial advisors in the UK take advantage of the platform’s technology and capabilities to open up new doors for their clients and expand their companies.
Its personal wealth division provides customers in the UK with individualized services to build money and prepare for retirement. The £542 billion in client assets managed and administered by abrdn plc is owned by more than a million clients, as of the end of the calendar year 2021.
In this article, we will discuss the abrdn Elevate wrap service platform and underscore its strengths and weaknesses to help you decide if this service is right for you.
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Table of Contents
What are wrap services and wrap accounts?
To begin, let us discuss what a wrap service platform is. While similar to online brokerage services, wrap services are distinguished by several important distinctions.
When your wealth grows and your financial needs get more complex, you may feel unprepared to manage your investment portfolio on your own if you are a high net worth individual or simply somebody with a lot of financial assets.
If you are not quite ready for full-scale wealth management, a “wrap account” that will provide you access to professional financial guidance in the meanwhile.
A wrap account allows you to consolidate your financial holdings into a single location. Investments made in a named trust are held in safekeeping by the trustee, much as master trusts, but the name of the investor is not disclosed.
These funds may be invested either independently or with the assistance of a management firm. The term “wrap” refers to how administrative costs are structured in relation to an investment portfolio.
Wrap accounts have become increasingly popular over the past few years because its fee structure might better align financial advisors’ interests with their clients.
Wrap accounts essentially allow money managers and financial advisors to invest and manage a client’s portfolio of assets or funds. You can get help with your investments, management of your portfolio, and brokerage services for a fee that is calculated annually as a percentage of your assets.
Many investors prefer an annual account fee over fees since financial advisors have less incentive to trade frequently in order to collect commissions. The advisor’s annual fee is proportional to the value of your portfolio, so you both stand to benefit from its expansion.
One percent per year is the standard fee for a savings or investment account on a wrap platform. The percentage charged is often scaled according on the size of the account.
A wrap platform is a type of financial service that consolidates multiple investment avenues under one roof.
At its core, a wrap service offers a form of investment portfolio management software, where investors—whether individuals or financial advisers on behalf of their clients—can streamline and automate the investment process.
A single platform provides investors the ability to manage their portfolio of various asset classes ranging from stocks, bonds, mutual funds, to other investment vehicles.
The utility of wrap platforms stems from their ability to bring all investment options into one system, thereby providing a holistic view of an investor’s asset mix.
This consolidation fosters efficient management and oversight of both the individual components and the overall growth of an investment portfolio.
Wrap platforms exist in two fundamental types: adviser platforms and direct-to-consumer platforms. Adviser platforms are designed for use by financial advisers who manage investments on behalf of their clients, providing the advisers with the tools to efficiently oversee and adjust clients’ portfolios.
On the contrary, direct-to-consumer platforms are targeted towards self-directed investors who prefer to manage their own investment portfolios.
In essence, the wrap platform is intended to simplify the intricacies of portfolio management, making investing more manageable and approachable for users, regardless of their financial acumen.
It’s a crucial ally in an investor’s journey, but like all allies, knowing its strengths and weaknesses is paramount to success. In the subsequent sections, we will delve deeper into the benefits and drawbacks of wrap platforms and explore whether they constitute a good fit for various types of investors.
What are the benefits of wrap platforms?
The growing popularity of wrap platforms among investors can be attributed to a myriad of advantages they offer.
These benefits provide greater convenience, efficiency, and control over the investment process, which are valuable assets for both self-directed investors and financial advisers managing client portfolios.
Some of the prominent benefits are as follows:
Centralized Access to Various Investment Products
One of the most notable advantages of using a wrap platform is having centralized access to a wide range of investment products.
Investors have the ability to diversify their portfolios across various asset classes like equities, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, and other investments with relative ease.
This affords investors the flexibility to create a tailored investment strategy that caters to their personal risk tolerance, financial goals, and timeline.
Ease of Portfolio Management
Wrap platforms provide investors with a single point of access for managing their entire portfolio, allowing for more efficient and effective decision-making.
This unified view of investments, transactions, account details, and ongoing performance provides superior oversight and can lead to better-informed decisions that enhance overall financial outcomes.
As wrap platforms aggregate multiple investments under one roof, they enable investors to access simplified and consolidated performance reporting.
This results in a coherent comprehension of how each investment is faring and its contribution to the overall portfolio. Consequently, making comparisons and evaluating the success of specific investment strategies becomes more feasible.
Efficient Administration and Reduced Paperwork
Managing multiple investments through various providers can entail a substantial administrative burden, which becomes significantly reduced with wrap platforms.
Rebalancing investments, tracking dividends, managing cash accounts, and updating personal details becomes a more cohesive and manageable process as most of these administrative tasks are automated.
Access to Expert Financial Advice
Many wrap platforms also offer investors the option to seek professional financial advice to assist in making investment decisions.
This added guidance can be particularly valuable for individuals who may not have extensive experience or knowledge in managing diverse portfolios but require expert assistance to optimize their investment strategies.
Wrap platforms can also aid in optimizing tax strategies, offering investors tools to properly manage capital gains and investment income in a tax-efficient manner.
By leveraging these tax management tools, investors can minimize their tax liabilities and enhance their overall returns in the long term.
Overall, wrap platforms provide a more, streamlined, and systematic approach to investment management.
However, it is essential to acknowledge that they also come with certain limitations and potential drawbacks that must be factored into any decision to adopt them.
What are the drawbacks of wrap platforms?
While wrap platforms have undoubtedly revolutionized the landscape of investment management, they are not without their caveats. It is crucial for investors to remain aware of these potential pitfalls when considering a wrap platform.
The following are some key drawbacks that warrant attention:
High Fees and Charges
One of the most conspicuous disadvantages associated with wrap platforms is their fee structure. Investors may incur higher costs due to wrap platform fees and charges, which can include account opening fees, annual administration charges, fund transaction fees, and several others.
These fees can eat into overall returns and might not always be justifiable, especially for those with straightforward investment portfolios.
Limited Choice of Investments in Some Cases
Although wrap platforms generally offer access to a wide range of investments, some wrap services may confine investors to a more selective range of options than they might have access to elsewhere.
This limitation could hinder an investor in pursuing the most optimal and diverse investment strategy for their particular circumstances.
Potential Conflicts of Interest
One of the critical concerns with wrap platforms is the potential for conflicts of interest to arise, particularly if the platform is biased towards promoting certain investment products or services.
As wrap platforms might receive kickbacks or other benefits from promoting particular funds or strategies, the recommendations provided could be more reflective of the platform’s interests, rather than the investor’s needs.
In contrast, a financial advisor who has no affiliation to specific investment products or wraps can offer unbiased advice, prioritizing your best interests over any incentives they might receive.
However, it is essential to ascertain that the financial advisor operates as a fiduciary, which legally requires them to act in your best interests.
Complexity of Comparing Wrap Platforms
Comparing wrap platforms’ features, fee structures, investment options, and more can prove to be a daunting task for investors searching for the most suitable service.
The lack of straightforward comparisons and wide-ranging offerings can make the decision-making process more complicated and time-consuming.
The decision to use a wrap platform should be made after evaluating its benefits and drawbacks based on individual financial goals and needs.
Investors should carefully analyze and compare the services offered by different providers to discern the most suitable solution for their investment strategies.
What is abrdn Elevate?
The abrdn Elevate platform, formerly owned by AXA before it sold the business to Standard Life, is a wrap platform where advisors can access their clients’ entire investment portfolio in one convenient online location. The website gives users access to numerous wrappers and a vast selection of investments.
With solutions that provide a wide choice of accessible investment options, new capabilities, and scalable procedures, abrdn platform solutions now aim to support customer segments and Centralised Investment Propositions.
Abrdn Elevate provides choices to help financial advisors run their business however they see fit, including simple access to risk-based fund solutions, discounted share classes, managed portfolio services, and custom discretionary managers.
The platform intends to give investors and financial advisors the option of managing model portfolios themselves or hiring a discretionary manager to handle it for them.
The platform solutions provide clients with access to a variety of strong tools and tax wrappers that help them maximize their tax deductions. Additionally, it provides access to the company’s Techzone experts as well as a broad selection of recognized CPD courses on important subjects.
Elevate’s pricing levels are said to be continuously clear so that everyone using the platform may find the things they need at a price that is appropriate for their needs.
The options for charging advisors can be upfront, ongoing, or ad hoc. There are various terms for families.
The platform solutions integrate with back office systems, reducing the need for data entry errors and allowing financial advisers to devote more time to client-centered activities.
Wrap has received the Schroders UK platform awards. Wrap and Elevate, on the other hand, both received AKG and Defaqto ratings on financial strength and service awareness as recently as 2023.
What is the background of abrdn Elevate?
Originally founded in 1825, the Standard Life Assurance organization converted to a mutual assurance organization in 1925. It established outposts in Canada, India, China, and Uruguay in the 19th century.
The demutualization and subsequent IPO of the company on the London Stock Exchange took place in 2006.
After selling Standard Life Bank plc to Barclays plc in January 2010, the corporation spent an undisclosed amount of money in March 2010 to purchase the remaining 75% ownership in Threesixty, a financial advising service business.
In May of 2010, it sold its healthcare segment to a South African firm called Discovery Holdings, and in December of that same year, it paid £42 million to acquire Focus Solutions Group, a provider of financial software.
The private client branch of Newton Management Limited, the UK wealth management unit of BNY Mellon, was bought by the company in a deal worth up to £83.5 million that was disclosed in February 2013.
In March 2014, it was reported that Standard Life was in advanced talks to acquire Ignis Asset Management from rival Phoenix Group Holdings for roughly £400 million. At the month’s end, Standard Life finalized the purchase for £390 million.
The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Manulife Financial Corporation, acquired the Canadian operations of Standard Life in September 2014.
On January 30, 2015, the deal was finalized for a cash amount of C$4.0bn. As part of the deal, Manulife and Standard Life Investments entered into a Global Collaboration Agreement for the purpose of expanding the distribution of SLI’s funds across Canada, the United States, and Asia.
Pretax earnings increased by 19% to £604m, fee-based revenue increased by 14% to £1.43bn, and auto-enrollment enrollment increased by more than 340,000. David Nish, the chief executive officer, saw his salary and bonuses increase by 23%, to over £5.5m.
According to a press release from Standard Life dated February 2015, the company was “responding to fundamental changes that were driving unprecedented demand for advice from customers” in establishing a financial advisory business that would serve the entire United Kingdom.
In doing so, it confirmed that it had entered into an agreement with Skipton Building Society to purchase Pearson Jones, a firm of financial advisers and paraplanners, and that the purchase had been finalized in May 2015, when the name “1825” was announced for its new financial advice business, in reference to the year Standard Life was founded.
After running into cash flow problems in July 2016, the Standard Life Investments-managed property investment fund suspended redemptions.
Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management agreed to unite in March 2017 in an all-share merger subject to approval by Standard Life shareholders.
The newly combined firm’s name has been revealed to be Standard Life Aberdeen. On August 14, 2017, Standard Life officially became Standard Life Aberdeen to reflect this change.
Standard Life was purchased by Phoenix Group Holdings plc from Standard Life Aberdeen plc in 2018 for £2.9 billion. The company rebranded as abrdn in July 2021 after Phoenix Group purchased the ‘Standard Life’ trademark in May 2021.
What else should I know about abrdn Elevate?
Standard Life Aberdeen’s decision to rename as Abrdn was reported as a fresh start for the corporation, which has struggled since it was formed through the merger of two financial services giants.
From Aberdeen’s sizable Asian equity activities, still led by one of the company’s co-founders, Hugh Young, to a trio of adviser platforms and the 1825 adviser business, the united corporation was a massive entity.
Now, however, about a third of the merged group’s shares have dropped in price since the merger was announced in 2017.
Martin Gilbert of the Aberdeen branch and Keith Skeoch of Standard Life worked together at the helm of the company at the outset. They both left the company since then.
Gilbert was a prominent figure at Aberdeen Asset Management, having been a co-founder and the company’s public face.
Tyndall’s head of partnerships, James Sullivan, had previously invested in Aberdeen but sold out when it became apparent that Gilbert would not be the company’s primary decision maker.
According to FTAdviser, Sullivan claims that Gilbert was given “artistic license” to operate in the way that he did at Aberdeen because of his ability, and that this added value for shareholders. However, when Gilbert became co-chief executive, Sullivan claims that this was detrimental to shareholders, and he sold his holdings as a result.
There appears to be more at play than just the leadership involved in the stock price’s dramatic decline since the merger. The asset management division was the primary focus in the early years of the merged corporation, but it has been the most destructive.
The company lost £29 billion in 2020, and its adjusted pre-tax profits fell by 17 percent to £487 million.
More than £25 billion left the firm after Aberdeen lost a long-standing mandate to handle funds for Scottish Widows; the mandate was terminated after Scottish Widows opposed the merger.
After adjusting for the effects of Lloyds’ exit, net outflows in 2020 were £3.1bn, down from £17.4bn the year before.
Although redemptions appear to be decreasing, the company’s new leadership is shifting emphasis to other areas.
SLA highlighted “underweight wholesale distribution” and “undervalued” platform and advising arms in its presentation to analysts on its results day in March. It is now trying to expand those areas of the business.
But where did the asset management department go wrong? The company’s MyFolio multi-asset portfolio has been very well received by financial advisors.
However, this was not always the company’s focus. According to the company’s analyst presentation, their “historic reliance on ‘hero’ funds” is another area of concern.
Both Standard Life Investments and Aberdeen were overly reliant on a small number of strategies, says Darius McDermott, managing director at Chelsea Financial Services. Aberdeen relied on its Asia equities operation, while Standard Life relied on its Global Absolute Return Strategies fund.
Both of these lines of products were groundbreaking when they were introduced, and Gilbert was one of the first executives in the UK financial industry to recognize the future development possibilities in Asian economies and markets, sending senior executives to the region to establish a foothold.
One of the earliest absolute return funds available to the general public in the United Kingdom was Gars, offered by Standard Life.
McDermott says: “The Asia strategy at Aberdeen was so successful that at one stage they hard closed it, that is, they wouldn’t allow anyone to put any more money in. The problem is, not long after they did that, the funds started to underperform, and so the outflows came. And because it was hard closed, there were no inflows to come in.”
From a high of well over £20 billion in 2018, the size of the Gars fund has decreased to £4.9 billion as of the end of November 2019. It has a size of £3.3 billion as of the end of March 2021.
Several members of the original team left Gars and its backers to start competing businesses. After starting his own company, Euan Munro went to work for Aviva Investors, where he rose to become CEO.
Some of Gars’s managers also joined Invesco to implement a same approach there.
Fairview Investing’s co-founder Ben Yearsley, however, claims that the problems stemmed from the fund’s expansion beyond its functional size.
He says: “There was a reliance on a few key cash cows: Asia, Gars, Harry Nimmo, and there were too many underperforming areas. A merger clearly wasn’t going to solve the inherent problems. You’ve also seen a number of departures post-merger too – fund managers and also lots of the executive management team.
“Overall the merger has been pretty abysmal for shareholders – in what has been a great bull market – and also not great for investors. Areas that were doing well were arguably milked and took too much money.
The greatest fund management companies, according to Yearsley, should be “pure asset management plays” that “do not mess around with platforms or solutions, just have a range of great funds.”
What happened to abrdn’s platforms?
Standard Life Aberdeen is not limited to the financial services industry. After the sale of Parmenion, the company will only have the Wrap and Elevate platforms.
Platform consultancy Fundscape reports that Standard Life’s combined platforms received £6.3bn in gross inflows in 2020, but their net inflows did not place them in the top five largest in the advised platform industry.
In the same FTAdviser report, Ben Hammond, platforms director at consultancy Altus, says: “The Wrap and Elevate platforms are very similar in many respects, including the FNZ technology they run on, but do differ in their offerings.
“Since AXA exited the platform market, the Elevate brand has remained, but has been somewhat overshadowed by developments to the Wrap, Standard Life’s original platform.
“Their innovative pension drawdown freeze proposition, announced at the same time as a price reduction just over a year ago, is a good example of this.”
In a March call with analysts, SLA CEO Stephen Bird said the company’s goal is to “become completely indispensable for both the adviser and the end client by making the [platform] experience best in class.”
Earlier this year, the corporation declared its intention to “integrate Wrap and Elevate” throughout the summer. That involves combining the two websites, however it is unclear how much work will be done behind the scenes.
According to the firm, the stakes are high because more than half of UK advice companies are already utilizing either Wrap or Elevate.
There could be other adjustments in the works.
Hammond adds: “There has been a fair amount of movement in how the Standard Life Aberdeen business is organised of late, with the 1825 advice brand, Aberdeen Standard Investments and even Focus Solutions (wholly owned since 2011) seen as integral parts of the group.
“Although this combination means the group is typically viewed as vertically integrated. This is not always obvious or even promoted, perhaps deliberately so, but is perhaps something the new brand aims to remedy.”
Some indicators suggest that the new brand will pave the way for deeper collaboration.
Bird reportedly told investors that the company was eliminating separate business groups and would instead offer the full range of support for our clients, whether they want to deal directly, receive advice, or indeed receive bespoke client management.
Since we know that our clients’ needs fluctuate over their lifetimes, we will make it simple for them to switch between our several tiers of service.
While the Abrdn moniker was mocked when it was first unveiled last month, the corporation may have chosen it to differentiate its numerous divisions.
Standard Life Aberdeen plc, Aberdeen Standard Investments (asset management), Aberdeen Standard Capital (derivatives and financial markets), and Aberdeen Standard Investments (DFM). On the pension side, there is Standard Life, which was acquired by Phoenix.
However, the names of the funds are still being considered and may be altered.
According to Jonathan Miller, director of manager research at Morningstar UK, the company has new leadership.
“The joint chief executive structure, involving the heads of the original two firms, came to an end in 2020. Stephen Bird [joined] from Citigroup where he was most recently chief executive of global consumer banking. A fresh pair of eyes here will likely be of benefit.”
Despite its aspirations in the advising and platform spaces, the company still needs to figure out how to strengthen its asset management division.
Miller explains that “the burden of bringing these aspects together has now passed” after the integration of investment processes, the removal of redundancy, and the adjustment of decision-making in investment teams.
On more recent changes within the funds business, he says: “Much thought has gone into refining the analysts’ research template, how their ideas are brought forward, and accountability. Early signs are this has been rewarding based on their buy and sell decisions. Meanwhile, the bonus structure is based on a mix of one and three-year performance. Retaining talent, embedding a culture, and delivering on performance are key milestones from here.”
Over the next few months, it is clear that many investors will be watching what happens to the company more closely.
Are wrap platforms like abrdn Elevate good for investors?
In the continuously evolving jungle of financial services, navigating the range of options available can be an arduous task, even for seasoned investors.
One advent in the investment landscape responding to this challenge is the conception of “wrap platforms”.
Fundamentally, wrap platforms aim to streamline the management of investments under one roof, offering convenience, consolidation, and often accompanying professional advice for diversifying portfolios.
However, like any financial service, wrap platforms are not without complexity. While they provide a host of benefits, there are important considerations and potential drawbacks to factor into any decision about their utilization.
Determining whether wrap platforms are a good fit for an investor involves considering numerous factors including the investor’s financial objectives, investment knowledge, and comfort level with managing their investments.
You need to gauge the potential suitability of wrap platforms for whatever different type of investor you aim to be.
For novice investors, with a barrier-free entry to a wide range of investments, combined with optional expert advice and efficient management tools, wrap platforms could be an excellent starting point for novice investors.
However, the perhaps higher associated costs and possible limited choice of instruments could impact the potential returns.
High net worth investors often require diversified and complex portfolio structures. Due to their breadth and depth, wrap platforms can be highly useful to manage, track, and balance such intricate portfolios.
However, the higher fees may not be as justifiable for those with larger portfolios, given that they could amount to a sizeable sum.
Those saving for their retirement might find the tax-efficiency and administration facilities offered by wrap platforms to be useful. However, potential biases in investment advice could steer investors towards choices that might not align with their long-term retirement goals.
Passive investors, who prefer to invest for the long-term without frequent portfolio adjustments, could find the incremental costs of wrap platforms outweighing their benefits.
Conversely, for active investors who invest strategically and require regular portfolio rebalancing, wrap platforms could be a valuable tool.
Throughout the consideration process, it’s important to remember that understanding all the fees and charges associated with using a wrap platform is crucial, as these can significantly impact net investment returns.
Equally important is to assess the quality of the financial advice provided along with the range of investments accessible on the platform.
In conclusion, while wrap platforms offer tremendous benefits in portfolio management, investors should carefully consider their individual needs, investment style, and financial goals before deciding to use a wrap platform.
What do reviews say about abrdn Elevate?
From 68 reviews, the abrdn Elevate platform has a 1.5 Bad rating on the review site Trustpilot. Many users of the platform report technical bugs, unavailable featuers, difficulties logging into the website, and non-responsive staff when dealing with their investments.
Other reviews point out irregularities in their investments, and some report having difficulties in accessing their money.
Many also point to a decline in the quality of service in recent years, with some pointing out marked differences when their investments with Standard Life were transferred over to abrdn as part of the rebrand.
It is our view that if you are looking for a wrap platform to manage your investments, it is best to explore other options.
How do you choose the right wrap platform for you?
Choosing the right wrap platform is dependent on a variety of factors that align with your investment strategy and financial goals. Here are several key considerations to guide you in making this decision:
Understand Your Needs
Before diving into the sea of wrap platforms, you should first clearly identify and understand your investment needs.
Are you a passive investor, or do you prefer an active strategy? Do you need regular financial advice or are you experienced enough to manage your own portfolio? What kind of assets do you usually invest in?
Assess the Range of Investments
Make sure the wrap platform you choose offers a comprehensive range of investments that matches your requirements.
Checking for specific investment categories that are relevant to your investing style is crucial.
Examine the Fee Structure
One of the most important aspects to consider is the fee structure. Evaluate the charges for account opening, annual administration, transaction fees, and any other associated costs. Remember, higher fees can significantly reduce your overall returns.
Evaluate the Tools and Features
Consider the interface and the tools offered by the platform. Many wrap platforms offer a variety of tools for tax planning, consolidation, rebalancing portfolios, managing income, and more.
The platform should be user-friendly and equipped with all the features that would help you streamline your investment process.
Check for Independent Financial Advice
If you are an investor who prefers regular financial advice, opt for a platform that provides you with access to independent, unbiased financial advice.
Ensure that the advice is tailored to your individual needs and not influenced by any commissioned products or services.
Read User Reviews and Ratings
Check the reviews and ratings given by other users. This will give you an idea about the reliability, performance, and customer service of the platform.
As stated above, many of abrdn Elevate’s users who have left public reviews about the platform have been unsatisfied with its recent service. To prevent facing similar difficulties, it is best to find a platform that is both reputable and meets your specific needs.
Ask for a Demo or Trial
Many platforms will offer a demo or trial period for you to explore their features. This is a great way to understand whether the platform really is a good fit for you.
All these factors, combined with your personal investment style and financial objectives, will guide you towards choosing a wrap platform that best suits your needs. However, remember that the decision should be made after thorough research and consideration.
Wrap platforms have revolutionized the investment landscape by providing centralized access to various investment products, simplifying portfolio management, consolidating reporting, and reducing paperwork.
In addition, they offer optional access to expert financial advice and facilitate tax efficiency. However, the potential drawbacks, such as higher fees, limited choices, and potential conflicts of interest should not be overlooked.
Determining whether a wrap platform is a good fit for you as an investor depends on numerous factors, including your financial objectives, investment knowledge, and comfort level with managing investments.
For different types of investors, like novice investors, high net worth investors, retirement planners, or passive versus active investors, the suitability of wrap platforms may vary.
When choosing the right wrap platform, it’s important to understand your investment needs and thoroughly assess factors such as the range of investments, fee structure, tools and features, availability of independent financial advice, user reviews, and the platform’s demo or trial.
In conclusion, wrap platforms can be a valuable tool for managing investments and optimizing financial goals, but only if they align with your individual needs, investment style, and financial objectives.
Before committing to a wrap platform like abrdn Elevate, it is essential to carefully assess your needs, preferences, and the offerings provided by each platform to ensure that you make the most informed and suitable choice for your unique situation.
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