In a comprehensive review of the investment platform market, Hargreaves Lansdown was awarded the top gong as a result of its overall offering to investors.
The fact that round-the-clock support is on offer was highlighted, as was the site layout, which was praised for showing investors exactly where their money is invested and enabling them to easily manage their investments.
Interestingly the lang cat makes a point of highlighting that Hargreaves is rarely the cheapest option, adding: "In our experience, investors are willing to pay that premium for service and user experience. And others charge more for less."
Hargreaves was also praised for "leading by example" with the removal of its drawdown set-up fees when the pension freedoms came into force.
Some flaws were picked out though, including high exit charges and its Wealth 150 list of preferred funds, though as the lang cat pointed out for Hargreaves Lansdown to pick up the award despite these black marks shows that the rest of its service is exceptional.
AJ Bell You Invest took second spot – the lang cat flagged up that its charges are reasonable for all but the smallest funds, and there was extra praise for its web chat facility and the amount of information on its website. The firm's SIPP offering also received plaudits, with the lang cat saying it was "second to none".
What is an investment platform?
Most let you handle the investments yourself, but some now offer to put together and manage a portfolio for you, based on your attitude to risk.
Other award winners
The lang cat picked out a host of other platforms that it felt deserved an award for more specific features.
Best for beginners
Retiready from Aegon took top spot here, with the lang cat saying it has lots to recommend it, particularly for those new to investing. This is mainly because it is goal-based, and includes a lot of guidance, as well as a live chat feature. What's more when you have 'outgrown' Retiready and want to head off to a more advanced platform, there are no exit fees.
Hargreaves Lansdown took second spot, with an honourable mention for The Share Centre.
Best for frequent traders
Clubfinance was the winner in this category, with the lang cat flagging up its fund research and competitive trading charges – it costs £2.50 per trade, though this can drop to just 50p per trade with bulk trades. The runner-up was Interactive Investor.
Best for buy and hold (smaller funds)
As the name suggests, this category is for people who want to buy some funds and keep them, rather than engage in regular trades. Charles Stanley Direct was top dog here, thanks to its "nice proposition" which is "very well priced".
TD Direct was named runner-up.
Best for buy and hold (larger funds)
Alliance Trust Savings was a "clear winner" here according to the lang cat, thanks to its service, functional website and integrated pension. The Share Centre took second place.
Best for pensions (and pension freedoms)
The winner in this one was Hargreaves Lansdown, which the lang cat said has "led the way". It deserves credit apparently for setting an example in removing set-up charges for flexible drawdown, as well as the annual charge, one-off payment charge and annuity set-up charge. AJ Bell Youinvest was named runner-up, while there was an honourable mention for Fidelity Personal Investing.
Best for clarity
There was no winner in this award. The lang cat was looking for clarity and simplicity about the charges investors faced, with no unnecessary restrictions and an intuitive web service.
"We didn't find one. Not a single one. We didn't hand this award out last year and we can't see any reason for that to change this year. Everyone has work to do, even the simpler propositions like Retiready," the firm said.
Best for innovation
True Potential Investor's impulseSave tool took this award, with the lang cat describing it as "genuinely innovative, beautifully designed and all round brilliant".
Best for user experience
This award is nothing to do with charges or investment options, but simply looking at the platforms that have "put real thought" into making their platforms easy to use.
It's split into two, one gong for simple, more focused propositions and one for the all-singing, all-dancing ones. True Potential Investor won the former, thanks to its "very nicely put together" experience, while Barclays Stockbrokers took the more complex award. The lang cat said its site has "an awesome amount of functionality and yet manages, just, to stay on the right side of impenetrability".