There is a new media outlet for all those aspiring financial services celebrities who would like to see themselves on the box. Former Framlington sales and marketing director Craig Walton has created the UK's first financial services-dedicated television network and fund managers are quickly becoming the latest stars of the small screen.
Walton and his partners created asset.tv as a way of reflecting what happens in the fund market from a real-time perspective. He was looking for a way to provide a high-resolution, visual information service to the industry in a bid to fill the gap in qualitative data in the marketplace. “Our industry is incredibly good at procuring quantitative information but we are very thin on the ground when it comes to qualitative.”
Technology and service considerations drew Walton towards creating a private TV network rather than any other type of medium. “Video streaming on the internet is useful but it has its limits. It is not as pleasurable to watch and is not as quick and effective as broadcast-quality television.”
Walton runs asset.tv as a private television network, currently with 91 free subscribers which are big IFAs and fund managers. He says he identified the top 150 firms which have 75 per cent of fund sales and has been providing them with free access and equipment, such as touchscreens and dedicated lines, to view the programmes.
He says it is a process of building a strong infrastructure to support the network and provide information free to the viewer. “It is similar to building a utility business. We provide the pipeline free to the customer to supply direct access to senior advisers. The difficulty is in initially setting up a complex infrastructure that can deliver the broadcast to the viewer.”
Walton has around 300 interviews in his fund manager video library for viewers who can watch fund managers and market analysts talk about their funds, trends, news updates, etc. Viewers can also browse through the catalogue for the answer to a particular question.
The network is updating its broadcasts with around three to 15 interviews a day. The company has a professional editing facility at its Hertfordshire offices and sends “CNN war-style” crews into the offices of fund managers.
“We don't mess around. Our film crews are fully kitted out and ready to feed into film and digital at the same time.”
The company recently launched an online edition of asset.tv, realising there was a demand for an online presence even if the quality of the streamed video is not as good as TV broadcasts. This service is also free to end-users and lets viewers select from the same library as the broadcast service.
Walton and his partners started the TV network with a combination of management money, a couple of venture capital angels and an institution that bought into the concept.
The management team consists of a combination of financial services knowledge and broadcast skills with people with backgrounds from Channel 4 and Cranfield University.
Two of his partners, David Mann and Tony Suckling, bring the media know-how to the team and he and his other partner, former Framlington UK sales director John Glover, provide the financial services nous.
Walton started out in engineering, taking a degree in mineral engineering at Birmingham University and then a masters in marketing at the University of Salford.
He joined Henderson Investors in 1989 as a sales consultant and worked his way up to retail marketing director before moving to Foreign & Colonial in 1992 as marketing director. He became group marketing director at Framlington and was also a member of the group management executive committee.
Walton quips that it was a mid-life crisis that drove him to do something completely different like start up a television network. “I had been at Framlington for eight years and felt that I knew the industry well enough to make the move to information provider.”
In his mid-life crisis, he has also found refuge in the garden of his Hertfordshire home where he has been cultivating a variety of seasonal fruit and flowers as well as a couple of Alpacas. He agrees that the Alpacas may seem a bit of an oddity but they bring a little eccentricity to the countryside.
Walton's other passion is the Blues. He is an avid music fan and still likes to play the blues guitar, which he has done since he was 15. “Music has always been a passion of mine and has been one of the constants in my life but these days I don't get as much time as I used to for playing the guitar.”
David Mann, one of his business partners, used to make guitar amplifiers in his younger days and often brings one in for Walton to try out.
Quirky interludes like this seem to be part of the Hertfordshire/North London life in a region where there are a lot of TV and film creative types living and working. This is one reason why Walton and his team moved to the area where Pinewoord Studios and many TV production companies are based. “There are a lot of television and radio firms up here so it is easy to recruit people for our film and editing crews. We are right across from a train station so our film crews can easily by deployed into the City or the West End in less than an hour.”
Walton feels he has found the best of both worlds at the forefront of financial services information and the head of a growing TV network and soon he hopes more and more of the industry will be saying “Smile, you're on asset.tv.”
Born: Berry, Lancashire
Lives: Hertfordshire, with wife and two daughters
Education: BSc mineral engineering, Birmingham University; MSc marketing, University of Salford Career: 1989-92 – Retail marketing director, Henderson Investors 1992-96 – marketing director, Foreign & Colonial
1996-2003 – group marketing director Framlington Group
2003 – co-founder and chief executive, asset.tv
Career ambition: “To make asset.tv a significant part of the investment industry.”
Life ambition: “I never believe in leaving life ambitions until the last minute. I try to keep fulfilling life ambitions every week.”
Likes: Blues, playing the guitar, gardening
Dislikes: Pomposity and people who take themselves too seriously.