Anthony Villis co-founded First Wealth with his business partner Robert Caplan after the financial crisis, on the premise that there had to be a better way of doing things. 12 years on, First Wealth was named Chartered Financial Planning Firm of the Year.
Now a certified B Corp, First Wealth is a business that creates positive change.
We caught up with Anthony to find out more about his journey so far, what he has learned from the Covid-19 pandemic, and his advice to anyone who wants to become a financial planner.
Tell us more about your role and what you do.
I’m Managing Director of First Wealth, so my main role is overseeing the business. This involves the vision of what we’re trying to achieve on a day-to-day basis. I spend time focusing on the financial planning proposition for our clients and how we look after the team.
I’m also increasingly involved in the digital side of the business, looking at how we can build software and integrate tech to help deliver financial planning. I also run the marketing for First Wealth and ensure that we project the right message to the world beyond.
What are your specialties?
I work with entrepreneurial clients, who are, typically, the type of client First Wealth attract.
I’m also very interested in the psychology of money and behavioural finance. I find the subject of how our brains think about money and all the cognitive biases that we’re inherently born with endlessly fascinating.
What is the most valuable piece of financial advice anyone ever gave you?
To buy the biggest house you can afford!
When I started my career at Chase de Vere, we didn’t have a company pension or any other benefits and my boss at the time said: “Go and buy yourself the biggest flat you can afford”.
Within the first 12 months of starting to earn, I did just that and I’ve stuck with the same philosophy ever since. Every time we moved, we borrowed the maximum possible. And that’s probably created a lot of our wealth as a family.
Granted, it’s not for everyone, and perhaps unconventional advice, but it’s stood us in good stead over the years.
What is your favourite part of your role?
Doing things that other people have never done before, we are totally unconstrained in terms of innovation and vision.
When we make decisions as a team, we can just do it without having to go through some tedious committee and getting it signed off. We back ourselves as a leadership team, and we get on with things. I love that about First Wealth.
I’m also excited about the way financial planning is evolving, and the ability to build our own technology without any parameters.
First Wealth is a B Corp and a very innovative, multi-award winning company. What does the future hold?
Ultimately, we want to continue to build First Wealth and scale the business through organic growth and, potentially, acquisition as well.
We’re also increasingly trying to build financial wellbeing into the delivery of advice for clients. We’re looking at how we can deliver that consistently, but also asking how we can measure it. We know that great financial planning delivers way more than returns on a portfolio, it’s about helping clients live with freedom and purpose. Finding a way to measure that impact is a big goal.
We’re keen to expand into the financial education space with Let’s Talk About Money, which is another of the brands we have. We want to build that out educational courses, possibly some paid-for courses, where people can get the basics of money and learn to avoid mistakes.
The other part of the business is the digital side of things, where we’re developing our own tools to help deliver financial planning.
Ultimately, we’re trying to bring the digital advice business together with the Let’s Talk About Money business and use some of the digital tools to help people with their financial journey. This is already starting to come together, which is exciting.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a financial planner?
My general advice is to focus on the soft skills that you’ll need. Think about things like:
- What does it take to have a good conversation?
- How do you become a good coach?
- How do you become a good listener?
- How do you engage with people?
- How do you understand different types of people?
- How do you have empathy for different types of people?
I would recommend spending some time looking at the whole behavioural aspect as well. Learn about the way people think about money and some of the mistakes they make.
Read books and follow podcasts in the financial planning space too. Check out https://www.mavenadviser.com/podcast and https://meaningfulmoney.tv/mmpodcast/, two brilliant resources.
It’s about focusing on the things that make a really great financial planner. It’s the combination of being strong technically, but also being a real people person who can ask good questions and engender trust with others.
What did the pandemic teach you about financial planning?
I think it taught us that this can be done remotely, which is cool.
It also taught us that there’s more to life than how much money you’ve got in your pension or how much money you’ve got in your investment accounts.
For me, it’s about living with purpose. It’s the right to ask: am I doing something that I believe in? Am I doing something that motivates me? Am I spending enough time with the people I love? Am I going to look back on my life and wish I’d done things differently?
It’s been a time for affirmation of all those sorts of things. I feel very privileged that we live in Dorset, near the beach. I’m so pleased that we made that decision five years ago. The pandemic has reinforced how right that decision was for us.
So yes, money is great, and it’s important, but it’s about using your money to live as you want, rather than the other way around.
What do you think the future of financial planning looks like?
I think it’s going to be very much around financial wellbeing. Rather than just how much money you’ve got, it’s about how happy you are and how much good you do in the world.
Evidence-based financial planning is the future. Evidence-based investing is all about the data and, I think, the future of financial planning is also around numbers.
For example, if you have a client, you should be modelling their situation based on data. Looking at things like: where does your client live? What’s their postcode? What’s their health like? What’s their life expectancy? What are their investment returns likely to be?
Whether they buy an annuity or go into drawdown shouldn’t be based on the subjectivity of an adviser, it should be based on the mathematical model. It’s about using data to drive advice rather than the subjectivity of the financial planner.
And, finally, the automation of evidence-based planning. If you’re moving towards a mathematically based outcome, that needs to be driven by technology. Because what you’re trying to do is remove the inherent biases of financial planners and the best way to do that is to remove the planner from the formation of the advice. In the future, the planner’s role will be to discuss the data derived advice and options, and support clients through the decision process.
I believe the planner will still be involved, but I think data and tech will deliver solutions based on the data and the evidence. Then it will be the adviser’s job to have the conversation with the client.
What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
That you have to learn to accept the good and the bad. Things aren’t always going to be perfect. So you need to be able to accept it and move on.
Also, you have to take risk and sometimes you have to take risks that make you feel uncomfortable.
I think a lot of people don’t do things because they don’t have the plan for exactly where they want to end up and it almost stops them from doing stuff. The point is, if we’re trying to go over there, we need to take a step in that direction. Maybe you don’t know exactly where you’re going to end up, but if you’re moving in the direction you want to go, that’s better than doing nothing.
It doesn’t need to be perfect. In fact, a lot of the things we’re trying to do, we don’t really know where they’re going to end up. But that doesn’t stop us from starting and moving in the right direction.
This document is marketing material for a retail audience and does not constitute advice or recommendations. Past performance is not a guide to future performance and may not be repeated. The value of investments and the income from them may go down as well as up and investors may not get back the amount originally invested.