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Ashley Clark

Ashley Clark is a man on a mission. The co-founder of www.need-anadviser.com says he wants to see low-cost, fee-based and instantly accessible advice available to everyone in the world and he says technology is the key to achieving this goal.

“I believe there is a need for people to have expert financial advice, wherever they are on the planet,” he says.

Clark set up needanadviser.com eight years ago with his wife and business partner Jo Roberts, but he says it was almost 10 years ago that he spotted the potential of the internet and began buying up internet domain names. He now owns the rights to more than 200 names which refer to financial services but only a few are in use and of these needanadviser.com has by far the highest profile.

“I just own a lot in the background, ready for where I believe financial services is going,” he explains.

Many of the domain names relate to the overseas market, whether that be UK non-doms or UK citizens who are working or retiring overseas, one of his ambitions is to become established in this market. “I don’t see what we are doing as just being about UK financial services advice. I put this as one of my long term goals, one of the things I would like to do with this business.”

Clark says that people are only just starting to use the internet to its full potential. Although it has taken time for technology and people’s attitude to it to catch up with him, his approach now seems to be paying dividends. Clark says although the needanadviser.com business employs 14 people in different capacities, they only have two RIs – himself and his wife Jo Roberts. But by streamlining the process and ensuring that everyone does their specific job, Clark says he can already meet his stated target for his own customers.

“My business model is very simple. I can deliver expert, truly independent, fee-based financial advice to somebody’s desktop in seconds. I am not saying there is not a need for face-to-face financial advice because there will always be people who will prefer to do that. This is just a gap in the market. There isn’t anyone else that offers true, online remote financial advice.”

The site is now on its third design and Clark says it is almost as far from the “glorified business card” approach as it is possible to get. It looks and feels more like a retail website, with visitors offered a number of options, which include “purchasing” individual, one-off pieces of advice, signing up for an annual review, taking out membership of the website (either for free or for a one-off fee of £39.99) or booking a call back from needanadviser.com.

The company’s streamlined set-up also helps with the charging model that needanadviser.com uses and Clark says that every client is dealt with on a fee paying basis.

“We are a 100 per cent fee-based advice. Every client receives a written quote with a fixed cost for the work. Whether they choose to use an insurance company as a factoring house, for commissions, to settle that bill is up to them. But we are a true fee-based practice – I don’t use trail commission.”

The technology means that Clark can manage his business from anywhere – at his desk in the UK, in Malaga or even further afield – without it affecting his ability to deal with his clients.

In fact, he says this is just the tip of what technology will allow. He says has been able to update his website from Snowdon using an adapted Nintendo DS, a device more commonly used by teenagers to get their fix of computer games on the move.

“I can manage our complete offering via a DS Lite or via a mobile phone. I have written news stories and uploaded them sat at the top of Snowdon, and that is the whole website. But we have worked quite hard to make sure we have the technology in place.”

Clark also says his decision to become chartered as early as possible has stood him in good stead as sees the future of the industry, post RDR, being based on professionalism. But he says IFAs will have to continue to operate across all areas of financial advice and resist the temptation to specialise. “To specialise is commercial suicide. You only have to look at how many mortgage brokers and packagers are going out of business to realise that to specialise is suicide.”

In contrast to his views on adviser specialism, Clark says the key to running a successful business is having a structured team who all do a particular job. “If every individual does their job the level of delivery to the customer is spectacular. I can have a full ISA report and recommendation, including a fact-find, on a client’s desk in two hours.”

It is not just IFAs who need to update their working practices, he says. Providers also need to improve their performance.

“To me it is unacceptable for a provider to turn around and say ‘this piece of work will take four weeks’. No it doesn’t. Get more staff, improve your systems. When we didn’t have the internet and we didn’t have email things took a little bit longer, but there is no reason why a unit statement cannot be produced and in my mailbox in less than a minute.”

Clark has been demonstrating the way he uses technology to a number of different IFAs. But he says this is not about trying to teach them how to do their job, but about showing them a different way to work.

In addition to the IFA business Clark’s most recent venture is focused on improving IFAs’ business. Complianceit.com is an online compliance service that provides regulatory updates by email for a fraction of the cost of a full compliance visit.

As a compliance consultant his wife Jo provides the expertise needed for complianceit.com, and her background means the business partnership works well. “I love technology and Jo loves compliance, so we came to the table with totally different skill sets,” says Clark. “She is a better manager and organiser than I am, and I have better vision and understanding of what technology is and what it can do for us.”

But while he says running a business as husband and wife can mean you are working constantly – he has not had a day off in two months – he says the decision to go into business is “absolutely the best decision I’ve made in my life”.

Born: 1966, Grimsby.

Lives: Burntwood, Staffordshire

Education: HND Business, Associateship CII, Fellowship PFS, Chartered since 1995.

Likes: Cane Garden Bay (British Virgin Islands), walking/biking in Snowdonia, Spanish lifestyle, speaking Spanish, French or German after too many beers, red wine, travel, the Baggies.

Dislikes: Poor manners, forks used as all purpose weapons in restaurants, ‘Brits’ abroad speaking English loudly hoping it will work, disingenuous people, gas guzzling cars, losing.

Drives: Lamborghini (when asleep), Citroën Picasso (when awake), mountain bike in the mountains.

Book: 18th Century copies of The Spectator, any series of historical fiction

Film: The Matchmaker, Just Visiting (Les Visiteurs)

Music: Bob Marley, Led Zep, The Who, Ministry of Sound, Meatloaf.

Career ambition: To continue doing my absolute best for clients and to deliver instantly accessible, low-cost, fee-based financial advice.

Life ambition: Continue making life choices ahead of career. To leave this planet with a worn out body. No wish to be the healthiest and wealthiest in the cemetery.

If I wasn’t doing this I would be… On Cane Garden Bay beach with my wife and co-director Jo chatting to One Love in my tie-dye and cut-offs managing a sunbed business collecting a few dollars in the morning, “limin” in the afternoon, with cocktails at sundown.

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