Creating ‘high-ticket’ employment in Doncaster

Creating ‘high-ticket’ employment in Doncaster

Entrepreneur Scott Mullen is one third of My Pension Expert, the Doncaster company aiming to establish the South Yorkshire town as a hub for financial services. He tells Bryce Wilcock how they plan to make it happen…

Doncaster’s My Pension Expert is helping make the retirement process a whole lot easier for people across the UK that are closing in on their golden years.

Launched in 2012 by entrepreneurs Scott Mullen, Andy Binns and Richard Morrall, the business has made a huge impact on the financial services industry since its launch, serving over 5,000 clients each year.

“Basically what we do is give advice on retirement to those people who have saved all of their lives and are sitting with their pension funds,” Scott said. “We shop around for them and not only get them the best options with their pot of money but also get them the best deal.

“Traditionally people have just saved with say for example, Prudential, and typically have just taken their pension with Prudential instead of shopping around and getting the best deal. In fact, they can get significantly more for their money in the majority of cases.”

They identified a gap in the market for quality and affordable pension advice when the pension freedoms came in to play, the relaxed rules meant retiring people had a lot more choices made available to them.

“Since pension freedoms came in to play, retiring people have had a lot more choices made available to them,” Scott added. “We encourage them to look at the varieties available and get them the best deal. The difference can be significant, for the people who shop around, the increase in income tends to be around 20% extra income for the rest of their lives.

“Obviously, we encourage people to shop around but also to take financial advice, then we can recommend which option is the right one for them. A lot of our competitors don’t offer advice, they just provide quotes and let you choose which one you like. Any mistakes you make are then on your head and not theirs.

“Because we give advice, we take into account their health, the fact that they want to protect their loved ones etc and recommend the best deal for them. Not only is it best for people to shop around but it’s better to have advice. It can make a massive, massive difference.”

Scott and Andrew both worked as independent financial advisors before launching the business. They had noticed how expensive it was becoming to hire a financial advisor due to the amount of work involved and saw a gap in the market for a more streamlined model.

“When I first started in the industry with Andrew years ago there were around 250,000 approved financial planners in the UK. Now, because of tighter regulation and RDR, there are only around 22,000 registered financial advisors.

“Your typical advisor is still face-to-face and there are very few specialised, they tend to be a ‘Jack of all trades.’ They tend to charge a high fee as they do all their own paperwork and quotes.”

This led to them teaming up with their soon to be business partner Richard Morrall, a technology enthusiast who had been working with CRM and web development companies and had a flair for technology and websites.

Working alongside Richard they were able to garner his IT experience and develop a system which could deliver independent financial advice and recommendations online using a detailed CRM system. Six months on, was launched.

“About six years ago I’d actually done a couple of enhanced annuity’s and had shopped around for my clients, getting them a much better income for the rest of their lives. It was brilliant, I got some business and they got a larger income.

“The only issue was that as a typical IFA client bank you only get a couple of people who are going to retire each year, it’s a once in a lifetime event for most people. I had the idea whilst working with Richard and Andrew that if we were going to get to a wider audience and secure more customers we would have to have a national reach.

“We came up with the idea to launch a website, My Pension Expert, which took around six months to launch by the time we had all of the content together. After this we got our first few queries and it grew from there.

“I’d previously had my own IFA business and had experience in property development, so I had some business experience. Andrew had worked for Standard Life and so had a lot of financial advice expertise.

“Richard had worked with CRM and web development companies. When we came together we had some good core skills that allowed us to do what we did. Admittedly, over the last five years however, we’ve learned a lot along the way as the business has grown.

“There was no cash invested, it was basically just time and effort from our part. Slowly over the next five or six years we’ve just reinvested the money year-on-year and have now grown to employing over 120 people and have become number one in the UK for what we do!”

The website works in a similar way to how price comparison websites work. You input your details, their CRM merges them together and comes up with a series of results tailored to what you’re looking for.

However, because there are so many options available and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ for pension planning, the service has its own team of financial experts on hand to guide users through the process and help them make well educated decisions.

With this in mind, you may be wondering why the trio decided to launch the business in Doncaster, especially when you have Leeds just up the road which is the financial capital of Yorkshire? Well, the decision was an easy one, as Scott points out, for a number of reasons.

“Doncaster is a great place. Unfortunately it doesn’t have its own university so it tends to have a little bit of a brain drain. I personally went to university in Liverpool and a lot of local people who go away to study often tend to stay away as a lot of the high-ticket jobs are outside of Doncaster.

“There’s a lot of call centres and distribution centres here so there isn’t much high ticket employment. What we do have however is a lot of very bright people who come back from universities with first class honours degrees but there aren’t jobs for them.

“This allows us to cherry pick these people with no competition from the likes of Leeds where there are lots of finical services companies all vying for the same people. Here in Doncaster we’re fortunate in that respect but it’s also no surprise that there are a lot of call centres here and that’s because the Yorkshire accent is trusted.

“People from Yorkshire are commonly seen as trusted people which means we can also cherry pick the best sales people from these call centres and put them through robust training processes, which usually take around six weeks, and develop them.

“Since we’ve launched the business we’ve had around 10 people who have qualified as financial advisors. This is a huge achievement considering there are very few firms in the UK taking on people to become financial advisors. It’s a great career path for people.”

As well as training their staff up to becoming financial advisors, the company also upskills its staff through in depth CRM system training programmes and also more traditional aspects such as HR and business admin.

And the company’s commitment to upskilling its staff hasn’t gone unnoticed either. Earlier this year, the trio met with the Mayor of Doncaster Ros Jones and were awarded a £150,000 grant by the Sheffield Regional Development Fund to invest in further upskilling their workforce.

“We recently secured £150,000 through the European Regional Development Fund delivered by the Sheffield Regional Development Fund. The money will help us deliver training to further develop our staff over the next few years. 

“We’re very much focused on training and upskilling people here in Doncaster. We want to see Doncaster become a hub of financial services in the UK, there’s absolutely no reason why it can’t be.

“We want to see the high-ticket employment here rather than anywhere else. It’ll have a trickle effect on what people spend in local bars and retailers. A lot of the local jobs are warehousing and logistics or call centres, it’s good for our guys that the wages we pay is well above the local average.”

After five years of constant year-on-year growth, the trio are now looking to the future as they branch out from My Pension Expert and take their business model into new markets. This strategy, is fundamental to where they are looking to take the company.

As Scott points out: “We’ve had five very significant years of growth. This last year has been one of moving into new areas so we’ve had a lot of investment into staff and infrastructure so we’ve seen a lot of preparation in terms of future growth.

“We’ve started a new business called My Retirement Expert which is equity release. That’s growing and I think that is up to around 12 staff. We’re already the 12th largest in terms of distribution of this kind of service in the UK so it’s a business we really want to see grow next year.

“We’ve also set up My Will Expert which employs three people and has seen good growth on the back of our existing clients.

“Another arm we’re looking at launching is giving investment advice to our clients, you know for ISAs and that type of thing. It’s another good fit for us.

“We intend to keep expanding our Doncaster headcount alongside our new services. There’s no reason why Doncaster can’t become a regional centre for financial services in the UK.

“There were just the three of us at the start, now we’re a team of over 120 spread across three buildings in Doncaster and one in Southend.

“If you look at Hargreaves Landsdown, it started as two chaps in the Bristol area who now employ thousands of people down there. There’s no reason why we can’t do that right here, in Doncaster.”

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