Two Liverpudlian siblings have recently established an outpost for their wealth management company in London – and are keen to accelerate expansion in the capital without it taking years to achieve. Here Robert Wilcocks asks how he and his brother Martin can find the fast track to growth
Managing the fortunes of the species lucky enough to be termed an HNWI – a high-net-worth individual, or someone with upwards of $1m (£690,000) in assets – involves something quite different to the clichéd idea of funnelling cash into Swiss tax havens and superyachts. According to the pair of brothers behind Liverpool wealth management company Wilcocks and Wilcocks, it’s a science.
“When it comes to investment of money, rather than rely upon speculation, we look at science-based methods from the likes of the University of Chicago or Cass Business School and EBI [evidence-based investment] as used by Nobel Prize-winning economists such as Thomas Sargent and Eugene Fama,” explains Robert Wilcocks, junior to his chief executive brother Martin by a decade.
By moulding their own brand of “holistic wealth management”, the pair have carved a niche for themselves in the north-west financial landscape. “We’re not merely interested in managing money like most asset managers – we’re interested in the client and what they want out of life,” says Robert. “Once we understand what’s important to them, what money means to them, their goals and objectives, charitable interests, we put all this stuff into a roadmap and present it back to them. The life-planning consultancy approach, linking your money to your goals, really makes a difference.”
He adds: “Most financial planners say we can get you X return on your investments. [However] in his book The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb points out that events in history come from the leftfield that people can’t see coming. If asset managers are here to act as a fiduciary and tell the truth, we should educate clients more about markets, which we do. Value is about financial life planning – putting the personal side above the technical side, and ending up with a holistic picture of a client’s goals, ambitions and fears. [By doing this] you can add huge value to a client’s life.”
It’s a stance which the pair developed after becoming disillusioned with what they see as “the poor service and sales culture” of larger firms. Having joined Barclays as a cashier shortly after leaving school in 1989, Martin spent 14 years at the bank working his way up to become premier banking manager, followed by a stint as associate partner at St James’s Place Wealth Management. Impressed by the “nice cars” his older brother was increasingly driving, Robert entered the financial industry as a pension administrator in 2003. However, disenchanted by the fact some funds hadn’t grown in a decade and that wealth management was progressively “less about the service, more about the selling”, Robert joined the company that his brother had founded two years previously.
Shortly after the 2008 crash, the nascent firm (then called Wilcocks Associates) was hit by another disaster – the network they had chosen to work under for compliance and back-office support (Mortgage Times Group) was placed into administration, owing £2m in unpaid fees. “It was a very difficult 12 months,” recalls Robert. “Our turnover dropped off the face of a cliff… We didn’t get paid for a year. But we decided to keep the brand and fight through it. It was hard – we had to fund everything out of cashflow.”
These financial troubles notwithstanding, the pair’s first HNWI – a Liverpudlian shipping entrepreneur – came on board in late 2009, and the brothers made a concerted push towards HNWI wealth management, having previously focused primarily on commercial finance and mortgages. Aided by a £25,000 loan (to this day, Wilcocks & Wilcocks’ only funding), the pair bought a high-end office overlooking the Mersey and started recruiting staff.
“That was our biggest mistake,” Robert now admits of the personnel boost. “We hired the wrong people – we had eight people who were older and had been there, done it in the industry. But they didn’t have the hunger [to work for] what was essentially a small start-up. We had problems with staff refusing to take orders from people younger than them – even though we were the bosses and paying their wages.”
Despite such headaches, Wilcocks Associates started building its client base by word of mouth. United by a desire to “go an extra mile”, the company rebranded as Wilcocks & Wilcocks in late 2013. The personnel problems were solved too – the company pared itself down to the two brothers, outsourcing other tasks such as paraplanning.
With turnover currently hovering around £400,000-£500,000, the pair are increasingly focusing on family businesses and asset wealth of up to £25m. To this end, Robert moved to London in 2015 to expand upon their northwest network – the capital has some 376,000 HNWIs, 45 per cent of the UK total. Operating from co-working space WeWork in the heart of the City, he aims to build a team of strategic advisers, so that the company’s holistic wealth management offering would form a ‘golden triangle’ with a solicitor/lawyer and accountant/tax specialist joining the two financial advisers.
“We’ve got that network in Liverpool and have a good name there,” says Robert. “But moving to London is like starting from scratch. I’m confident it’s going to work, but it would be good to know how to grow quickly and profitably in a very new market.” This month’s panel is ready to dispense their advice…
Robert Wilcocks is a member of IoD London
Wilcocks and Wilcocks asks: What can we use as a catalyst to accelerate growth in London so that it doesn’t take us six or seven years as it did in Liverpool?
Dowshan Humzah, digital strategy and business transformation director, Inspiration for Success
You have a great proposition but should tread carefully given your strategic concerns: footprint and profitable growth.
You could still increase your penetration in the north-west at lower costs of acquisition. Although London has around 45 per cent (376k) of HNWIs, it is cluttered and the cost of acquisition is higher, even though you are reducing expenses. Wealth management is an art in personal relationships and service. You can replicate this online and target London HNWIs via dynamic content, real-time insights and more responsive service with lower costs to serve. Thus, a potential catalyst is overlaying digital on your existing assets and competencies.
Your website is good; use of social media and blogs should be a focus. Many HNWIs use the ‘6 elements of social media’ strategy to share and engage passions (collectables, watches, cars, art) as well as blog/tweet for real-time investment opportunities (managing sharing and privacy carefully). I urge you to use our ‘4Cs of Content’ model: Create content (infographics, case studies, videos); distribute with the right Context (keywords, timing, economic news, life-stages); encourage greater engagement via Conversations (online, social, webinars, blogs and offline: breakfasts, conferences, events, editorial, PR); and, crucially, Convert clients – by investing and advocating.
Dowshan Humzah is a member of IoD Central London
John G Courtney, business mentor at Microsoft Ventures and independent non-executive director
I would suggest thinking of a way of getting instantly noticed through publicity. This can take a year or more off your growth timeline. It can be a launch party (lots of food and drink and in a place with style such as Tower Bridge or The Shard) or a PR stunt. It doesn’t have to be the old-school, brash style of PR stunt, but it must have impact. If you can align the publicity with your USP of understanding the client and their lifestyle, even better.
You have no doubt grown your business partly through introductions from professionals such as accountants, lawyers and bankers. Some of these Liverpool introducers will have a London arm, or can recommend a firm to work with them. I would also suggest trying to get some easy wins on London recommendations through your Liverpool clients – most of them will know an HNWI in the capital.
Social media also provides many opportunities, and paid social ads can be very targeted through LinkedIn and Facebook. Wealth management companies already do this by offering a free report in exchange for contact details.
John G Courtney is a member of IoD South West
Peter Boam, managing director, Capital Space
To make real headway it will be necessary to address a real concern that will generate interest in potential customers. As a potential customer myself I consider this could be the
subject of fees.
Numerous articles tell us that the bulk of fees charged by advisers are simply for being the custodians of people’s savings. Which saver was ever introduced to a performance chart that showed their adviser in anything other than the top quartile? One may suspect that there are almost as many performance charts as there are mainstream advisers. An innovative approach to this topic could arouse serious interest. What are the actual costs of managing other people’s money and what is a reasonable basis for charges? The next stage is to gain exposure for this view by running a marketing campaign. Financial management is not, although maybe it should be, uppermost in the minds of most people. The task of persuading savers to transfer to a new entrant will be a lengthy process.
London will be tougher than Liverpool owing to the much larger number of suppliers in the market.
Peter Boam is a member of IoD Kent
Wilcocks and Wilcocks’ response
Thank you for all the kind comments and thoughtful insight. Regarding Dowshan’s point on digital, we’re about to launch a digital service and have started to produce content aimed at target clients. I also like his 4Cs approach to give us added depth and structure. We might take John’s idea of a launch with the digital service as the niche differentiator, while we are doing what he suggests with potential customers with our Liverpool-London links and free portfolio comparison reports. As for Peter’s views on fees, I agree. You can pay less to earn more – this is what our evidence-based investing is all about. Another concern for HNWIs is estate/inheritance planning. To deal with this, we’ve just brought on board the UK’s leading inheritance tax expert.
To join our virtual board or to seek its advice, email us here
What advice would you give Wilcocks and Wilcocks? Comment below