Aviva had a torrid time with its platform in 2018 after it moved all of its advised business onto fresh technology but, writes Tom Ellis, the platform appears to be on the mend ...
Aviva was in the top three for advised platform flows in 2017 but 2018 served as a big reality check for the platform. Its net sales suffered, dropping from £6.2bn in 2017 to just £3.8bn in 2018 - a year in which it struggled to get to grips with a multitude of issues on the new platform it transferred all advised clients to last January.
The firm itself blamed re-platforming for its misfortunes, saying operating profit in its long-term savings business was "offset by lower net fund flows into the adviser platform" because its migration caused disruption for both IFAs and customers.
But, while 2018 was a torrid year for Aviva, platform buff Steve Nelson reckons 2019 could see it begin to lick its wounds and recover. The lang cat head of research believes sentiment is on Aviva's side after conversations he has had with advisers suggest the platform is on the road to recovery.
"Speaking to as many financial advice firms as I can get my hands on," he told a breakfast briefing run by the lang cat, "I'm certainly starting to see a lot of anecdotal evidence - based on my conversations - that people are starting to use Aviva [again]."
For the platform itself, Aviva says it is now prioritising fixing "more complex, localised issues" that are still inconveniencing advisers and clients.
"We have made significant progress in resolving the main issues we encountered after re-platforming," a spokesman for the platform explains, "with a series of releases improving system functionality and performance during 2018 and early 2019. Core trading processes are now operating broadly in line with the previous platform, driving an 80% fall in complaints received from their peak last year.
"We are still working to correct some more complex localised issues that can be very frustrating for the advisers and clients impacted. Addressing these outstanding issues is our top priority, with prioritised resource and a structured programme of work to finish making any corrections required over the next few months."
To gather its own anecdotal evidence, Professional Adviser asked a couple of advisers who use the Aviva platform whether they were onboarding clients and assets as usual now. Chapters Financial Chartered financial planner Keith Churchouse, who was a critic of the platform during its struggles last year, says his firm is still not processing new business with the platform.
He notes the service does seem to be stable, but his firm will take more time to make sure the stability continues before adding new clients to the platform.
Red Circle Financial Planning Chartered IFA Darren Cooke, on the other hand, never really stopped using the Aviva platform because he did not transfer clients away while the technology was struggling. He kept topping up the clients he had with the platform, and the last issue he had with the new technology was around the natural payment of income back in October.
"The new system is better," he muses, "although far from perfect. But then no platform is perfect so you always take the rough with the smooth. We did the first new client case with them late last year and have used them since."
It is perhaps the continued loyalty of advisers like Cooke that kept Aviva from suffering complete abandonment over the last 15 months. Although its flows dropped 38% year-on-year from 2017, the net £3.8bn of assets it received in 2018 is still a lot of client money to be placed with the platform.
Aviva says it is "very grateful" for the support it continues to receive from advisers, despite the issues its faced.
The Aviva spokesperson adds: "While market conditions will limit the potential for an immediate return to the levels [of asset flows] seen in 2017, we are positive about 2019 and do expect our market share to grow as advisers start to experience the many benefits of moving to a more scalable and flexible platform technology."
The lang cat's Nelson, who sees advisers beginning to use Aviva more, thinks the platform could return to being a top three player in the adviser market once again.
He is of the opinion the platform "sleepwalked" into becoming a heavy-hitter in the adviser platform market before it struggled through its re-platforming move. He believes that, if the positive sentiment he has witnessed is replicated throughout the whole country, Aviva could once again rise to the top of the net flow league tables.
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