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First Wealth rebranded and now aims to double its AUA in 5 years

Anthony Villis, managing partner of London-based First Wealth, talks rebranding, competing against private banks and ambitions to double the firm’s AUA

Adviser Business Review: You founded First Wealth six years ago, what did setting up your own business entail?

Anthony Villis: My co-founder Rob and I spent around a year going through the fine details of setting up our own business before we took the plunge – how much will it cost, how will we fund it, will we make enough to pay ourselves in the first year? We used our knowledge as financial advisers to carry out detailed cashflow analysis. We were both very fortunate that we had a loyal client base we knew would follow us, so we took across between £20-30 million of assets in the first six months, which really gave us the basis to get off the ground running.

Rob and I made the decision to join a network, as it provided us with access to specialists in different areas, and we hired a paraplanner to help with the workload. Yes, we read a lot of books on business, and had lots of contacts on hand to offer us advice, but in all honesty it was largely a case of learning on the job. However, as the business has grown and evolved over the years we’ve made the decision now to hire a business coach. I think it will be very helpful to receive an outside perspective – someone who will hold me to account, question me and allow me to talk through my goals.

ABR: Do you have plans to go directly authorised?

AV: We have no burning desire to be directly authorised at this moment in time. We are with the network Best Practice and I can say it has only been positive for us. We have access to amazing technology, which was really important to us as a business, as well as compliance specialists. To bring compliance in house would require us to hire two more members of staff, but being part of a network means we have a pool of knowledge we can rely and call upon if we have any questions. Right now, we are very happy where we are.

ABR: What is your target market?

AV: We recently carried out detailed analysis on our client bank, as part of our marketing push. Our average client is 51 years of age and an SME business owner, with investable assets of £300,000 and above. We have worked with that segment of the market for several years now and it’s where we feel very comfortable. There’s a great deal you can do for business owners – in addition to their personal finances and tax planning, you have the opportunity to look at the exit strategy for the business and legacy planning which all fits together very nicely. We don’t have many clients in their 20s and 30s, simply because we haven’t chosen to go down the route of robo-advice, and I feel our proposition is better suited to the type of client we have.

ABR: How do you stay ahead of the competition?

AV: We’ve never had a minimum assets level per se, but our ideal client would be someone with in excess of £500,000, which pits us against other higher-end IFAs and private banks. Our growth to date has been largely organic, with the majority of our clients coming through recommendations and referrals. What sets us apart from our competitors, especially the banks, is that we do lifestyle financial planning really well – we pride ourselves on really engaging with our clients and their feedback shows us they get what we’re trying to do and they’re excited about it. I think our renewed focus on the ‘bigger picture’ has been crucial in helping us to stay ahead.

ABR: Has your recent rebranding had an impact on business levels?

AV: Around 18 months ago, we made the decision to adopt a lot of the ‘look at the bigger picture’ element to our proposition. For us, it’s about appealing to clients’ left-hand side of the brain, the side which engages with emotion. We want clients to understand that financial planning isn’t just about products, it’s about dreams and goals and we wanted our whole business to reflect that. We employed branding firm J2, who have done a brilliant job in helping us to relay that message to existing and prospective clients. We always felt we were very good at what we did but it got to the point where we had built a great team, with great clients but we were lacking something exciting. For us, rebranding the business has been massively empowering – it was the missing piece of the jigsaw.

ABR: How would you like to grow the business going forward?

AV: We would like to grow the firm from within, building mini-teams of people, each with a different focus. If we find fantastic people externally, we would also be open to bringing fresh blood in. Next year, the focus will be upon our marketing strategy and promoting the firm. We plan to advertise in trade legal and accountancy press as that’s how most of our new clients come to us. Our aim over the next five years is to reach £500,000 assets under administration and a turnover of £5 million.

First Wealth

Date founded: 2009

Clients: 3,000 names; 800 active clients

Staff: 10 in total: 5 Registered Individuals; 5 admin staff

Assets under administration: £230million

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