Building a conscious business with B Corp

Building a conscious business with B Corp

After the financial crisis hit in 2008, Robert Caplan became disillusioned with the finance industry when he recognised that managing money was completely out of his control.

His light bulb moment came when he realised he enjoyed managing people and this was how he wanted to approach his own financial planning business.

Robert and his co-founder built their company, First Wealth, with the idea of revolutionising the industry. However, their business seemed to slip back into old habits, so a re-evaluation and shift in focus was needed.

Once they had analysed how they wanted to run First Wealth, they reinvented the company, tested it on some friendly customers and then worked towards becoming B Corp accredited.

This episode explores how you can build a business that has a purpose and is both environmentally and socially conscious,

Here’s his unfiltered advice below:

Reshifting the focus from managing money to managing people

Kate Bassett:

So, let’s dive straight in. What made you start First Wealth in 2008?

Why had you become disillusioned with the industry?

Robert Caplan:

I suppose there were two factors, two things probably going on there.

There was one from a personal point of view, I was doing this job on my own with just one support, then the financial crisis hit. I think maybe like a lot of people, I had no idea what was going on at that time.

I think generally, previous crises, post-crises that happen after a financial crisis, you always know maybe what the outcomes needed to be and what was going on at the time.

At that point in time, I think everyone had no idea what was going on, and it was a really scary place.

So from a personal point of view, I really wanted to share this with someone else. So I reached out to Anthony, and he was back from travelling and was keen to start up a business together, so that worked well.

But also from a business point of view, I’d grown a little bit disillusioned with the way in which we were doing things.

We were just simply investing people’s money, and the financial crisis brought to light that if I was purely relying on the managing of money, that was out of my control. I didn’t cause the financial crisis.

There was nothing I could’ve done to predict that or to hedge against that, and therefore I didn’t want to be running a business where there were all these external factors which were completely out of my control.

So when I was thinking about it, when I was thinking about the relationships and the conversations I had with clients, it was like, “Right, what am I actually managing? Am I managing money or am I managing people?” And actually, what would I rather be doing?

And the light bulb moment came to me when I thought, I’m really good at managing people and helping them achieve their goals, dreams, and wishes.

Actually that’s a far more fulfilling thing to be able to do and actually, it’s in my control rather than just simply focusing on managing the money, hints why then First Wealth was born.

Anthony and I set it up together with this whole idea of where, and it sounds really obvious, so it sounds like why isn’t everyone doing this?

Where we thought we’re going to focus on the people rather than the money.

Kate Bassett:

By focusing on people rather than money, it’s almost like you’re a financial planner mixed with a business coach in many ways, because you really work with entrepreneurs, CEOs, high net worth individuals to take them on that journey, don’t you?

Robert Caplan:

So the way in which we describe it, I think you’re right, Kate, is that financial planner/financial coach, is around helping people see their financial future with extreme clarity.

It’s about helping them achieve the one financial goal, which I think every single person in the world has, and that’s quite simply to have enough money to live the lifestyle you want without fear of money running out no matter what happens.

I think what the variable in that is lifestyle, the cost of your lifestyle or the lifestyle you want is different to mine. It’s different to my family, to my friends.

So therefore, the job’s got to be about really trying to understand what is it that individual wants or that family wants as that life before, quite frankly, we’re no longer around in order to enjoy it and do it.

Reinventing your business to give it more purpose

Kate Bassett:

See, you started out with all these good intentions to really be a very different financial planning business.

But I know that a few years into running First Wealth, you felt like things had just gone back to business as usual.

What steps did you take at that time to really reinvent the business?

Robert Caplan:

So, I think that that’s exactly right. So when we set up First Wealth, we had a big cover on City Wide Magazine, and we launched our new offices in central London—we were going to be revolutionising financial planning.

I think maybe like a lot of entrepreneurs and business owners, whilst you can talk that big talk, et cetera, you fall back really quickly into the day-to-day running of your business and the day-to-day running of your business in order to succeed to make money and to pay the bills and to do all of this stuff.

So therefore, whilst we thought we’re going to combine a business which does financial planning, investment management, and tax planning, when we looked at this a couple of years in, we were like, “All we’re really doing is the same old thing that we were doing previously. We might’ve dressed it up and badged it up in a different way.”

And that’s because we were just guilty of falling into working a million miles an hour, to working all hours that we had.

We would take on any single client. We were just trying to grow in business, and the problem was the business was good, the numbers were great, we were growing pretty quickly.

So therefore you’re like, “Well, this is all working here, and we’re growing a business, why should we do it any differently?”

But it got to two or three years and Anthony, and I looked at each other. One, we were exhausted. Two, we weren’t really enjoying what we were doing.

And three, we felt that we probably weren’t helping our clients as much as we could be.

Time and time again when we’re dealing with clients, they’re coming to us, probably thinking that they’re coming to me saying, “Right, Robert, I’ve got this issue with my pensions. What do I do? I want to get a better return on my money,” et cetera.

But actually, the real question which they’re asking, and actually what I was hearing time and time again, and I was probably failing to answer was, “Am I going to be okay? Am I going to have enough money? Can I do all the things I want to do?”

And yet I was then reverting into, “Well, let me tell you about Japanese investment grade debt,” or whatever, sub-Asian high yield bonds, or whatever it might be. And not really answering their questions. So we had this big re-evaluation moment.

Anthony and I went to a conference, we did a lot of learning, it was a conference called BACK2Y, by a guy called Paul Armson.

We went to this conference, and we heard from other financial planners about the type of way in which they’ve modelled their business.

We came back out of that conference, and it was in Birmingham, and it was a two-hour-odd train journey, including waiting times back to London, an hour, and a half, or whatever it was.

And we literally sat on that train, and we mapped out a completely new business to what we had, and we got back to London, and we got back into work that week.

And we just said, “Right, let’s just stop everything here and let’s just build a business, which actually one, we want to be involved with, two, we’re really proud of, and three which we’re going to enjoy doing, and four, which we’re actually going to make a difference to people’s lives.”

Trial your new business ideas/processes on your friendliest customers

Kate Bassett:

I’m really interested in that re-evaluation process.

What tips would you offer other entrepreneurs who are feeling a bit disappointed in the lack of purpose in their business, although they’re not quite fulfilling the dream of what they thought the business would be?

How do you go back to why, what steps did you take? How did you come up with that new plan on the train?

Robert Caplan:

Yeah, so I think there were a couple of books which we read which were crucial in it all.

So Simon Sinek’s Start With Why was fundamental in that. Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth, again, these are books which probably a lot of people know, but I didn’t know of them at the time. I switched onto this way of thinking.

But I suppose it’s about taking that time out.

We’d literally done tours for a week or two. We mapped out everything in the way in which we wanted everything to work. And then we were really scared about it all, in terms of how do we actually start to introduce this?

I suppose that that was the really scary bit, and I don’t really have any more words of wisdom other than just at one point, Anthony and I just said, “Right, I think we need to stop talking about this, and let’s try it.”

So I went to probably my friendliest client of all, someone who I thought, they’re not going to completely laugh at me.

They thought we were just going to be doing their annual review. But I was like, “Don’t shout me down here, but I want to talk to you about a different way in which we’re going to approach these meetings.

“We’re not going to call these annual meetings anymore. We’re going to call them forward planning reviews. So actually, we’re going to discuss what the life you want to have is, and that’s going to form the focus of this discussion.

“We’re going to use some software which we introduced into the business, which is going to help us map out and create a roadmap for your financial future and help you see it with that extreme clarity, which maybe we haven’t had before.

“And only then once we’ve discussed you, once we’ve looked at that roadmap, will we then touch upon your actual money and how we’re going to actually fund that plan.”

So we’d built these three rings, which we talked about, and it’s really simple in terms of what the process was going to focus, which is financial planning around building this plan and roadmap for your financial future, the wealth management, which is how we’re actually going to fund that plan.

And then financial coaching, making sure you stick to that plan, so it’s, build it, fund it, stick to it.

And actually, the sticking to it is the hardest part, because we’re all human beings. We’re all prone to making mistakes, especially when it comes to investing.

I could talk for a long time about all of that, but again, that’s the value which clients are paying us for, in order to keep them on that track and in order to create that plan.

So in a really long-winded way of answering that question, Kate, I think you need to take time out from the business, you need to formulate that plan.

You need to read up on the areas, like I said, those two books were particularly important for me. But then it was just a case of practising and trying it out.

Like I said, I went to my friendliest clients first who I knew weren’t going to laugh at me. And actually when they said, “Oh my God, this is amazing,” the only problem I did have, was everyone saying to me, “Why haven’t we always been doing it this way?”

And I was like, “I don’t know.” I was like, “But I now know better, so I’m going to do better.”

Will a shift in focus mean losing customers?

Kate Bassett:

In terms of that shift to your business, did it mean losing certain clients or changing the profile of your clients?

Because you said the business was actually doing quite well beforehand.

So what did this mean to the shape and projection of your business?

Robert Caplan:

Yeah, so I think obviously, we’re a fee-based model company. We ended up unfortunately losing some of our lower value clients just because we were working on a fee-based model, et cetera.

The value wasn’t really there at that lower level in terms of assets, which clients maybe had, it wasn’t really in their interest to pay.

They could do it if they wanted to, but we had honest conversations with clients and said that maybe that this is no longer the approach to you.

I think that was unfortunately some of the collateral damage, is that we were unable to work with some of those other clients.

But we probably had just been literally taking on anyone in order to grow the business, without actually looking at who we could actually help. I think this helped us re-evaluate.

Look, there’s certain people even of higher value who maybe just don’t get what we want. I get it. There’s certain people, they just want someone who is simply going to run their money.

They want to talk about emerging market debt, they want to have these conversations. I can talk to you about it, I’m qualified to do all of that stuff.

It’s just I don’t think that’s the value which I can bring to the table.

What are the benefits of becoming B Corp accredited and how difficult is the process?

Kate Bassett:

And what is it that made you get B Corp accreditation, and how difficult was that process?

Robert Caplan:

I think if you were to ask any business owner or entrepreneur around their business, “If you can, do you want to do good with your business?”

I think you’d be hard pushed, maybe there are some people, but I think it’d be hard pushed to find anyone who said, “No, of course, if I can do good with my business, then great. Yeah, of course I want to.”

I think that that was us pre-B Corp. We were trying to build a value proposition, a value company. We had core beliefs in terms of all of the staff, which we wanted to work here.

We had a charity mission, we had this stuff in place, but nothing was really formally documented.

I suppose the B Corp accreditation allowed us to formally document and then be held accountable to these extremely high standards in order to make sure that actually, we weren’t just a company that talked about doing good and that we actually delivered on it.

So that was the driver behind becoming a B Corp, we were now going to be held accountable, and that’s because B Corp accreditation is an extremely rigorous process to go through.

It probably took us just over 18 months to go through it, and we went through every single thing within our business from the account to the staff, to what toilet paper we were using.

Literally every single minute detail was covered and looking at the impact that we’re making, and to make sure that we were now no longer responsible just… Well, we are not responsible to our shareholders, we are responsible to our stakeholders.

So our stakeholders being our staff, our clients, and our community. Again, that’s written in our articles, it’s registered there. We have to commit to that. We have to make sure that we act with their interests at heart in every single thing which we do.

So I think the reason why we did it was just so we could hold ourselves accountable and there was no wiggle room say, “Oh, if we don’t fancy doing that this month or this year,” et cetera, we’re not going to do it.

Kate Bassett:

Was it something that you and Anthony worked on together, or was there someone else within the business that could deal with that really rigorous 18-month process?

Robert Caplan:

So it was maybe headed up by Anthony, and he had a couple of the guys within the business, one in particular, she’s no longer with us, Caroline, who was amazing at just keeping that on track in order to do that.

So yeah, it’s probably more than a one-person job, but he headed up and led the team involved.

We were all involved in discussions around what we wanted the company to look like, post-accreditation. The thing about B Corp accreditation is it doesn’t end.

We’re just going through our re-certification this year. We got accredited about a month into lockdown. So actually, it was during a period of doom and gloom, it was a really nice thing to be able to get and announce to everyone.

We’re now going through our re-accreditation and almost the minute we got the accreditation, we formed the B Corp committee within the company.

I think there’s five people in the company who work on the B Corp committee. They meet regularly. They have a quarterly outhouse day, where they go out of the office and plan in terms of all of that.

So they’re working really hard at the moment to make sure we get our accreditation and not just get our accreditation, but also improve our score from when we were first accredited.

Kate Bassett:

You talked about the business’s core beliefs, and I know you really champion diversity and inclusion at First Wealth.

Can you tell us a bit about your shadow board?

Robert Caplan:

Yeah, so again, this is a great example. The shadow board is something which probably Anthony and I had talked about, five, six, seven years ago now.

We thought, “How cool would it be?”

And actually, as the business owners, at that time, we didn’t really have an actual board. It was basically just me and Anthony, and now we’ve got a board of four.

We thought, “How cool would it be actually to get involved other people within the business, and actually to have their ideas and their views, and to help them grow our business?”

But obviously then with the introduction of B Corp, it is like they’ve forced us into actually doing it. It was again, just one of those ideas we talked about. But in B Corp, when we got accredited, we actually put this stuff in place.

Again, all of the evidence shows us that the more diverse and inclusive a company is in terms of its employees, the more successful it is.

So, just from no other point of view, and obviously that’s not purely the only reason we do it, but it’s again, if you’re like, “Oh, we’re evidence-based investors, so all of our investment idea is based on 100 years of empirical evidence.”

Stuff which you just can’t argue with.

It’s the same with this. It’s like, there’s this bunch of evidence over here. Are we just going to continue to be a white male-dominated business, or are we going to actually do something about it?

Now our senior board is 50% male, 50% female. And again, in terms of diversity/inclusion, the shadow board’s doing great work, not just on that topic, but in a whole host of other areas.

Having a health condition could make you run your business more empathetically

Kate Bassett:

Talking of differences, I know that you have Type 1 diabetes. How have you managed that condition, and has it changed the way that you operate as a founder?

Robert Caplan:

I’m quite active in the Type 1 community. There’s an amazing charity called JDRF, who I do a lot of work with, and try and support them as much as possible.

They’re doing some amazing work.

There are some people who will shout about their diabetes and tell every single person that comes into a room that they’re a Type 1 diabetic.

You can go to the airport, and you can run up to the guys, and you tell them, “Okay, I’m Type 1 diabetic. I need to be seated,” going quickly through the airport. “I’ve got needles in my bag,” all the rest of it. I’m the type of person, I don’t really like to talk about it too much.

So in terms of how it’s affected me, I try not to think about it, which is difficult managing an illness which relies upon constant checking.

So, I have a thing on my arm, I’m constantly having to scan that to check my blood sugar levels. I’m having to think about every single thing I eat before I inject myself every single time I eat, I’m taking other injections other times of the day.

So there’s a lot of thinking going on about it, but I try not to let it get in my way of running a business. I don’t think it’s necessarily changed the way in which I approached it too much.

Other than just to maybe be more empathetic with other people who are either going through similar things, or other conditions and illnesses.

That’s not say I wasn’t empathetic beforehand, but I think coping with this, it definitely increases that level of empathy.

Again, if I had to describe one trait of a great financial planner, it would be empathy.

Kate Bassett:

Absolutely. Also, the trait of a great leader in general is empathy and vulnerability.

I think so many times, you think it’s somebody who’s brash and confident and has everything right, but that’s not always the case.

Robert Caplan:

Yep. No, for sure. I think I’ve never been the type of person that’s thought I had everything in order.

I think diabetes made me realise that I’ve maybe got to take even better care of myself. Again, I’m really focused on that in terms of my health and fitness.

I was quite into it anyway beforehand, but it certainly made me re-evaluate things, what am I trying to achieve? I don’t think about it in the context of a reduction in lifespan or anything in that context, I believe that I’m in charge of my own destiny, that I can deliver.

If I keep myself fit and healthy, that I’ve got as much chance as anyone.

Why entrepreneurs should invest in financial planning

Kate Bassett:

I want to talk to you about when you approach new clients. I know that one of the big misconceptions is that financial planning isn’t for entrepreneurs.

What is your response to that?

Robert Caplan:

It’s a really cheesy line, but a goal without a plan is just a wish. How can you go anywhere without knowing where you’re going to?

What’s the point? What’s the point of money? What’s the point of growing a business?

What are you doing it for?

I think that is the point of financial planning, to help bridge that gap between a business and an individual.

So I think so many entrepreneurs, so many business people are so busy running their businesses day to day, so many people have got so much wealth within their business, but personally may be very poor, both in terms of actual wealth and maybe their time and their physical wealth, and all of the other attributes that go along with that.

What is the point of it all then?

I think that is what financial planning is around, is trying to reframe that conversation to get people in a room, to have these deep, meaningful conversations, and to really understand what matters most to you in your life.

What is most important? What are we doing here?

Because the truth about money is based on one undeniable fact, life is not a rehearsal.

A challenge which any client should always say to a financial planner, if you’re in a room with a financial planner who’s just telling you, “Put money into your pension, put money into your ISAs, do all of these things,” and just to save, save, save, is just turn around to them and say, “Well, what if tomorrow never comes?”

And no one with 100% certainty can tell you that tomorrow’s going to come.

Therefore, the conversation’s about what do we want to do in this next week? What do we want to do in this next month, year, et cetera, what’s the life which you want to have before either A, you’re no longer able to physically do that? Or B, you’re no longer around to do it.

I think that’s why for entrepreneurs, it’s more important than potentially for people who are employed, because they’re so busy and so focused on their business that maybe they sometimes forget to look up.

Actually I think that maybe you’re right, that they could maybe invest in a coach, but I think the majority them won’t do this.

I think, again, the conversations which I’m having with entrepreneurs and businesspeople, time and time again, they say, “Oh, wow, no one’s ever spoken to me this way. My accountant’s never spoken to me this way, and my lawyer’s never spoken to me this way. I’ve never been able to be as open in this.”

We will get into the financial metrics as well, and I suppose that’s the advantage of not just using a coach.

We will get into the financial metrics of how this all pans out and looks, but let’s have that conversation first and let’s build that plan and show you what if you want to stop work at 50 rather than 65? What if you want to send your kids to private school?

If you don’t do that, well, I’m having this discussion at the moment with my wife around private schools. I didn’t go to private school, she went to a private school. Obviously, it’s extremely expensive.

When I look at my financial plan, the difference on me potentially sending my kids to private school a lot could move the dial on my retirement age, or the time when I can make work a choice rather than a necessity, because I hate the word retirement, but I could make the difference by around eight or nine years.

So it’s like, am I going to be a better parent to my child at 55 rather than say 65? My youngest is six, and maybe at a time when they’re 18, am I going to be able to help them and be around for them during that period of time, and be really focused rather than stressing about work and paying off debt?

Is that worth it?

And again, these are the types of conversations you can have. I’m not making judgment on whether it’s the right thing or the wrong thing. That’s essentially down to you, but it’s like, have you ever thought about it in that context before?

I think the majority of us, and again, every single entrepreneur on this planet will have a business plan, but they don’t have a business plan for themselves or their family. It is mind-blowing.

Where to start when writing your own financial plan

Kate Bassett:

So let’s dig a bit deeper into some of those conversations.

When you first start to build a financial plan for an entrepreneur, what are the first four or five questions you would ask them in that room to map out their future?

Robert Caplan:

I can take you through some of the open questions which we start with.

So again, this is what’s led you to want to be in this room today? What has driven you? Because again, there must be some motivation, and obviously we can drill down into that.

One of my favourite questions also to open with is I think, like I said, I don’t believe in this term retirement. I’ve seen too many entrepreneurs who I believe will never retire in the official sense of the word.

I think it’s an industrial age invention, which doesn’t exist in today’s world.

I think if you were to ask traditionally, a financial planner might say, well, “Well, tell me what you want your retirement to look like.”

I think for most of us, it’s too much of an abstract concept and too far in the future.

So therefore, the question which I always like to start with is, “Tell me, what does your perfect day look like?” Because I think that the majority of us, even if we love what we do, there’s probably bits of our job which we don’t like doing.

So it’s like, right, how can we get you to a position where you can just do more and more of the things which you love doing, and less and less of the things which you don’t like doing?

So again, if you were to ask me what my perfect day looks like, my perfect day would be probably doing some client meetings, having some great conversation with clients in the morning.

It would probably be going maybe to the gym at lunchtime, doing some marketing work around First Wealth in the afternoon and then going home, seeing my children, spending time with family, friends, holidays, and all of those types of things.

Obviously my day-to-day currently, I’m a highly regulated business, so the paperwork is mind-blowing sometimes.

If I could walk out those meetings and not do any of it, that would be my dream situation. So right now, I’m working on how I get myself into that position.

Well, I think for most of us, if we can work on that idea, what does your perfect day look like? Rather than what does it look like in five years, 10 years, et cetera, again, you can use these questions.

There’s some other stuff which you can do.

Let’s say you went into a doctor surgery, and you were told you only had 24 hours to live, what would you regret that you haven’t done in life?

What is it that you’re not doing at the moment that you would like to be doing, but you think you can’t because of financial constraints?

Again, these are great questions which open people up in terms of thinking about what is it that I want to do before I’m no longer around?

Then we can start to work on a plan.

We use this tool called life goals, which we’ve developed. We try to make this stuff engaging and fun. So it’s a Tinder-style swipe left, swipe right on a deck of cards.

The problem is for some individuals, if I sit here and ask you, Kate, tell me about your goals, you’ll probably look a little bit like a deer in the headlights, because you’ll be like, “Oh my god, what do you mean, my goals?”

You start panicking.

Kate Bassett:

Where do I start?

Robert Caplan:

Exactly. Like, “Should I have goals? Rob, what do I want to achieve in life? Oh my God,” like, “Rob, you just sent me down a complete existential crisis on why I exist.”

So I think, again, we use this tool life goal in order to try and set these goals, it’s a lot perfect, because obviously not every single goal can be set within a deck of cards, but we tried to cover off most things.

And we’ve split them into different categories around the individual, the family, your career, and your legacy.

So again, we’ve got four colour cards and there’s loads of different information on each one. Then you create your life goals in order to do that.

I think unless you’re having those conversations, unless you’re really getting into that nitty-gritty with a client, and if all you’re doing is really just focusing in on their money as a financial planner, you’re probably not answering the stuff or helping them with the stuff which they want answers to.

Financial planning can help you to run your business more effectively

Kate Bassett:

I love it that you’ve created the Tinder for financial planning. Excellent.

How would you say financial planning makes you better at running a business?

Robert Caplan:

I think because I spend so much time working with entrepreneurs and businesspeople, again, I get lucky, so lucky in that I get surrounded by some amazing people, which again, you take tips and tools and ideas.

And these conversations are a great way of me building my knowledge and I try and take a lot of that stuff back to the business and best of breed ideas.

These guys are doing this, I think that would be a really cool thing to maybe implement within First Wealth, or within Thrive.

So we take, again, I think financial planning helps me in that. I think because we spend so much time on the planning stage with clients rather than just jumping into running their money, it means that as a business owner, we are really focused on our business plan as well.

It makes sure that we right out, keep going all back to that business plan.

We keep on adapting that business plan because anything, a financial plan is almost redundant by the time you walk out the door. Life doesn’t work like a plan. Most businesses plans don’t look like that five, six years in chalk.

Obviously, by being a financial planner, by reviewing with people every year and sitting down with them and reassessing their plan, changing it, adapting it to their life or to the wider world, it means that again, we’ve become quite good in terms of our skill set at doing this for ourselves as business owners of First Wealth in adapting our financial plan.

Making financial planning more accessible and affordable

Kate Bassett:

Why did you launch this new financial education platform Thrive last year?

What sparked that move?

Robert Caplan:

B Corp allowed us to actually introduce this, so we set it up, originally it was called Let’s Talk About Money, and it was on Instagram, and we quickly built up an Instagram following during lockdown. And then we pivoted it into Thrive Money around 12 months ago now.

It was probably driven out of this existential crisis of do I exist in the world just simply to make rich people richer? I felt that as a company we knew too much, we knew how these things should be done.

We knew the power of financial planning and that actually, every single person in the world could do with a personal financial plan, but the majority of them can’t afford our fees, or the majority of financial advisors’ fees, especially in London.

So that’s where Thrive Money was born, jargon-free financial education aimed at people who can’t afford to have access to financial advice.

So the dream is, how can I help people create a financial plan, which if you come to First Wealth, our starting fee is £2,000 to create a financial plan, how can I do this for under £200?

And that was the spark which like, how do we do that?

So again, it was digital, online video course. So we launched our first course around a month ago.

We’ve got about 150 people going through that at the moment. It’s a 30-day financial wellbeing course. So again, it’s not called financial advice or investment course, it’s a financial wellbeing course.

How do we use our money to make our lives happier and better? I think we focus on that. We look at spending habits, and we look at budgeting. How do you manage debt? How do you maybe start setting goals for your financial future? How do you get yourself organised?

By the end of it, you’ll be able to create a one-page financial plan, which again, you can then hold yourself accountable towards. It’s maybe not quite as good as having a face-to-face interaction or a natural advisor.

We’ve built a community via a platform called Circle, where we’ve got everyone on there sharing their ideas, sharing their stories. People are realising they’re not alone in this.

So again, that community acts as your advisor support level. We run monthly live chats with a financial planner on those calls where we look into a particular topic and then people can submit questions, and we can try and answer some of those questions for them on that call as well.

How to deal with online trolls and industry sceptics

Kate Bassett:

You said, “At times, it felt impossible. We have battled online trolls and industry sceptics all while bootstrapping the project from our own funds.”

Can you tell us a little bit about those challenges and how you’ve dealt with them?

Robert Caplan:

Financial education online is really difficult, partly because we’re in a highly regulated business, and therefore everything which we do is really super scrutinised.

So therefore, we are trying to give, I can’t call it advice, but we’re trying to give guidance and education to people without giving them actual advice because I can’t give advice unless I sit down and really know the ins and outs of you, the individual who I’m trying to help there.

So I think within the industry, this hasn’t really been done, or done on the scale of what we’re trying to grow Thrive to. I think the industry just felt maybe that it couldn’t be done.

The industry also maybe doesn’t want it to be done because they might see it as a bit of a threat to face-to-face financial planning, which is where the majority of the people are working.

I think robo-advice, which focuses purely on the investment angle, so like robo-advice platforms, which you can go on and invest via, some of them are great, but they focus purely on the investment angle. They would say though that that’s what people want.

So they’re sceptical around the need for broader financial education. And then I suppose because of online trolls and people, the course isn’t perfect, because it can’t be perfect unless you sit down in a room face-to-face with someone.

But we’re trying to make something which is suitable for a wide audience, but obviously everyone is an individual, especially when it comes to their money. Everyone’s got nuances and slightly different ways of doing things.

It could be a completely different set of circumstances, yet we’re trying to package something up into a course which helps a huge remit of people.

So people may think that actually, you could go and do this stuff yourself, or there are things like Martin Lewis’s website where you can go and read up, and you’re right, you can do all of these different things.

I think what we’ve built is very different to that. It’s focusing in on financial wellbeing, it’s focusing in on financial planning.

It’s using the experience and the expertise of what we’ve done with thousands of clients at First Wealth and trying to replicate it in an online digital format, in a low-cost way.

And I think that therefore, that is different to everything else which exists out there. But again, people will obviously compare it to some of these other things.

Some of these other things are free and therefore, we’re charging for this. But again, we tried to keep the cost as low down as possible. The more people we get on it, the lower down we can drive those costs and figures.

Our dream is to make financial planning free, and we still provide a lot of free content on our Instagram videos, Reels, et cetera, around loads of different topics.

We do monthly free webinars where we have 500 people, 1,000 people on the calls, and we’re talking around topics, people are asking questions, so we try and do a lot of free stuff.

But Thrive is a business, and I suppose some of the sceptics have come at us a little bit from that angle.

Kate Bassett:

Always great how passionate you are about the industry, and how you’re trying to make it more accessible to everyone.

Success will look like changing the industry for the better

Kate Bassett:

I’m curious to know, what does your own personal and professional financial plan look like, and what does success mean to you?

Robert Caplan:

My financial plan is around building First Wealth to be a company which actually makes a difference in financial planning.

So I’m very conscious of what our remit is here and what our limitations are as well. We’re not going to change the wellbeing of financial planners, but I can definitely change the face of financial planning in this country.

I suppose that is what success will look like to me, a company which has actually grown and actually makes a difference to financial planning, and to individuals in the UK.

So therefore, if I can change the industry as a whole and get everyone to start doing it this way, that’s how we’re going to help as many people as possible.

And that’s my why, of why I exist, is to try and help people create confidence, for individuals, to inspire them with ideas, and ultimately give them the freedom to live the life which they want.

That’s my personal why.

My financial plan is to grow First Wealth as much as possible until a time where we’ve always talked about this, Anthony, and I, either one, we stop having fun, or B, we think we can’t actually add any more value or make a difference within the profession.

But at the moment, we’ve got lots of different ideas, and we’re young enough still, just about, to keep going. Yeah, we’re really excited about the future.

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