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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.

With a disappointing ISA season having set the tone for the rest of 2023, the third quarter was always going to be a struggle. But thanks to modest upturns in stock markets, assets crept back over the £300bn mark, regaining a significant milestone for the direct platform market. Flows, however, disappointed with gross flows slumping to below £9bn and net flows dropping to a dismal £1.8bn — not their lowest ever, which was £1.5bn in the last quarter of 2022, but not far off it either.

Rampant inflation, fuel price increases, national insurance hikes and the cost-of-living crisis took an inevitable toll on investor sentiment and market prices – and that was before Russia invaded Ukraine. As a result, the FTSE All World was down 6% for the quarter, sending direct assets below £300bn once again (to £297bn).