And so as we embark upon our government-sanctioned cautious hug spree (all except in Scotland where we shun such fripperies), we can start thinking properly about what we want to keep and what we want to leave behind from the last year and a bit. I’ll look forward to being able to go for a beer with colleagues, and the sort of undirected nonsense-talking which sometimes leads to good stuff. I’m looking forward to gigs too, but the moshpit may have to wait a bit longer.

Whatever we keep and whatever we leave behind, we should be under no illusions: this sector can operate effectively whether we’re under restrictions or not. To illustrate: we’re now in a position to share the full advised platform market stats (covering 26 platforms and missing out direct or institutional business) as at the end of Q1, and the best way to describe Q1 is ‘a belter’. See below for more on belters.

As regular readers will know, the TCWU retains a fondness for round numbers, and we got a cracker this quarter. The advised market as we profile it broke through the £500bn barrier for the first time, and ended the quarter at £514bn. To put that into context, government borrowing to the end of March was predicted to be £327bn, so all the money your clients have invested through you onto platforms could pay for coronavirus and still have enough to buy at least 3 dogecoin.

That figure was up 4% on Q4 2020, and 28% on Q1 2020. Gross flows were up 18% on Q4 2020 and 28% on Q1 last year. Four platforms – OMW, Trnsct, Stndrdlf and Avv (sorry) – did more than £2bn gross in the quarter; the last time that happened was back in the prelapsarian days of 2017, when facemasks in Scotmid were the stuff of a madman’s dreams.

Another way of saying all this stuff is that the advised sector – whether independent, vertically integrated, restricted or whatever – is flying. It’s no surprise, then that the sector remains so hot right now with businesses of all sorts looking for exposure to this business we call show. Can inflationary fears put a slow on markets and a brake on the momentum? I have no idea, and neither do you, so let’s say no.

MBRK

The latest to feel, like, totally hot is Embark; Sky News reckons a £400m acquisition is on the cards very soon. This would reunite the varying bits of the Zurich book again – the workplace stuff went off to the Wids – and provide an interesting additional set of platform capabilities to the Benchmark Capital kit that LBG currently accesses through its Schroders Private Wealth tie-up.

That’ll be an interesting one to watch if it happens. Embark is a complex business – unsurprising given its speed of growth and the number of acquisitions – and in the nicest possible way big retail banks aren’t necessarily the best at moving at the speed platform businesses require. I always thought Embark would head for an IPO; you can’t blame shareholders for getting interested when someone backs the money truck up to the door though.

NCLS & JHP

Speaking of the money truck, 92% of shareholders said yea to the 188p James Hay offer for Nucleus. I wonder if the deal was being tabled now after the remarkable momentum of Q1, if the numbers might have looked a bit different. I can’t help thinking JHP has got a bit of a bargain here.

LNKS

  • “No-one in their right mind would voluntarily do a replatforming” says our guest on HomeGames this week, Rich Denning, newly minted CEO of Ascentric. It’ll be worth tuning in at 12.30pm to see what else he has to say. Particularly recommended for any PE types reading this…Rich knows what he’s talking about. Come a’ye. It’s our 50th There may be cake (probably not).
  • Good to see pre-emptive action on ISAs and minibonds and that from the FCA. Oh no, that’s not right.
  • I was being cheeky earlier, but that Abrdn rbrnd may not be as daft as everyone thinks.
  • And your music choice this week is a cracker of a tune celebrating a good Q1 with no arch, knowing, self-referential funny business. Have Belter by Gerry Cinnamon. It’ll cheer you right up.

See you next week

Mark