Smarter Business Innovators: First Wealth’s Anthony Villis


It has been a big year for First Wealth, both in terms of profits and industry recognition. But you set up in 2009, so why now? How have you got to this point?

We had a light bulb moment last summer. My business partner Rob Caplan and I signed up to Paul Armson’s Inspiring Advisers and some of the discussion got us thinking. We were both in agreement that we wanted to rebuild our proposition to focus more on the outcome rather than the technical side of what we do. Paul is all about how to present that to clients and how to get them to buy into it.

Two books in particular – Simon Sinek’s Start with Why and Michael Gerber’s The E Myth – also helped motivate us along the way. We agreed on what we needed to do and just got on and made it happen. This year has been a manifestation of all that work.

What makes your business great?

The way that we engage with clients. Our focus is on lifestyle financial planning, which means asking much more detailed questions. The past year has given us more confidence to challenge clients about their real aims and values.

Before, we were asking the standard questions that focused on the level of growth the client wanted. Now, we are asking: what is that growth for? What are we trying to achieve here? For example, they might want to retire or spend more time with their kids.

Working like that is self-fulfilling. You see success with your clients and you feel empowered yourself. It feels good and it feels like it is working.

Have you achieved what you set out to do or is there still work to be done?

We are a much better business this year than we have been but there is still a way to go. In 12 months time we are going to be even better. We are currently in the process of rebranding the business to reflect our lifestyle planning ideas more effectively.

What does good branding and marketing look like to you?

The difficult thing for a business like ours is that mass marketing can be quite dangerous. Not every potential client is going to want full financial planning advice. So if we place an advertisement in the paper and get 1000 enquiries only a small percentage are likely to be people we would want to take to the next stage in terms of what we can do for them.

There is a reputational risk there if you get all those enquiries but do not deal with them properly. You have to be very careful about where you place advertisements.

In terms of our brand, we believe great financial planning can change peoples lives. We are hoping to re-launch our website before the end of the year and it will centre around that message. We want to create that feeling of confidence.

The website is also going to be very technical-lite. If you want to learn about the latest pension legislation, our site is not going to be the right place to go. There are thousands of websites all competing in the same space and we will not get a look in.

Doing something different will not appeal to everyone but we do not need it to. We just want it to appeal to a certain type of person, which is the client we want to work with.

Clients that want to have a detailed conversation about the alpha on a fund they have bought are not the type of client we want. But there are plenty of clients that want to have the “bigger picture” conversations and that is where our sweet spot is.

You won Small Adviser of the Year at this year’s Money Marketing Awards. What does an award like that mean for a business?

The benefits are huge. It is is great to show existing clients, as it reassures them we know what we are doing and that we are being recognised for that. It is also good in terms of our brand awareness within the financial services profession. People know a bit more about us and what we stand for, which is handy when it comes to recruiting as well.

It is also going to be useful for when we increase our marketing efforts and reach out to the legal and accountancy professions.

How would you advise any peers wanting to make big changes to their business? Where do they start?

Ultimately, they have to ask themselves what they want to get out of it. What is their priority?

From there I would look at process. The E-Myth book I mentioned before will be very helpful here. Focus on the following: what do you do? What is your strategy for doing that for clients? How can you continually review it and do it better? And once you have done it better, how will you get people talking about it and distributing it?

Break down the model, improve it and then distribute it. That is the key.

What are the three key areas that make a business successful?

For us, a successful company is one that is great to be a client of, great to work for, and one that has a social conscience. We try and do things for the community, be that giving graduates an opportunity to work with us or helping charitable causes.

What is the single best lesson you have learned when it comes to running a business?

Do not act on impulse. Think about anything before you say it or do it.

What is your biggest business achievement?

The industry awards we have won this year.


First Wealth’s vital statistics

Number of advisers: five

Number of clients: 800

Assets under advice: £230m

Independent/restricted: Independent

CV: Anthony Villis

June 2009-present: Partner, First Wealth

2007-2010: Adviser, Target Chartered Accountants

1996-2004: Senior account manager: Chase de Vere