Back to his roots: Tom Wilcox Jones
2017–present: White Oak Financial Planning, director
2011–2017: Blackstone Moregate, IFA/associate director
2009–2010: Innes Reid Investments, IFA
2005–2009: Buckles Investment Services (now Sanlam), trainee adviser to IFA
Tom has given us a great set of business top tips:
1. I have focused on the retirement market. My qualifications led me in that direction anyway but do not try to be all things to all men.
2. Do not be afraid to speculate. My largest outlay has been on marketing, which has proved money well spent.
3. Do what you do best and outsource the rest. I use Cosenta for support services and focus on advice.
4. Having excellent IT systems frees up my time and ensures I am compliant with new legislation when it arrives.
5. I ask former colleagues and friends for advice all the time. People are happy to help and want to see you succeed. Tapping into others’ experience is a great benefit to me.
On the move
When Tom Wilcox-Jones and his wife Amy found out their second baby was on the way last year, they decided it was time to leave their flat in Hackney, east London, and move back home.
Home is Denbigh in North Wales, where he grew up and joined the financial planning graduate scheme at Buckles Investment Services (now Sanlam) after university. ‘It was a pioneering grad scheme,’ he says, ‘and a really good place to cut your teeth.’
Now back by his family and the Alwen Reservoir (where our photoshoot took place), the 33-year-old director has set up his own financial planning firm, White Oak Financial Planning, in nearby Chester.
‘If it was all about money, we would have stayed in London where I was doing well and growing. But life’s too short to be all about money.’
The firm has taken on 37 clients since Wilcox-Jones started up in June last year.
Of these, 18 are clients from London-based IFA Blackstone Moregate, where Wilcox-Jones was previously employed and to which White Oak, a limited company, is an appointed representative.
Wilcox-Jones pays Blackstone Moregate a fee (much like the arrangement at larger networks) and Blackstone Moregate is responsible for his professional indemnity insurance, compliance and regulation.
White Oak still leans on Blackstone for help. It can access the firm’s outsourced paraplanning company Consenta, and Wilcox-Jones says Blackstone is always on the other end of the phone for him to ‘bounce ideas off’.
‘I told [Blackstone directors] Richard [Hopkins] and Vijay [Thakkar] I wanted to move home straight away because I didn’t want to leave them in the lurch. They’ve been really good to me and it wouldn’t have been fair, particularly for clients.’
From Russia with love
It is clear that Wilcox-Jones and his colleagues have a great relationship.
‘Tom is intelligent and dedicated,’ Thakkar says. ‘He brought some excellent ideas to our business and always had the best interests of his clients in everything he did. I have no doubt White Oak will flourish.’
Wilcox-Jones thinks Hopkins and Thakkar first took a liking to him when they received his CV, all the way from Moscow. After marrying, Wilcox-Jones and Amy travelled for a year around India, Singapore, South East Asia, Australia (where the couple spent Christmas with a lovely old woman called Sheila) and New Zealand. ‘We were going to Japan but the tsunami hit so we changed tack and went to China instead.’
From China the couple took the Trans-Siberian railway back through Mongolia, Russia to Europe, ‘which is cool as long as you like looking at pine forests for days on end’. It was on this train the pair decided North Wales and Chester now felt a little bit small and Wilcox-Jones began sending his CV out to advice firms in London. ‘Richard and Vijay really like travelling so I think that was what sparked their interest,’ Wilcox-Jones says.
The affiliation between Blackstone Moregate and White Oak extends to defined benefit (DB) transfer work. Wilcox-Jones is happy to undertake this work as a qualified pension transfer specialist, but Hopkins reviews and signs off every case.
Having that fail-safe, as well as checks by external compliance officers, is part of Wilcox-Jones’s DB transfer service. He also engages with updates from compliance and business support group Sifa, now part of SimplyBiz, of which he is a member.
He believes separating the charges for assessing whether a transfer is appropriate and proceeding with a transfer is essential. ‘I don’t believe in contingent charging,’ he says. ‘[With that] you will never get an independent view about whether or not to transfer.'
On the recent news about British Steel Pension Scheme members, several of whom appear to have been given poor or unsuitable advice to transfer out of their DB scheme, he adds: ‘I don’t know how you can sleep at night if you’re charging someone £25,000 just to move a pension from A to B. But that’s just a small section of our profession.’
His own DB advice charges tend to be £995 for the initial review and £3,000 (1% for a typical client) if he and the client agree to transfer.
‘Use separate charges and make your charging structure very clear so clients can take it away and compare it with the wider market.’
Making it happen
Wilcox-Jones’ focus is on growing the business and finding new clients. He does this predominantly through online services Unbiased, VouchedFor and Lead Tech, through professional connections (‘I’ve got a friend who’s a solicitor and one who’s a chartered accountant’), and referrals from friends and family.
He is pleased to have taken on 19 new clients since the summer. He had planned to obtain one new client a month at the start. He is also pleased with the type of client Chester has to offer: relatively wealthy pre-retirement couples.
‘I was worried about the demographic of clients, having come from London,’ he says. ‘But it’s been a pleasant surprise that the value has been high and I’ve been able to get a healthy number.’
At some point he will hire a paraplanner and ideally, along the line, would like to join forces with other like-minded IFAs. He knows a lot of them, even in the area from his time at Buckles, and is quick to extol the virtues of good, experienced, right-minded independent advisers.
‘[Teaming up] helps you grow, you can share the cost of overheads and it is easier to work with professional connections. I know lots of IFAs, even in this building,’ he says.
In fine voice
Despite having little spare time now with two young children, Wilcox-Jones is unlikely to lose this social spirit. While living in London, he joined the London Welsh Male Voice Choir, despite never really having sung before.
‘My mate kept asking me to sign up and one night I was drunk enough to do it,’ Wilcox-Jones says. ‘That was in 2012 and that same year we sang at the closing ceremony of the Olympics. We stood in the middle of the stadium and sang the Olympic Hymn as [then London Mayor] Boris Johnson was handing the torch over to the mayor of Rio de Janeiro.’
‘Most people were Welsh, we sang a lot of Welsh songs so being able to speak Welsh or at least pronounce it was quite good.'
The fee bit
For new White Oak clients seeking planning and investment advice, Wilcox-Jones does not charge a fee for planning. However, there is an implementation fee of 3% on the first £50,000, 2% on the next £50,000, 1% on the next £150,000 and 0.5% thereafter.
The ongoing fee is 1% for clients with £150,000 or less, and 0.75% thereafter.
This means White Oak’s typical client, who has around £300,000 to invest, would pay 1.3% implementation and 0.75% ongoing. But someone with £50,000 could end up paying 3% implementation and 1% ongoing.
‘That’s why I have to ask myself whether I am really adding value,’ Wilcox-Jones says. ‘And at the moment I would have to turn someone with £50,000 away.’
He is working with Intelligent Office to build an automated online service for these lower-value clients. This will have no implementation fee, a risk-profile questionnaire, and pre-made model portfolios on the Cofunds platform. It will produce automatic reports and valuations and access to White Oak’s client portal, which is also provided by Intelligent Office.
The Personal Finance Portal has already been soft-launched. It is a place where all of a client’s information can be stored and accessed by the client and Wilcox-Jones via a password. Wilcox-Jones thinks this will be a better way of providing sensitive information to clients once the general data protection regulation comes into force in May.
The investment bit
For White Oak’s 19 new clients, Wilcox-Jones provides 10 risk-rated model portfolios on a variety of platforms. These are a copy of the model portfolios produced by research company Rayner Spencer Mills. Wilcox-Jones has access to this research through Sifa. White Oak’s model portfolios are aligned to Dynamic Planner asset allocations and risk profiler.
The White Oak Medium Risk portfolio has outperformed the Mixed Investment 40%-85% Shares benchmark by 11.6% return to 9.2% return since White Oak’s inception.
The JPM Japan fund, managed by Citywire A-rated Shoichi Mizusawa, AA-rated Miyako Urabe and A-rated Nicholas Weindling, has been a good contributor over this short term. The portfolio as it exists at Rayner Spencer Mills has also outperformed the benchmark over three and five years.
Active vs. Passive...
Active funds: 90%
Passive funds: 10%
‘It’s in vogue to outsource to a discretionary fund manager, but then you have the added charges and it’s another layer of fees. The Rayner Spencer Mills portfolios are literally the company saying: “We think these funds in this proportion match that risk profile”. I can implement that on any platform that has those funds. I’m not tied to a platform.’