Stuart Welch believes people shouldn’t be condemned to an impoverished old age. He met Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright
SOME seek greatness, others have greatness thrust upon them.
In the case of Stuart Welch, his career-defining moment came when he was sitting in the garden, enjoying his favourite ale.
He was taking a well-earned break after selling his recruitment business, and pondering the future.
Out of the blue, an opportunity arose at TD Direct Investing – or TD Waterhouse as it was then called. Eight years on, he has become the firm’s chief executive, and he is determined to help thousands of Britons enjoy a comfortable retirement.
“When the opportunity came up at TD, it was actually just for a five-month contract’’ he recalled.
“I wasn’t looking, but my wife (Caroline) was a contractor, and the person who found her contracts said, ‘Have you any financial services experience?’
“She said, ‘No, but my husband has, and he’s sitting in the garden drinking beer’.
“So I joined and have been here ever since.”
Today, he wants to increase the scale of Leeds-based TD’s operations, at a time when the regulatory regime is running in its favour.
First, a little history lesson is in order. How did TD – which stands for Toronto-Dominion Bank – gain a foothold in Yorkshire?
The business is built around historic brands which are as Yorkshire as the Bronte sisters’ prose. In the late 1990s, Toronto Dominion Bank wanted to enter the UK share dealing market after outgrowing its Canadian roots. After gaining a foothold in London and Manchester, TD Waterhouse bought YorkSHARE, the brokerage side of the Yorkshire Building Society in 1999. The following year, it acquired Dealwise, the share-dealing arm of Skipton Building Society, for £82m.
Today, TD Direct Investing has 400 staff in Leeds, and it is set to benefit from a shake-up of the financial advice market, known as the Retail Distribution Review (RDR). RDR took effect at the start of the year. It forces advisers to spell out their costs to customers in order to reduce the risks of mis-selling.
RDR is designed to give clarity to consumers about how they pay for financial services and how their investment products such as Unit Trusts and OEICs, collectively known as funds, are charged.
According to Mr Welch, TD Direct Investing plans to take the lead on bringing transparency to funds charging.
Mr Welch said: “People will have known us historically as principally a stockbroker. We’ve carried out 10 acquisitions over the last 10 years. We’ve gone from being about the 30th biggest in the UK to, if you measure it by trades, the number one in the UK.
“The RDR regulations have changed the landscape for investors. It’s making the investing environment more transparent, something that we feel very strongly about. We’re very much in favour of the RDR and its implications.
“What we’re seeing is a greater opportunity to help people, not only with their trading, but with their investing as well.
“The investor market by size is probably 10 times the size of the trader market.”
Giving consumers the confidence to make their own investment decisions has always been at the heart of TD’s business, Mr Welch said. This will become even more important following the enforcement of RDR.
It’s never too early to start investing for life’s major events.
Said Mr Welch: “It’s not just retirement – it’s having money for big things that are going to happen in your life, such as your children’s weddings, or their education.
“People are increasingly going to have to address that themselves.
“When you look at more mature markets, like North America, for example, and places like Australia, people have a greater focus on their own future and looking after themselves, and we feel we should be there to help them do that.
“It’s often quoted that there’s a whole generation sleepwalking into an old age of poverty. If you look at the basic state pension, it’s not huge. People are starting to get the message.
“We’ve recruited a new education manager here, so we’ve got an ongoing programme throughout this year and people can just check on our website.”
A biophysics and genetics graduate – “The sciences were always my strong point” – he worked at PWC before joining the Halifax, where he spent five years working in personal banking, credit cards and mortgages.
Mr Welch recalled: “Halifax are a fantastic Yorkshire organisation and I went in on the tax side.
“From there I was able to branch out, and in the five years I was there I had six roles. It was a great grounding in financial services.”
He left the Halifax in 1997 to take up the post of European group financial controller at Equifax, the credit information provider.
He clearly relished the opportunity to immerse himself in different cultures. To be sustainable, all workplaces must have a strong commitment to diversity, according to Mr Welch.
Mr Welch heads a group in TD which aims to encourage more women to go into leadership roles.
Mr Welch added: “Diversity, in all shapes and forms, is fantastic. You get opinions that you normally wouldn’t consider. That’s the way forward. The UK is seeing a real revolution in embracing diversity. We may be at an early stage in that revolution, but I definitely feel it is going on.”
The late 1990s brought revolutionary changes to financial services. By 1998, Mr Welch had taken on the role of finance director at a London-based internet start-up.
“It was absolutely fascinating,’’ he recalled. “In 1998 people still had dial-up modems. Access to the internet was exciting but slow. We set up a joint venture between Equifax and Scoot, (which is) like a German yellow pages.
“It was forerunner to the money comparison websites you see today. This was a business that compared financial service products. I just think we were five years too early. I was proud to be part of that. I think we moved the use of the internet along in our own little way.”
Between 2000 and 2005 he grew, and ultimately sold, his own recruitment firm.
“You learn that a big business is very different from a small business,’’ said Mr Welch. “When you run your own business, you have to consider everything. You start with your marketing, and your people, and you have to do your own VAT returns when you start. It was a fantastic experience in terms of getting an oversight of how you grow a business.
“Self-motivation is always important. Anybody who has their own business will tell you that. You get that great over-view of how the pieces come together.”
“After disposing with my own business, I was wondering what to do next...I missed working in a big business.”
After his move to TD in 2005, he moved rapidly through the ranks. His CV includes a stint as CEO of NatWest Stockbrokers, TD’s joint venture with RBS Group.
Could more jobs be on the horizon at TD’s Leeds base?
“The more successful we are, the more business we will do, and that in itself leads to things like employment,’’ said Mr Welch.
He added: “If you look at the stock market over recent years, it’s probably not been a great predictor of anything. Stock market performance is more a result of investor confidence rather than business strength.”
His love of teamwork is reflected in his choice of pastimes. He’s joined the swelling ranks of Britain’s triathletes.
He said: “Running can be quite a lonely thing and quite predictable, but with cycling and swimming you get to meet more people. I like a challenge!”
Stuart Welch Factfile
Name: Stuart Welch
Title: The chief executive of TD Direct Investing, which employs around 400 staff in Leeds. It is a subsidiary of the TD Bank Group which is headquartered in Toronto, Canada
Date of birth: January 1965
Education: Barnard Castle School, Leeds University
First job: I was a trainee accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)
Last book read: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Favourite song: Pretender – Foo Fighters
Favourite holiday destination: Barbados
Car driven: Mercedes
What is the thing you are most proud of?: My children, Juliette and Cameron