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AFM 2021 Annual Report: a strong year with a market record, rapid increase in number of retail investors and shift of trading to Amsterdam

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The 2021 annual report from the Dutch Authority for the Financial Markets (AFM) looks back on a year in which the Netherlands rebounded strongly from the pandemic. The financial markets remained very optimistic. This was also clear from the sharp increase in the number of households investing to 1.9 million. Amsterdam overtook London as the largest centre for equity trading in Europe. The new Pensions Act also underwent further development. 

In brief

  • More Dutch people are investing, and more of them are doing so independently
  • The importance of sustainability in new European regulation is becoming more visible
  • Brexit has increased the AFM’s role in international policymaking
  • Preparations for supervision of the new Pensions Act fully underway 

'The Dutch economy withstood the pandemic relatively well, although the effects were not evenly spread. In an exceptional year for the stock exchange, the AEX burst through the 800 points level and more businesses than usual came to the market', said AFM Chair Laura van Geest. ‘Economic and geopolitical uncertainties led to volatility, but ultimately had remarkably little effect on valuations in the financial markets. The housing market remained overheated, despite the change in direction of market interest rates. Such optimism in a turbulent period calls for additional alertness to potential risks, especially in financial services provided to retail investors and homeowners.’ 

More Dutch people are investing, and more of them are doing so independently 

The number of investing households rose 12% on the previous year to 1.9 million Most of these new investors are investing independently, assisted by easy-access investment apps. Last year, we looked at the behaviour of these independent investors, and concluded that one in three of them takes on unnecessary risk. Investors are also increasingly using social media as a source of information. This was part of the reason for our review of ‘finfluencers’, also to remind them of their obligation to abide by the rules. In periods when the market looks generally to be in an uptrend, it is particularly important that market parties put the interests of investors first. For instance, in the advertising circulated by brokers. Our research shows that this is not satisfactory in all cases. 

Increasing importance of sustainability in new European regulation 

The financial sector has a significant role to play in the transition to a sustainable society. A great deal of regulation to provide guidance for this is on the way, much of it from Europe. We carried out a first review of the application of the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR), which came into effect at the beginning of 2021. This revealed among other things that there is room for improvement regarding the transparency of sustainable funds. We also looked specifically at the offering of sustainable investments to retail investors. Our initial survey showed that this market and its regulation are still very much in development, which increases the risk of disappointment for retail investors. 

Brexit has increased the AFM’s role in international policymaking 

The transition period for Brexit ended on 1 January 2021, and many financial firms chose to locate their service provision to the European continent in the Netherlands. Trading in equities has nearly quadrupled, reaching a daily volume of EUR 8 billion. Because more capital market parties have set up offices in the Netherlands, the AFM now has a greater role in international policy discussions. 

Preparations for supervision of the new Pensions Act fully underway 

The new pensions system was further developed in 2021 into a parliamentary bill that has now been submitted to the House of Representatives. The AFM was involved in this process as an adviser and in its role as an independent supervisor. On the basis of several studies, the AFM called for attention to explainability and member protection and guidance. We have strengthened our supervision in the run-up to 1 January 2023, when the transition to the new system will start. 

In its annual report (pdf, 4Mb), the AFM describes its activities and the results achieved in 2021, including its financial statements.  

Journalists may contact Mark Woldberg, AFM spokesperson, on +31 (0)6 2136 8866 or at mark.woldberg@afm.nl.

The AFM is committed to promoting fair and transparent financial markets.

As an independent market conduct authority, we contribute to a sustainable financial system and prosperity in the Netherlands.

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