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Global stock markets were down, but UK stock markets were up in the third quarter. The net effect was that platform assets flatlined with a tiny 0.2% rise to £906bn. The UK economy also flatlined in the third quarter, narrowly avoiding a recession as high interest rates and inflation weighed on consumer confidence and households struggled with living costs. Gross sales were stable at £32.7bn, but uncertainty, lower disposable incomes and the siren call of cash and gilts, resulted in substantial outflows. Net flows plummeted to just £2.3bn — the worst quarterly net sales on Fundscape’s records —resulting in a net-to-gross sales ratio of just 7%. Seven!

The trading environment in the second quarter provided no respite from the headwinds that have been pummelling the direct platform market. Platforms have been helped by modest market gains, meaning the majority were able to post positive asset growth. Gross flows were a comfortable £11.4bn for the quarter, but the all-important net figure was in the doldrums at £3.9bn as investors adjusted to higher living costs and prioritised cash products.

After a difficult 2022, the D2C industry had been counting on business picking up in Q1 2023. For many D2C platforms, the ISA season is when they generate most of their flows so a buoyant Q1 is critical for annual revenues. However, a perfect storm of negative factors — rapidly rising interest rates, stubbornly high inflation, the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, a wave of public sector strikes and geopolitical uncertainty —had a major impact on investor sentiment. Despite this, assets rose by 4% on the back of strong stock markets and gross sales rebounded to £11.3bn – well up on Q422, and marginally ahead of Q122 figures.

2022 was a tough year for platforms and the final quarter of the year was no exception. Investor sentiment has been battered by a seemingly endless succession of bad news including the squeeze on living standards brought on by inflation, higher taxes, energy prices and the war in Ukraine. All this means customers and new flows are hard to come by and business levels are down. Stock market volatility meant most platforms closed the year with lower assets than they started with.

We’re unable to publish individual platform data until the last publicly listed platform has reported its results on 9th March 2022. As a result, here is the first of two press releases for Q421/2021 platform data1. This press release reviews the significant growth in assets and flows at a market level in 2021.