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Thank God that's over – the lang cat roundup of 2016

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If you’re reading this, well done. You have only – assuming you’re in the UK – to survive 8 more hours and you’ve got through a year that’s been remarkable for all the wrong reasons. If you’re one of our Australasian readers, stop being smug. We know you’re across the line already.

I do one of these every year whether you want me to or not, and to be honest it serves as much as a palate cleanser – a way to clear the psychic custard, as Julian Cope once put it – for what’s to come as anything else. This year has been weird in many ways, and so I’m particularly pleased to spend 20 minutes in the momentary quiet of Hogmanay afternoon working out what I want to leave behind and what I want to take with me.

In our industry, the year started in a really moribund fashion, I think. Everyone was sort of all clagged up, still dealing with pensions freedoms and working out what the hell to think about LISAs and all that good stuff. For platforms, there was little of excitement happening, and little sign that much would.

But things did come to life, and we ended up with a fair amount of fun stuff to poke with a stick. Here are the things I’ll remember:

  • FAMRwe called bullshit on this at the time, proving if nothing else that people will read your stuff if you use swearie words.  Maybe we had unrealistic expectations, but for us this really didn’t move anything very much along. One positive thing, though, is that some folks we know have started having much more punchy discussions with them as regulates us on the basis that we can’t dick around for ever and need to get on with what we’re doing, especially in the advice v guidance sphere.
  • Standard Life bought Elevate, which sparked near feverish excitement, and saw a number of our compadres forget in their scramble to say ‘see, told you’, that there are hardships involved for the poor buggers that work inside platforms when these kind of deals happen. All in all the deal made sense, especially at the rumoured sale price of under £40m – this will certainly give some others who want to sell up pause for thought in terms of valuations. SL has said it’ll keep Elevate as a separate proposition, which we don’t think is sustainable, and has hiked its charges, which causes all sorts of interesting issues. We don’t care about the increase – we do care that those on special deals aren’t shouldering their share of the burden.
  • Secondary annuities got taken out behind the woodshed, which is a relief to everyone, even those who don’t know it yet.
  • Aegon bought Cofunds for £140m, news of which was treated unkindly by some folks. We thought it was nice for the Witham lot to have someone in charge who actually gives a toss. It moves Aegon – by the time you include Cofunds, its own ARC book and the BlackRock DC book it bought in May – to about £100bn in platformy assets, which is, by anyone’s standards, a shitload. Now all they have to do is get it replatformed and make sense of it…
  • Speaking of replatforming, in our advised platform guide (still for sale etc) we reckoned that £208bn was currently in flight, if you include Cofunds. That’s not far off 2/3 of all advised platform assets. I still don’t know, and neither do you, a single replatforming that’s gone well. This will keep being an issue for some time.
  • We finally found out how much Nutmeg has under administration. £500m. #thatisall
  • Speaking of which, the first wave of robos broke on the shore, and we’re waiting for the second wave to hit. Vanguard is the one to watch, along with Santander and the banks. We also think Scalable Capital is doing interesting stuff (but we could be biased).
  • But really our biggest news of the year was the FCA’s interim findings of its asset management market study. This will – brave words alert – cause more potentially positive change for customers than anything since PS13/1 and maybe since RDR. Another way of saying that is that this will screw the asset management industry at a velocity and in a way that is all too familiar to advisers, lifecos and platforms. It’s nice to spread the love.

Over at the lang cat we had a pretty damn good 2016. We got joined by some amazing new folk, some of whom actually resemble normal, functional human beings. We’re doing our best to turn that around. We worked with some interesting new clients, including robos, banks, and even a crowdfunding business which was new for us.

We made a number of people cross, which pleases us greatly – but we only ever do this when we’re sure of our ground. Speaking of which, if you watched carefully you might have seen us start to pump out a lot more industry data than in previous years. Terry, Steve and Lucy (together known as #teamdata) sat through the thick end of 48 solid hours of platform demos and spent dozens, maybe hundreds of hours more putting together what we think is now the industry’s best databank on who does what, why, how, with whom and for how much. We put some of this out in our Guide and some more in one of the things I was proudest of this year – our new platform directory. This is – though I say it myself – an awesome repository of info, which will be forever free to anyone who wants to look at it. No-one pays to be in it; no-one gets any data in terms of who’s looked at it. It is the by-product of the work we do anyway, and it really is a labour of love.

Over on our PR and comms side, we signed up loads of cool new clients, with more to come in the New Year. Most of that work happens behind the scenes and if we do it right you’ll never know it was us. But, again, look carefully, and there’s a decent chance you’ll see a wee cat footprint somewhere.

So that’s it. Thanks to all the felines, all our families, clients, readers, subscribers, tribute bands and all those who’ve made 2016 diverting enough to forget about the world going completely to hell in a handcart. All the best for 2017. I’ll leave the last, more uplifting words to Edinburgh’s Gallery of Modern Art.

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About Mark Polson

lang cat founder and boss. Expert on all things platforms, pensions and investments. Prolific writer and public speaker, even when people ask him not to be. Knows more about Scandinavian black metal than you, and isn't afraid to prove it.