A core clientele of clergy and professionals is pro-ving to be a solid business base for A Wills & Co.
Director Arnold Wills says the last quarter of 2003 was the best yet for the firm, with current annual turnover at £400,000, with £130,000 of this total being trail/fund-based. He is very bullish about the future for IFAs if they have an emphasis on client care and servicing, and attributes the firm's good business over the last six months to “our loyal client base”.
Wills & Co specialises in personal financial planning, doing the majority of its business in lump sum investments. Its main office is in Wells in Somerset and it also has office facilities in Taunton and Worcester for client meetings. Wills says the company is well placed for the West Country, the Cotswolds and the South in general.
He says: “We provide a lot of advice for the elderly. We advise on long-term care, inheritance tax and planning for retirement but we do not do pension transfers and we do no mortgage work at all.”
Wills says that this mortgage work is passed on to other respected IFAs. He believes this sort of practice is growing among IFAs and he thinks they are starting to realise they cannot advise on everything and should concentrate on what they are best at. He says: “We refer mortgages and certain pension work elsewhere, particularly transfers. Mutual respect for other IFAs is essential.”
The company has 1,500 clients, and most of them are over 50. Around 800 of the clients are regularly active with the firm. A third of these are members of the Anglican clergy and their families while another third comprises professionals, mainly solicitors, with some accountants. Most of the clients are referred either by existing clients or by professionals such as solicitors, stockbrokers and accountants.
Wills predicts growth in the areas of elderly care and inheritance tax mitigation and says the company has seen a huge increase in interest from professional connections in these areas and also for general tax and trust advice.
The firm was set up in May 1995 and was originally a member of the Burns Anderson network. It is owned by its two directors, Arnold Wills, who is the main registered individual, and his wife Julie, who is not authorised as an IFA but is a personnel professional and manages the company. It has one other RI and a paraplanner about to become a trainee RI. Six admin staff complete the company.
Wills started out as an IFA with Advisory & Brokerage in 1988, having previously worked as a life inspector with Norwich Union for five years. He came to financial services from teaching, after working as a maths and music teacher for four years after completing a degree at Exeter University.
In March last year, the firm took the decision to leave Burns Anderson and go for direct authorisation. Wills says this was mainly because he felt the move would cut costs and adds that while he valued being part of the network and continues to hold Burns Anderson in great respect, he felt that his company was mature enough to become directly authorised.
“Networks work on a lowest common denominator approach. Each member is treated the same as the lowest with regards to compliance, and how well they do their work. We felt that A Wills & Co was not the lowest and that we were mature enough to become directly authorised.”
The firm retains some support services from BA Responsiv. Wills says this means that services are provided when requested, for example, occasional compliance checks.
Unlike other IFAs which have suffered huge increases in their professional indemnity cover premiums over the last year, Wills says: “PI has not become an issue for us yet but we do expect a fairly steep increase later this year on renewal.”
The firm is looking to grow, possibly by acquiring or merging with smaller firms or through bringing in new people. But Wills is concerned there is a lack of real quality among RIs. He says: “We will only take quality advisers on. We are seeking IFAs who can bring in fees or commission in excess of £100,000 a year.”
Wills does not want to put a figure on growth, saying: “At the mom-ent, I remain cautious. We would certainly like to grow the company over the next few years but on an as and when basis. It depends what comes along but we will definitely be keeping up a continuous steady growth.
“Clearly, as a quality IFA, we cannot stand still. We are therefore seeking smaller firms to bolt on to us, not necessarily in the Somerset area. We would never dismiss the idea of becoming part of a larger group but values and ethics are paramount as well as a range of services.”
A WILLS & CO
Based: Wells, Somerset
Founded: May 1995
Company history: Member of Burns Anderson network until last March when it became directly authorised
Staff: One RI with one paraplanner and six support staff and manager
Directors: Arnold Wills and Julie Wills
Type of business:Personal financial planning, lump sum investments, long-term care, inheritance tax and retirement planning
Client base: 1,500, mostly in their 50s.
Tel: 01749 670071