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Building from the ground up

23 October 2017

After a redundancy, Paul Whitton and his partner created Aspirations

Paul Whitton
ON THE ROAD

Redundancy was a blessing for Paul Whitton, co-founder of Bristol-based Aspirations Financial Advice, as he tells his Zurich business account manager James Revell

WHEN AND WHY DID YOU START YOUR COMPANY?
At the end of 2012, on the advent of the RDR, myself and my fellow director Steve [Gilpin] were made redundant from the business team of a large bank assurer [NatWest] where we’d worked for 25 to 30 years. I was running a number of teams across the country and Steve had been with me for about 15 years. We were two of 800 people who were given the opportunity to leave. I’d hankered after starting my own business for years, but wanted job security while my three children were growing up. By 2012, the timing was right – our children had left home, and the redundancy payment enabled us to get going.

HOW DID YOU FIND THE EARLY DAYS?

It was a bit of a rollercoaster. We worked out of our bedrooms for the first nine months. Because I’d been on the managerial side I had no clients. Steve had some and we called in a lot of favours from people we’d worked with over the years. They got us a few referrals and helped us get off the ground.

HOW HAVE YOU BUILT YOUR BRAND?

Our office in Bradley Stoke is above a Tesco. Some 88,000 people walk though those supermarket doors every week and our office window is directly above, so it’s very visible and means we get a lot of walk-ins. We also sponsor the cheetah enclosure at a local wildlife park.

HOW HAS THE COMPANY GROWN SINCE INCEPTION AND WHAT ARE YOUR GROWTH ASPIRATIONS?

We have eight staff – six advisers, my wife Debbie, also a director, manages the office and deals with marketing and finance, and she has an administration assistant. I’m now 56, Steve is the same age, and can’t see ourselves working beyond 65, so we’re actively trying to bring younger people into the business. Our funds under management have hit £15 million this year, exceeding our £12 million target. We’d like to open an office in south Wales and another in Chippenham, and aim to manage £100 million by 2021.

WHAT DOES YOUR TYPICAL WORKING WEEK ENTAIL?
Old habits die hard and we have a wash-up meeting every Monday morning. It’s not a sales meeting; more of a self-help group. We need to know which cases are ongoing and who needs help so we can manage workflow and the company cashflow. I meet with clients Tuesday to Thursday and Friday is a day for admin and staff development.

WHO HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST INSPIRATION?
Sir Alex Ferguson had a tough time at the start of his career and almost got sacked a number of times, but tenaciously built three or four unbeatable [football] teams. When you read a life story like his you cannot help but be inspired.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST LESSON OF YOUR CAREER TO DATE?
Work with people who have the same outlook on life. If you’re not aligned, you can waste an awful lot of time butting heads.

WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING THING ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It’s a bit clichéd, but helping clients to realise their dreams. One client walked in with a lot of debt and was clearly cracking under the strain. Thanks to pension freedoms, we released money from his pension and the next time we saw him, he was floating on air. It’s satisfying to be able to help someone out of a hole.

AND THE MOST CHALLENGING?

Being a small and growing company, fitting everything in. I’ve learnt so much over the last five years on how to run a company – cashflow, budgeting, marketing, even IT can be frustrating. In a big company, you just pick up the phone; in a small company, there’s no-one at the end of the line.

IF YOU WERE IN POWER IN GOVERNMENT OR AT THE FCA WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?
It would be nice to have some positive advertising to help people understand the value of professional advice, rather than highlighting the small number of rogues in the industry.

IF MONEY AND TIME WERE NO OBSTACLES WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS AND WHY?
Grow to three offices and take on more people immediately. The marketplace is growing exponentially; the number of advisers is reducing while the opportunity to provide advice gets larger.

WHAT THREE THINGS DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A PLATFORM/PROTECTION PARTNER?
Face-to-face support when you need it; easy-to-use platform software; and good drawdown and pension forecasting tools.

WHAT ARE YOU READING, LISTENING TO OR GLUED TO ON TV?
Historic fiction, F1 and Game of Thrones – a bit of escapism.