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Profile: Tilney boss on juggling financial planning and investment management

Tilney chief on providing financial planning while attracting investment management business from external advisers

Nobody likes being the new kid at school – even those at the top. So, a year on from becoming chief executive of wealth manager Tilney, Chris Woodhouse is happy to be “part of the wallpaper”.

His strategy has been clear from the start. “I’ve seen executives who come in, assume they know it all and tell the organisation what they are going to do, but I don’t think that’s very sensible,” he says.

“You’re better off assuming the people who work there know a lot, listen to how it works and asking them what could be done differently to improve things.”

With many investment management firms trying to make inroads into financial planning, Tilney is sitting pretty in that respect, having bought wealth manager Towry in 2016. The deal has created a group with a broad range of skills to support its £24.1bn assets under management.

It is this breadth of skills that is one of Tilney’s great strengths, says Woodhouse.
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“You’ve got people in business development dealing with external IFAs, then we have 100-odd investment managers and 220 financial planners.

“The weight of experience across the spectrum is unique in terms of UK-centric wealth managers. If you go forward with a coherent offering between investment management and financial planning, the client feels you have their best interests at heart rather than just wanting to manage their assets. It’s a subtle difference but it’s important.”

Feedback from advisers that use Tilney as an investment manager has been good.

Woodhouse concedes that some may worry about protecting relationships with their clients at the start, given Tilney has a financial planning string to its bow. However, those clients are ringfenced and Woodhouse reports that any concerns soon subside.

“The IFAs we have long-term relationships with feel the benefits of the capability we have on the financial planning side, as we have empathy with what they are trying to do. We are not stomping on each other’s territory,” he says.

CV – Chris Woodhouse

2017-present: Chief executive, Tilney

2012-2016: Chief executive, RAC

2004-2012: Deputy chief executive, Debenhams

2003-2004: Deputy chairman, Halfords

2001-2003: Commercial director and deputy chief executive, Homebase

1999-2001: Group finance director, Albert Fisher Group

1996-1999: Commercial director, Birthdays Group

1990-1996: Finance director, Superdrug Stores

1982-1990: Various roles at Price Waterhouse, British & Commonwealth Holdings and William Street Holdings

One of the things that has impressed Woodhouse is Tilney’s approach to acquisitions.

The firm is looking to acquire more businesses, particularly small and medium-sized firms, in addition to driving organic growth.

“Our approach involves taking the best bits from the acquired firms and incorporating them into the core offering, rather than hoovering up entities and saying ‘this is how we do it’. We are intelligent enough to look at what they do and say ‘let’s make this our approach’.”
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Woodhouse points out there is no monopoly on creativity. “Everyone, from somebody just starting to the most senior people, could have creative ideas that might be valuable. They should be encouraged to share that without worrying about levels of seniority, as that is good for businesses. We spend a lot of time talking to colleagues, explaining the direction of the business, listening to their views and to their creative ideas,” he says.

The chief executive sees a creative side to his career in terms of leaving businesses in better shape than when he started. Much of his career has been built in the retail and consumer sectors, with his CV full of household names like Debenhams and Superdrug. However, he stresses he is no novice when it comes to financial services, having joined Tilney from UK motoring and financial services group RAC.

“At a senior level, you tend to get employed for your experience rather than technical expertise – although that is still important. It’s about what you know and when you come across situations and opportunities that are similar, you can apply your experience to them,” he says.

“Because my last job was in financial services, the learning curve didn’t feel quite as difficult as it would have if I’d come in from a completely different industry.

“I’ve also used the services of wealth managers myself for 20 years, so I have a reasonable understanding of how it works from a client perspective.”

People often talk about the need to recruit people from other industries into financial services to ensure it evolves through new ideas that work elsewhere. Woodhouse points out that many people sitting on boards take up non-executive roles in firms operating in different sectors.

“That is a good thing, not just for the companies they are serving as non-execs but also back at the host business, as breadth and mix of experience across the board is helpful,” he says.

“To say I’ve worked in other sectors doesn’t make me unique but it means I have broad experience to bear on different issues we are wrestling with. If we only had people who had been at Tilney for 20 years, their experiences would be limited to what they learned here.”

As part of his mission to create a melting pot of ideas, Woodhouse is keen to do more to promote diversity. “We have a good reputation of female planners and investment managers. Some of our better practitioners are women but when I think about the mix of prospective clients and look at the mix of advisers in the business, I think we could do more for diversity in terms of ethnicity. But you can’t just talk about it, you have to back it up with action,” he says.
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Woodhouse recently talked about how increased regulation has created a challenging environment for wealth managers and how benefits of scale are becoming more important. Does he feel that this will lead to more consolidation among wealth managers?

“It’s one of the ingredients to more consolidation over time,” he says. “As consumers get more savvy, what happens in any market place is a degree of price pressure. You end up with large organisations – big, efficient pieces of machinery – with a boutique front end, so they can bespoke client requirements.

“If managed the right way, consolidation can work in the interests of clients, but I’d stress it’s very important to maintain personal service in terms of client interface. You are dealing with emotive and sensitive issues, so clients need to feel they are getting a tailored solution rather than a piece of big machinery.”

Five questions

What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?

You spend a lot of hours at work. Make sure you enjoy it.

What keeps you awake at night?

My children coming in late from their evenings out.

What has had the most significant impact on advice in the last year?

Ongoing regulatory change and Brexit.

If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…

Think hard about Brexit and steering the balance between a healthy, competitive industry and looking after clients.

Any advice for new advisers?

Aim for the top.

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