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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.

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!

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.