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MM profile: Toby Hughes on the launch of a hybrid D2C and adviser referral website

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There could hardly be a greater difference between Toby Hughes’s current role and his previous employment.

The former audio engineer spent almost 20 years travelling the globe as part of the television and music businesses although he maintains that the work was not as glamorous as it sounds.

“I remember filming something for the US food network on a beach in the Caribbean,” he says. “We were there for 15 days. It was only when I protested that we were allowed to go into the sea for five minutes because there was no time to go and enjoy it.”

Hughes swapped the world of Glastonbury, American TV shows and the animated film favourite Creature Comforts for financial services in 2003 when he decided to move closer to home. He says he was immediately interested in the sector.

“I then began working at the mortgage business LeadBay, helping the internet start-up after I was recruited by a friend. The aim of developing a fast-growth business in mortgages and finance I found very exciting. I loved the dotcom world and found finance very interesting because it appealed to my business side. We developed the idea of helping customers find mortgage advice.”

In January 2011 Hughes started work on steering YourWealth, the online advice and adviser referral service of which he is the founder and chief executive, towards its soft-launch phase, which started five months ago and culminates in its full roll-out this week.

The direct-to-consumer website is aimed at all ages and ranges of investors; its tagline, “from £5 to £50m” articulates this mission. “The goal is trying to help customers make choices about their financial future,” says Hughes.

He intends the website to act as a referral service to financial advisers for people who can afford and want financial advice but to be able to offer a whole-of-market execution-only solution for those who do not.

“To be absolutely clear, we think the best thing for anyone is to seek financial advice and we are not trying to provide an alternative to advice. The aim is to enable advice if possible but it is only applicable to those willing or able to pay for it.”

Those not taking the advice route are offered free access to financial planning tools and investment across a range of products, including pensions, tax planning, insurance, savings and mortgages.

So far, five adviser firms are signed up to the referral service but Hughes says the number will rise significantly when the service is fully launched. Adviser businesses must have chartered status to be part of the service, with both independent and restricted advisers accepted. Those on the panel pay per enquiry.

“This is not a lead-generation exercise,” says Hughes. “We want to offer people all different types of advice and ensure that consumers are matched to the right adviser for them.”

The technology behind the site has been developed in-house at a cost nearing £1m, according to Hughes, with the help of “a couple of angel investors”. It gives clients an interesting breakdown of how their taxes are spent, including the amounts that go to the Scottish Parliament, HMRC and local authorities.

YourWealth is also available via mobile, tablet and android devices.

The aim is to extend the technology to advisers by the end of the year as a front office tool to help interact with clients – a service that is expected to go live by the end of the year. 

“We are whole of market and we have a whole-of-market mortgage panel in the website and you can source and calculate your arrangements within that and the savings area as well,” says Hughes.

Although the site offers non-advised transactions, there are some products that YourWealth mandates advice for, including annuities, tax planning and trusts.

Clients who register with YourWealth can link their bank accounts, credit cards and savings accounts to the service, and for these to be tracked live costs £10 per year.

Hughes says advisers have broadly welcomed the service and do not feel threatened. “Once we explain the proposition, advisers have generally been supportive, at the end of the day we are trying to help advisers through the referral service so it is something which can be of value to them.”

An in-house content team has been charged with educating consumers on the site. “We have an in-house team because financial education is a massive part of what we do. We want people to understand the value of financial planning and make them aware that advice is a massive part of that.”

Alongside the launch of the website, YourWealth is looking at how it can provide debt services to clients as part of an ongoing research project into the evolution of its service.

Hughes says: “We have been looking fundamentally at the growing need in the debt market and what you can do to support those people. Part of it is trying to work out which people have stress points in their finances. We are looking at this aspect although we are still at a research phase at the moment.”

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Born: Exeter

Lives: Bristol

Education: Sidcot School, Winscombe, Weston College of Further Education, studied Audio and Production media in London

Career: 2011-present: chief executive, YourWealth; 2003-07: head of innovation, LeadBay; 1995–2003: sound engineer and sound supervisor for a range of TV shows

Likes: Spending time with my family, playing tennis, business development and driving fast cars 

Dislikes: An empty slow lane, with middle-lane drivers sticking to their lane no matter what

Drives: Ford S-Max   

Book: Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkein

Film: Gladiator 

Album: The Joshua Tree by U2

Career ambition: To create a business that genuinely makes a difference in people’s lives and that people love working for.

Life ambition: Outside of family, to make a difference in the world and enjoy the process of doing so   

If I wasn’t doing this I would be: Working in some form of digital media because I love the potential for innovation that the internet brings (I’d love to say I’d be an astronaut but I think I’m a little past the point where I could pass the selection process!) 

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