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Adviser Spotlight – Anthony Villis of First Wealth

In this popular monthly feature, IFA Magazine talks to leading advisers about what’s working well in their financial planning businesses. This month Sue Whitbread talks to Anthony Villis, Managing Partner and founder at London-based First Wealth, about the development of his financial planning business and why it’s important to focus on the needs of the team as well as those of clients.   

First Wealth has won many awards – I remember how impressed the IFP judges were with your winning submission for the Norton award a few years ago! What are the main principles on which you set up the business initially? How would you describe your business?

Our aim is to be the best possible financial planning business we can be.

First Wealth is a highly ambitious business, which strives for excellence but is relaxed and approachable in its delivery. Our goal is to be a great business to be a client of, and great business to work for and a business that does great things in the wider community.

Could you share your vision for the future of the business and for the service you deliver to clients?

The vision is to build a well-respected financial planning business with £1bn of assets under management within ten years. It’s ambitious and motivating.

In order to achieve our vision, we’re going to need to make sure every aspect of our business is right. How do we delight our existing clients time and time again? Who are our target clients, what marketing do we need to do to attract them? How do we use technology to improve the efficiency of our service, how do we attract and retain the very best team? There’s a lot to think about, and that is what motivates us.

What drives you when it comes to running the business – in other words, what’s your “why”? For you personally, what are the best bits about being a financial planner?

We’re driven in our desire to build the best possible business for our clients and our staff. We want to excel at financial planning, helping clients to articulate and achieve their big ambitions in life. We want to create an environment where our team enjoy coming to work, and are constantly learning and developing. We also want to ensure that the work life balance is right for the team, and that we live to our mantra that life is not a rehearsal.

For First Wealth, our why is “Great financial planning can change your life. We exist to inspire ideas, create confidence and give you the freedom to live.”

Personally, I love the creativity of financial planning and the freedom it leads to. For me, it’s important that you live your life to your own values; what matters and what doesn’t. When you do, you attract clients who get it and share your ‘why’.

Can you talk us through who does what in your team? How do you work together and maintain the enthusiasm and passion that is needed to thrive and drive business success? How important is having a team-approach?

We really do have a brilliant team here. As a small business everyone pitches in where needed. The management team are Rob Caplan, Claire Phillips, Kerry Burgess and myself. Rob has the largest book and brings the most new clients to the practice each year, Claire is instrumental to the success we have achieved so far and makes the whole business work, Kerry is our new office manager, so has her sleeves rolled up with service delivery, client segmentation, workflow and team development  (amongst other things!)

Joe, Jamie, Agnieszka, Zoe and Robert all deserve a mention, as they’re all fantastic. Thanks guys!

We’re also incredibly well supported by a team of outsourced resource. Joining the Best Practice network in 2011 was one of the best things we ever did. Their compliance function and the technology we have access to is first class.

When it comes to your clients, do you have a particular client profile/segment that you prefer to work with? How do you identify those clients? Do you have different service propositions or is it one-size fits all?  

A high percentage of our clients are entrepreneurs and SME owners, who have been referred to us through a professional connection. We therefore have specialist knowledge in this sector, and believe it’s where we add most value to out clients.

We have one service proposition; the First Wealth way of doing things. We know it won’t fit for everyone, but we’ve stopped trying to be all things to all people. We’ve also become better at saying no to clients who don’t fit our target profile.

How do you generate new enquiries for the business? How important is marketing and what works best for you? What are your views on the use of social media as a business tool? Do you have any tips for other adviser firms looking to grow their businesses?

Traditionally we’ve relied on personal recommendation and referrals through a network of accountants and lawyers we work with. This will take us far, but we realise we need to increase our reach.

We’ve recently engaged with Tenfold Media to help us build and run an inbound marketing campaign. This campaign will help us to build our brand and to reflect our core beliefs. All the team are involved in content creation, so that readers can get a feel for the individuals involved in the business. We upload our content to our website and then share on the usual social media channels. For a small business, I’m very proud of our marketing campaign (thank you Tim and Amy!)

What about professional development? How do you invest in yourselves and continue developing your knowledge and skills around business practice as well as technical knowledge? Do you think that professional qualifications are important?

Yes, qualifications and hands on experience are both important. All of our advisers are Chartered and we are a Chartered firm. We have established the Graduate Transition Programme to bring graduates into the business and train them as the financial planners of the future. Our first gradate, Joe, is progressing incredibly well and should be in a position to become our next adviser in 2018.

When it comes to the investment strategy and portfolio management services you operate, what’s your approach?  What processes do you use? Which software systems? Do you favour an active or passive approach?

The backbone of our investment solution is an award winning, in-house model portfolio service. We run wealth, income and accumulation portfolios, to cater for all of our clients’ requirements. Within each category we run seven risk-adjusted models. We blend active and passive investments within each portfolio to optimise returns and minimise costs. Our preferred platform is Fusion Wealth.

In terms of due diligence, we rely on Independent Strategic Research (ISR), who monitor and analyse the entire fund space and then help us build the portfolios that match each client’s needs.

As with everything else in our business, we are constantly looking to improve what we do. We have asked ISR to review the market place for Smart Beta products, which we believe are a great market innovation and one that we wish to use in our portfolios looking ahead.

What tips would you give to other adviser firms looking to grow their businesses?

I’d summarise it quite succinctly, and recommend that they clearly define what they stand for, and why they’re in business.

A few books have really helped us get going on this front. The E-Myth by Michael Gerber helped us to see the difference between being a financial planner and having a successful financial planning business. Start with Why by Simon Sinek allowed us to unlock our passion for what we’re doing, Traction by Gino Wickman allowed us to pull the big picture ideas into something manageable and put in place the systems for us to grow.

Other than that, my tips would be to make sure you have fun growing your business (don’t just talk about it, do it), engage your team as stakeholder in the business whenever possible, make sure your clients are your biggest advocates. Don’t get distracted by the daily grind of the media, for every depressing story you read, there’s an equally inspiring story that doesn’t get written, look to the future (who are the stars of tomorrow in your business?). Always look to refine and improve everything you do. Take time out to think and reflect on what you’re doing, in fact that reminds me – there’s another book worth a read –  Deep Work by Cal Newport.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’m a very proud Dad, so hanging out with my two year old daughter, Lux, is great. We’ve recently moved to Dorset, so we’re spending more time outside, walking on the beach and at the local pirate playground! I love sport; cycling, swimming, gym, surfing, skiing and golf.

My ideal day is a sunny day on the beach with friends and family, then back to ours for a BBQ and a few beers. Bliss.

About Anthony Villis

Anthony is Managing Partner at First Wealth. He has an impressive list of qualifications: Chartered Financial Planner, Certified Financial Planner, Investment Management Certificate, and a B.Sc. in Economics. But the role he’s most proud of is being a dad to his beautiful daughter, Lux. As one of the firm’s founders, Anthony’s career highlight to date has been First Wealth winning the coveted IFP David Norton Building Excellence Award in 2015.


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