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Antony Williams

Evolve Financial Planning was the first financial adviser firm to become chartered and managing director Antony Williams is committed to doing his bit to raise professional standards in the industry.

As both a chartered and certified financial planner, Williams hopes that the majority of advisers will choose to become better qualified and become truly impartial advisers when the retail distribution review is implemented.

In fact, he would welcome a more robust RDR which takes a tougher stance on qualifications and remuneration.

He says: “We simply do not subscribe to the view that a higher level of qualifications would be detrimental to consumers. One of the arguments put forward is that there would not be enough advisers to service the marketplace. I do not entirely agree with that.”

Williams believes that if there were a smaller number of advisers who were well qualified, they could look after a bigger number of clients, provided they used a lot more support staff to do so.

“I hope that a big proportion step up to the plate because I do believe that you can cost-effectively deliver truly independent fee-based advice to people who are not necessarily wealthy because the vast majority of the value that a financial planner can give is in the coaching aspect. This does not cost a great deal to deliver – a two or three-hour meeting every year, where you may not even talk about financial products, can deliver huge value to someone who may not be very wealthy.”

Williams started his career in retail management at Safeway but quickly realised this was not for him. He realised that he liked the idea of running his own business almost as a franchise within an investment or insurance company after talking to someone who was an adviser.

Unfortunately, he found that there were few companies that would take advisers under the age of 25. “If you are a 50-year-old couple, I can see that you would not really want to take advice from a spotty teenager.”

Luckily, Norwich Union was willing to take on younger people and he joined as a trainee financial adviser in 1993. After two years as a pure sales financial adviser, he was seconded to a project in head office to run a team of fully qualified advisers who were in charge of advising orphan clients over the phone.

“That was a great experience because it was not really about advising, it was about building a business and building the processes and procedures to run a standardised service.”

Williams met his wife to be when he was 25 and they moved to London, where he got a job with Barclays as a team manager on the sales side.

But it did not go according to plan. “It was very different – much more so than I had realised. If I am brutally honest, it was a mistake. It did not suit me. It wasn’t so much that it was not ethical, it was more that the clients were not at the centre of people’s minds.”

Williams realised that to fulfil his desire to be wholly client-focused, he needed to go independent, so he joined Hogg Robinson for two years before being headhunted to join Killik & Co as a senior consultant on its financial planning team.

By this time, he had taken three AFPCs and continued to gain qualifications during his time at Killik, where he became a partner in charge of the financial planning proposition.

In 2004, he left Killik and set up on his own. Funded by savings, he set up Evolve Financial Planning and spent most of the first year testing systems and trying out different things. As soon as the website was up and running, he started to get a good flow of leads and win clients. Three of his ex-colleagues from Killik asked to join the team. He took them on as co-directors and the firm took off.

Evolve has five financial planners and three client service team members and is run from small offices in Croydon and London and a virtual office in Milton Keynes. The financial planners work remotely, spending two or three days working from home and a couple of days seeing clients in London.

Williams expects to take on around 30 new clients this year and plans to grow turnover by 30 or 40 per cent a year for at least the next two or three years.

He also plans to take on more client service team members and says if the right type of financial planners want to join the team, he will willingly talk to them. His client base is quite varied, ranging from people with £250,000 of investments to £50m, but he says they have one thing in common – they are all serious about money.

The firm only invests client money in passive funds due to the weight of academic research which suggests asset allocation is the most important factor in determining performance.

“Why bother trying to beat markets? Why not accept the market return and just capture that as efficiently as possible. At the time, a few years ago, it was quite unusual to take that stance and say the most efficient way to capture market return is to use passive funds.”

This investment philosophy has meant his clients have not had too many surprises in the economic meltdown and Williams says the main advantage of passive funds is that there are no broken promises to the client.

But he admits that revenues have taken a bit of a hit because the firm charges an asset-based fee. “If your proposition to clients is that we are going to work with you to build sufficient assets to achieve and maintain independence and we want to share in the upside of that through an asset-based fee, you have to also share in the downside.”

He says the firm’s fixed cost base is low enough that it can suffer a fall in revenue comfortably but because the firm has been winning new clients, they have not seen a drop in income.

“We find that clients are disenfranchised by their existing source of advice in relation to investments so we are getting new clients. By taking them on as clients now, as and when we see the economy return and markets picking up, our client portfolios are likely to do well in that environment and therefore we are likely to benefit from an increase in fees at that stage and so now is the time we want to be taking on lots of new clients and indeed that is what we aim to do.”

Born: Perivale Middlesex, 1972

Lives: Near a small market town, Harleston, Norfolk with wife and puppy

Education: Chartered and certified financial planner

Career: 2004-present: managing director, Evolve Financial Planning; 2000-04: senior consultant then partner, Killik & Co; 1998-2000: consultant, Hogg Robinson; 1997-98: team manager, Barclays Life; 1993-97: consultant then team manager, Norwich Union

Likes: Motor racing, F1 primarily, my wife and walking with our dog

Dislikes: Tea, horses, closed-minded people

Drives: Land Rover Discovery

Book: Anything by Robert Harris

Film: The Return of the King from The Lord of the Rings trilogy

Album: Songs For You Truths For Me by James Morrison

Career ambition: That I can look back and feel proud of what I have achieved in this profession and to have played a meaningful part in the move to professionalism

Life ambition: To follow the whole Formula One season around the world

If I wasn’t doing this I would be…A motor racing driver

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