UK platform market ‘may never be profitable’

The platform industry in the UK will struggle to ever break even as a whole, according to research into firms’ financial stability.

Total revenues achieved in the UK have more than doubled since 2006, according to consultancy Altus – £710m, up from £330m.

But costs have increased at a more dramatic rate – £365m to £730m – leading to the possibility the gap will continue to widen, said Altus director Kevin Okell.

“Market forces will change revenues for the worse over the next few years,” he said, with competition, the likely rebate ban, lack of legacy assets and institutional pricing all driving down margins.

“Unbundled models will see pressure as we expose the sticker price to the client, and some of the [legacy] assets we thought would arrive on platforms will be a little more sluggish to arrive than we would have hoped.

“We are also seeing more platforms also aggregating institutional assets, and we see them going on at a much lower rate than retail.

“We know that institutional [business] doesn’t go on at 50bps or even 20bps – it goes on at 5bps.”

Revenues have risen almost in line with assets under administration, Okell said, which was why many platforms used the figure as a measure of success. But size and revenues will eventually diverge.

Dividing total assets by revenue gives the effective yield on assets under administration (AUA), which fell from 48bps to 43bps in 2011.

“[AUA] is only a proxy for revenue,” he said. “People aren’t in business to get assets, they are there to make money. The cost line consistently runs above it. As a total it has exceeded revenues for the last six years.”

Adding £100m to a platform could also mean a number of different things, he added: 10,000 retail clients, or ten pension schemes at an institutional rate.

Only a select number of platforms active in the UK market, including Novia, Ascentric, Transact and Cofunds, currently turn a profit without parent company assistance. Nucleus became the fifth member of the club in April of last year. 

 

This article was first published on Investment Week

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