AJ Bell plc: Final results for the year ended 30 September 2023 

by | Dec 7, 2023

With the end of the year fast approaching, AJ Bell, one of the largest UK investment platforms gives us their highlights from 2023.

Covering everything from performance, investments, and the platform, as well as culture and customer service, this report reflects on the year just passed, but also looks ahead at what is to come.  

Firstly, Peter Birch Chief Financial Officer at AJ Bell delves into the figures in his financial review, focusing on performance, dividends and profitability.  

Overview 

Our dual-channel platform achieved robust net inflows of £4.2 billion (FY22: £5.8 billion) and customer growth of 12% (FY22: 16%) in a challenging external environment. Our ability to continue to grow in these circumstances is testament to the quality of our platform propositions. 

Our diversified revenue model enabled us to deliver a strong financial performance, with revenue increasing by 33% to £218.2 million (FY22: £163.8 million) and PBT up 50% to £87.7 million (FY22: £58.4 million), whilst investing in our people, propositions and brand to ensure we are well placed to achieve future growth. 

Business performance 

Customers 

Customer numbers increased by 50,813 during the year to a total of 491,402 (FY22: 440,589). This growth has been driven by our platform propositions, with our advised customers up by 10% and our D2C customers increasing by 13%. 

Our platform customer retention rate remained high at 95.2% (FY22: 95.5%). 

        Year ended 30 September 2023 No. Year ended 30 September 2022 No. 
Advised platform       159,256 145,371 
D2C platform       317,276 280,281 
Total platform    476,532 425,652 
Non-platform       14,870 14,937 
Total    491,402 440,589 

 Assets under administration 

  Year ended 30 September 2023 

  Advised platform. £bn D2C platform £bn Total platform £bn Non-platform £bn Total £bn 
As at 1 October 2022 44.8 19.3 64.1 5.1 69.2 
Inflows 5.0 4.3 9.3 0.2 9.5 
Outflows (3.1) (2.0) (5.1) (0.3) (5.4) 
Net inflows / (outflows) 1.9 2.3 4.2 (0.1) 4.1 
Market and other movements 1.5 1.1 2.6 0.2 2.8 
As at 30 September 2023 48.2 22.7 70.9 5.2 76.1 

 Year ended 30 September 2022 

  Advised platform £bn D2C platform £bn Total platform £bn Non-platform £bn Total £bn 
As at 1 October 2021 45.8 19.5 65.3 7.5 72.8 
Inflows 6.2 3.9 10.1 0.2 10.3 
Outflows (2.9) (1.4) (4.3) (2.2) (6.5) 
Net inflows / (outflows)        3.3 2.5 5.8 (2.0) 3.8 
Market and other movements (4.3) (2.7) (7.0) (0.4) (7.4) 
As at 30 September 2022 44.8 19.3 64.1 5.1 69.2 

  We achieved robust total net inflows of £4.1 billion (FY22: £3.8 billion), driven by our platform. 

  Total advised platform net inflows were £1.9 billion (FY22: £3.3 billion). The year-on-year reduction was driven by a fall in gross inflows to £5.0 billion (FY22: £6.2 billion). There has been a moderation in transfer activity as advisers and their clients exercise more caution in the face of ongoing uncertainty in the macroeconomic environment, whilst existing customer inflows into tax-wrapped products remained stable. Advised outflows in the year increased to £3.1 billion (FY22: £2.9 billion). 

Total D2C platform net inflows were £2.3 billion (FY22: £2.5 billion). Gross inflows increased to £4.3 billion (FY22: £3.9 billion) with the increase driven by changes to the annual pension allowance, competitive dynamics and strong inflows from new customers supported by the investments made in our brand. Outflows increased to £2.0 billion (FY22: £1.4 billion) as customers drew down on their investments amidst the cost-of-living pressures. 

Non-platform net outflows of £0.1 billion (FY22: £2.0 billion) were significantly lower than FY22 following the closure of the institutional stockbroking business in the prior year. 

Favourable market movements contributed £2.8 billion as global equity markets recovered some of the losses experienced in the prior year, when adverse market movements contributed to a £7.4 billion reduction in AUA. This resulted in closing AUA of £76.1 billion (FY22: £69.2 billion). 

Assets under management 

        Year ended 30 September 2023 £bn Year ended 30 September 2022 £bn 
Advised       2.5 1.7 
D2C       1.3 1.0 
Non-platform       0.9 0.1 
Total    4.7 2.8 

Our range of funds and MPSs are highly valued by financial advisers, their clients and our retail customers. Total AUM closed at £4.7 billion (FY22: £2.8 billion), representing a 68% increase in the year. The growth has been particularly strong from our advised customers, as well as a significant increase in AUM from customers investing via external third-party platforms. 

Financial performance 

Revenue 

        Year ended 30 September 2023 £000 Year ended 30 September 2022 £000 
Recurring fixed     30,666 29,787 
Recurring ad valorem     161,152 102,184 
Transactional     26,416 31,876 
Total    218,234 163,847 

 Revenue increased by 33% to £218.2 million (FY22: £163.8 million). 

 Revenue from recurring fixed fees increased by 3% to £30.7 million (FY22: £29.8 million), primarily due to higher pension administration revenue from our advised platform customers. 

Recurring ad valorem revenue grew by 58% to £161.2 million (FY22: £102.2 million). The key driver of this growth was the higher levels of interest generated on cash balances held on the platform following increases to market rates of interest in the year, combined with elevated average cash balances in the first half of the year. Our economies of scale enable us to benefit from these interest rate rises whilst also sharing them with our customers by paying a market-competitive rate on their cash balances. Further information on the impact to revenue of changes to the UK base interest rate has been disclosed in note 25 to the consolidated financial statements. Increased custody fee income as a result of higher average platform AUA also contributed to this revenue growth. 

Revenue from transactional fees decreased by 17% to £26.4 million (FY22: £31.9 million). This decrease was due to lower dealing activity levels in the current year, impacted by the macroeconomic environment. 

Our overall revenue margin increased by 7.2bps to 29.8bps (FY22: 22.6bps). 

Administrative expenses 

        Year ended 30 September 2023 £000 Year ended 30 September 2022 £000 
Distribution     25,928 14,998 
Technology     40,317 32,706 
Operational and support     65,769 57,162 
Total    132,014 104,866 

Administrative expenses increased by 26% to £132.0 million (FY22: £104.9 million), in line with expectation, as we delivered our planned investment in our people, technology and brand, whilst absorbing some one-off inflationary impacts and supporting sustainable growth. Total staff costs increased by £9.9 million across the business driven by the roll out of a comprehensive new pay and benefits package which took effect on 1 October 2022 and increased headcount to support our growth. 

Distribution costs increased by 73% to £25.9 million (FY22: £15.0 million) as we executed our plans to increase investment in our brand. This included our multi-channel ‘feel good, investing’ advertising campaign, and our new partnership as the title sponsor of the AJ Bell Great Run Series. 

Technology costs increased by 23% to £40.3 million (FY22: £32.7 million). This increase reflects investment in our proposition development teams, as well as increases to our licensing and external hosting costs. 

Operational and support costs increased by 15% to £65.8 million (FY22: £57.2 million). The higher costs were driven by an increase in the average number of employees in order to support our continued growth, as well as the investment in our pay and benefits package for staff. This was partially offset by lower dealing costs in the year as a result of reduced customer dealing activity. 

The 26% total increase in the year reflects our investments, as planned, to deliver on our long-term growth plans. In FY24 we expect this growth rate to moderate to around 15% as inflationary pressures settle and we benefit from the operational gearing inherent in our business model, along with a focus on efficiency. The same factors are expected to result in lower levels of cost growth in the medium term. 

Profitability and earnings 

PBT increased by 50% to £87.7 million (FY22: £58.4 million) whilst PBT margin increased to 40.2% (FY22: 35.6%). The higher margin versus the prior year reflects the higher revenue margin. 

Corporation tax for the period has been calculated at a rate of 22.0%, representing the average annual tax rate for the year, as the standard rate of UK corporation tax increased from 19.0% to 25.0% on 1 April 2023. Our effective rate of tax for the period was 22.2% (FY22: 20.0%). 

Basic earnings per share rose by 46% to 16.59 pence (FY22: 11.39 pence) in line with the increase to PBT. Diluted earnings per share (DEPS), which accounts for the dilutive impact of outstanding share awards, also increased by 46% to 16.53 pence (FY22: 11.35 pence). 

Financial position 

The Group’s financial position remains strong, with net assets totalling £166.0 million (FY22: £133.4 million) as at 30 September 2023 and a return on assets of 41% (FY22: 35%). 

Financial resources and regulatory capital position 

Our financial resources are continually kept under review, incorporating comprehensive stress and scenario testing which is formally reviewed and agreed at least annually. 

        Year ended 30 September 2023 £000 Year ended 30 September 2022 £000 
Total shareholder funds 166,037 133,394 
Less: unregulated business capital (3,675) (3,718) 
Regulatory group shareholder funds 162,362 129,676 
Less: foreseeable dividends (29,807) (18,843) 
Less: non-qualifying assets (12,887) (14,233) 
Total qualifying capital resources 119,668 96,600 
Less: capital requirement (53,930) (49,252) 
Surplus capital 65,738 47,348 
% of capital resource requirement held 222% 196% 

During the year, we have continued to maintain a healthy surplus over our regulatory capital requirement and as at the balance sheet date this was 222% (FY22: 196%) of the capital requirement. 

We operate a highly cash-generative business, with a short working-capital cycle that ensures profits are quickly converted into cash. We generated cash from operations of £120.5 million (FY22: £57.2 million) and held a significant surplus over our basic liquid asset requirement during the period, with our year end balance sheet including cash balances of £146.3 million (FY22: £84.0 million). 

Dividend 

At half year, the Board declared an interim dividend of 3.50 pence per share (FY22: 2.78 pence per share). This was higher than would have resulted from applying our stated interim dividend policy, to ensure that the growth in interim dividend more closely aligned with the increase in financial performance during the current year. 

The full year dividend policy of paying out 65% of statutory profit after tax remains unchanged and therefore the Board has recommended a final dividend of 7.25 pence per share (FY22: 4.59 pence per share), resulting in a total ordinary dividend of 10.75 pence (FY22: 7.37 pence). 

To round us offMichael Summersgill, Chief Executive Officer at AJ Bell, gives us his personal review before he answers some questions on growth and the culture of the business.  

Overview 

We are pleased to report another strong set of results for 2023, delivering organic growth in customer numbers, AUA and AUM, across both the advised and D2C market segments. This growth, alongside a record financial performance, demonstrates the strength of our dual-channel platform and diversified revenue model to deliver in different market conditions. 

In the five years since our IPO in December 2018 we have delivered the significant growth that was expected, increasing our share of the fast-growing platform market each year, whilst also paying an increasing ordinary dividend to shareholders. Our focus on providing great value through our high-quality products has led to nearly half a million platform customers now trusting us with their investments. 

The investment platform market continues to grow. Whilst we are winning new business from our competitors within the platform market, crucially we are still growing the platform market by attracting assets held off-platform in legacy products, as investors seek the flexibility and control that platforms offer. This growth is set to continue with approximately two-thirds of the estimated £3 trillion addressable market currently held off-platform. Our dual-channel model, serving both the advised and D2C segments of the market, enables us to capture assets across the whole addressable market, whilst the benefits of our scale, coupled with our efficient operating model, enable us to keep costs low for customers and invest in our platform with a focus on ease of use. Together with our market-leading customer service levels, these factors have been key to our success to date and ensure we are positioned at the forefront of the platform market to capitalise on the significant long-term growth opportunities. 

The current macroeconomic environment has presented challenges for investors and advisers, with high inflation leading to higher interest rates. These conditions have impacted consumer confidence and led to stronger demand for cash savings products. We expect these conditions to persist in the short term, however the versatility of our open-architecture platform enables us to continue to grow across a range of market conditions, as demonstrated in recent years. Our platform provides customers with the flexibility to choose from a broad range of investment options, enabling them to respond to changing market dynamics. In the higher interest rate environment, we have seen increased demand for government bonds and money market funds. Separately, our Cash savings hub has provided a convenient option for customers seeking higher returns on their cash savings. 

Strong performance 

Our platform delivered growth of over 50,000 customers in the year, increasing total platform customers by 12% to 476,532 (FY22: 425,652). Our low-cost products position us well at a time when customers are increasingly looking for value. Demand has been strong from D2C customers, supported by the investments in our brand and improved mobile app functionality. We maintained our excellent service levels throughout this period, as evidenced by our high customer retention rate of 95.2% (FY22: 95.5%). 

The strength of our open-architecture platform, offering customers a wide range of investment options, was demonstrated as we delivered over £4 billion of net inflows. This contributed to an 11% increase in platform AUA which ended the year at £70.9 billion (FY22: £64.1 billion). Our investments business achieved another year of significant growth, with total AUM increasing by 68% to £4.7 billion (FY22: £2.8 billion). The strong demand has been fuelled by our excellent long-term investment performance, with all six of our multi-asset growth funds being placed in the top quartile of returns when compared to their Investment Association peers over the last five years. 

Our diversified revenue model has enabled us to deliver a record financial performance whilst also investing in long-term initiatives to support future growth. Revenue increased by 33% to £218.2 million (FY22: £163.8 million), largely driven by growth in platform AUA and higher rates of interest generated on cash balances held on the platform. 

We have been mindful of the need to share the benefits of higher revenue margins across all our stakeholders.  For customers we have kept our prices low, paid a competitive interest rate on their cash balances and invested in our propositions; for our people we have improved our pay and benefits package in response to the rising cost of living; and for our shareholders our investments in brand and propositions position us to continue to increase our market share, whilst once again increasing our ordinary dividend. 

Investing for long-term growth 

We continue to innovate and invest in our products with a focus on ease of use. 

A significant proportion of our addressable market sits in legacy pension products. Most adults have several employers during their career, and subsequently accumulate a number of different pension pots which can be inefficient to manage separately. Our free pension finding service, which is now live for new and existing customers, has proved popular with customers trying to track down and consolidate pension pots. In FY24, we will launch our new ready-made pension product that consolidates a customer’s pension into a simple product, offering an investment range of four AJ Bell growth funds with a transparent all-in charging structure starting from 45bps. The streamlined nature of this product will reduce barriers for customers who are less confident in managing their own investments and provides an enhanced journey for new customers opening a pension with us in the future. 

Our product philosophy of utilising our scale to keep charges low for our customers ensures we continue to provide excellent value for money. We reduced a number of charges across our full-service propositions in the second half of FY22 and are committed to continually reviewing our customer charges as we grow. 

Trust and brand awareness are key drivers of a new customer’s decision when choosing an investment platform. 

We have built a brand which is highly trusted by our customers, and this year, we commenced our multi-year strategy to enhance brand awareness and to continue increasing our share of the growing platform market. This strategy was kick-started with our ‘feel good, investing’ multi-channel advertising campaign, alongside our new five-year partnership as the title sponsor of the Great Run Series. 

Outlook 

Investment platforms play a hugely important role in helping individuals to take control of their long-term investments. At AJ Bell, we operate a scalable platform that provides a high-quality, trusted service to our customers. Our continued investment in our advised and D2C platform propositions means we are well equipped and ready to serve both existing platform customers and new customers seeking to invest in the future. 

In the short term, the macroeconomic environment will continue to present some headwinds. However, as we have seen this year, our versatile platform offering enables us to continue delivering robust growth in these conditions and the long-term structural drivers of growth in the UK platform market remain strong. Our aim remains to continue increasing our share of the platform market, which for many years has grown quicker than the broader financial services sector. 

Our diversified revenue model means we are well placed to succeed in different macroeconomic conditions. Our philosophy remains to continually re-invest the benefits of our scale to drive long-term growth, ensuring that we offer a great value proposition to customers whilst investing in our brand, technology and people at the levels required to deliver on our long-term growth ambitions.  

As a final point, I would like to thank all of our staff; without their ongoing commitment and quality of work our continued success would not be possible. 

Q&A with Michael Summersgill 

It has now been five years since AJ Bell’s IPO. How do you reflect on this time? 

We have achieved significant organic growth in customers and AUA, in line with the strategy set out to investors at the time of the IPO. Over this period, platform AUA has increased by 84% to £70.9 billion and platform customers have risen by 160% to 476,532. This growth has been organic and hasn’t required shareholder capital, in fact we have paid £147.5 million in dividends since the IPO. 

Key to this growth has been investing in our platform propositions whilst consistently delivering excellent service to our customers, as reflected by our recognition as the Which? Recommended Investment Platform provider for five consecutive years and our market-leading Trustpilot score of 4.8-stars. 

This service would not be possible without the dedication of our people. Culture and employee engagement have always been key strengths of the business, and we have maintained this as we continued to grow, achieving a 3-star accreditation in the Best Companies to Work For survey every year since we listed. 

Looking ahead to the next five years, I am confident we will deliver on the significant growth opportunities our market continues to present. 

 

How will your platform products drive growth? 

I expect AJ Bell and Investcentre, our well-established full-service platform propositions, to continue to be the core drivers of growth. Alongside this, our new simplified products represent a key area of our growth strategy. Dodl, our simplified D2C platform proposition, is aimed at less-experienced investors. Given the success we have seen on our D2C brand work in 2023, we have decided to revitalise Dodl in FY24, so that it is brought much closer to our core AJ Bell branding and delivers an optimised marketing approach. We are confident in the high-quality customer outcomes the product delivers and this change will help to maximise future growth. 

We continue to develop Touch, our simplified advised product. This will expand our offering for advisers, helping them to cater for clients looking for a digital service model. We completed a closed beta launch in the year and plan to deliver the initial proposition to market during 2024. 

  

How will you maintain a strong culture? 

Maintaining a strong, purpose-led culture is key for me. Our guiding principles are an important tool in fostering the right culture, having been first established around 10 years ago. We have revisited them this year to ensure they continue to reflect who we are as a business. This involved stakeholder engagement which highlighted how deep-rooted our guiding principles are. We have made some changes which are a refinement of the existing framework that has served us well, rather than a fundamental change. These refreshed guiding principles have been embraced by our people who continue to apply them in their roles each day. 

Employee share ownership is ingrained in our culture, ensuring staff share in the success of the business. The introduction of our annual all-employee free share scheme will facilitate a continuation of this culture, with the first awards having been made in January 2023. 

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