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2023 was a second tough year for the direct investment platform market. Headwinds buffeted the market and consumer confidence took a pummelling from news of the Israeli-Hamas war and rampant inflation prolonging the cost-of-living crisis. Despite the wall-to-wall gloom, markets performed strongly in the final quarter, taking total direct market assets to £320bn and giving platforms a welcome boost to revenues. Hargreaves Lansdown, interactive investor and AJ Bell were the fastest growing platforms this year with Hargreaves Lansdown adding the equivalent of the industry’s annual net sales in assets.

We knew the fourth quarter was going to be tough, but not this tough! The platform industry (all platforms) was in net outflow of £8.2m. (Yes, the entire industry was negative thanks to outflows in workplace/institutional platforms). Adviser platforms were positive, but their net flows halved quarter on quarter to £655m, their lowest total on Fundscape records.

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.

It was a difficult first quarter for platforms with the expectation of a recession and the cost-of-living crisis dragging on sentiment and flows. Two Interest rate hikes didn’t help either. Higher interest rates are usually bad for stock markets, but markets appeared to be Teflon-coated in Q1 with the FTSE 100 up 2%, the FTSE All World and S&P 500 up 7%, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq up a whopping 17%. This boosted platform assets to £880bn, although the industry’s £930bn high is still some way off.

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.