The rebirth of WHIreland

Phillip Wale, CEO, and Stephen Ford, Head of Wealth Management, both recently joined WHIreland. Here we catch up with them to hear their views on first impressions, the wealth management business, our recently released company results, and what we should expect to see from WHIreland in the coming year.
You’re both new to your roles in the last year; given your impressive experience and backgrounds in businesses undergoing a lot of change, what was the attraction of joining WHIreland?

Phillip: WHIreland displays many similarities to businesses I have fixed in the past. It has a great brand & heritage dating back to 1836 and deserves to be put back on track. It has two sources of revenues; corporate & institutional broking and wealth management and both divisions are able to support and complement each other and their clients. We have some talented people that have served our clients well and they deserve to flourish in a more robust environment.

Stephen: Phillip Wale has assembled a great new team to help him turn around WHIreland. Having driven change in other wealth management firms, the opportunity to get involved in a firm with supportive shareholders and a strong capital position following the recent capital raise is a real privilege. Our goal is simple; to improve the prospects of the firm and deliver for our clients and employees.

This is your first set of annual results since joining WHIreland – given the headline losses, what would you highlight in terms of evidence that you are making progress?

Phillip: These losses highlighted the need for significant change. The recovery program is now well underway with a new executive management team, a strengthened Board, a significant new shareholder in M&G and the continued support from our largest shareholders Polygon and Oceanwood. The first quarter of our new financial year has started very well as we are ahead of target despite difficult markets. Costs have now fallen significantly, revenue initiatives are well advanced and eliminating the inherited legacy systems is within sight.

How financially robust is WHIreland given the annual losses reported, and how concerned are you about this?

Phillip: The Board anticipated these results and refinanced the business through a £4.95m capital raise last March to build up our cash reserves, which at the year-end date of 31 March 2019 (i.e. after our losses) stood at £7.7m. Approximately 40% of our losses are non-recurring, the balance are the operational losses that my team are rapidly bringing under control. The group has no debt and looking at our forecasts, our cash levels are more than sufficient in our view to execute the re-birth of WHIreland and take it to the next phase of success.

What is your blueprint for the wealth management business and how advanced are you in implementing this plan?

Stephen: We have a clear plan to move the wealth management division into profit over the next 18 months. This will involve improving the client experience by removing complexity; early changes have included making our web portal easier to use, simplifying our charging structure and keeping our clients better informed via media such as this new magazine and a redesigned valuation pack.
Behind the scenes there is a relentless focus on closing down our legacy platforms and reviewing our cost base. I am very pleased with the progress we have made so far and the support from the business.

How will the SEI Wealth Platform be used to improve client service experience?

Stephen: SEI are a major global custodian and moving to them will enable us to deliver a better user experience as we leverage the abilities of their platform. One benefit is that we can easily separate the non-vatable elements of our services. Therefore, we will, over the next year, be splitting our investment management fees which are currently subject to VAT, into a Custody charge which is non vatable and a lower investment management charge. This will mean that clients will pay less VAT for their WHIreland service.

WHIreland recently won the accolade of ‘Best Domestic Clients Team’ for the third year running at the Wealth Adviser Awards, what do you put this success down to?

Stephen: Our people. It’s fair to say that WHIreland has gone through a lot of change over the last 3 years, but throughout that time, our advisers and investment managers have maintained their focus on our clients. There is a real passion to do the right thing for the client within this firm and it’s great to see this being recognised externally.

What are the advantages of WHIreland’s integrated business model of offering wealth management alongside corporate & institutional broking?

Phillip: Potentially there are huge advantages in leveraging the relationships between the corporate & institutional broking and wealth management divisions. For example, our financial planners often help newly enriched corporate directors to make the most of their wealth through tax efficient planning. Similarly, within our wealth management division our investment managers can identify family business’s where we can help to raise money or advise them on mergers and acquisitions.

Is there currently greater focus or wealth management or corporate & institutional broking?

Phillip: No, the focus is absolute and concentrated on both – but utilising different management, people and resources. The businesses are different and have diverse needs, some of which are and can be complementary. There is no favourite; they are both as important as each other.

How committed are you to retaining all of your regional offices and offering both wealth management and corporate & institutional broking?

Phillip: During my first 8 months we took the decision to close our Bristol office but I am fully supportive of growing and expanding those that remain. We need to achieve greater scale within the wealth management business and we remain open to new opportunities and locations that may promote expanding our regional representation in both wealth management and corporate & institutional broking.

Tell us more about the new Board appointments and other senior team changes you have made and what they add to the business?

Phillip: It is critical for the successful re-birth of WHIreland to have a Board that comprises people with skill, experience across a number of relevant business and control areas, and that provide effective challenge and support in equal measure. Our new board members bring all of the above as well as being very current and recent practitioners within the WHIreland business areas. They have already shown great guidance and introduced potential new business opportunities.

Who are Polygon, Oceanwood and M&G who own over 60% of the company’s shares and what do they bring to the business?

Phillip: Polygon and Oceanwood are large and very successful Hedge funds and M&G is a highly recognised Institutional investor. More importantly, the owners of Polygon and Oceanwood and the Fund manager at M&G have fully agreed to support the business plan for change and further scale of the group. They also understand both sides of our business, the environment and the challenges we face.

What should we expect to see from WHIreland in the coming year?

Phillip: In our successful corporate & institutional broking division we aim to increase the overall number and quality of our corporate client base further and increased deal flow in both the private and listed space.
Stephen: A continued focus on our clients and a more efficient, streamlined wealth management division that has made substantial progress towards breaking even.