Back in 2022, we approached investment and finance companies, looking for sponsors for the Rebel Finance School to help us reach and teach more people, and do financial good in the world. One of the companies we found was Wealthify and they seemed to have a great mission to simplify investing and help people make the most of their investments and pensions. On the surface it looked fabulous, and seemed to align with our Rebel Finance school guidelines.

We set up a call to speak to them, and before we chatted, we did a deep dive on their strategies and investment returns. Katie and I were SHOCKED with what we found. We wrote to Wealthify, cancelling the meeting. They asked for feedback: “why did you cancel?” We sent them our charts, research and evidence and their response was “we are going to have to agree to disagree.”

Wealthify has 30,000 customers and they are out there actively marketing (in my opinion unethically) for new customers. I decided to write an open letter to their CEO Andy Russell.

If you have been thinking of investing with Wealthify, read this first, about what we felt then, and how we feel now in 2024……..

The opposite of Wealthify

Dear Mr Russell,

My wife and I did a deep dive into your investment strategies and performance of your funds and we were shocked by what we found. This is an open letter to you to start the conversation about the performance of your funds and to see if we can get a better deal for your customers.

I will happily post your response, if you have one, on my blog. I am happy to have my opinion changed if you come back with compelling data, I am happy to do a YouTube Live with you to discuss the investment strategy if you are open to it. You probably aren’t going to like this open letter but I hope you take it as a opportunity to do better for your customers.

This is the feedback I passed to your team. I am not sure if it made it through to you?

So that you know where we are coming from…. we are big fans of simple, low-cost, passive index investing, like that provided by Vanguard. When we run the Rebel Finance School we talk about the two global passive index funds that Vanguard offers in the UK (the Developed world ex UK or the FTSE Global All Cap).

Have you seen much of the research into index funds, Bogle heads, The Simple Path to Wealth and more?

It’s interesting to read your factsheets and see that you are sort of “actively” investing in passive indexes. My understanding from the factsheets and your website is that you adjust which indexes make up each of the plans depending on market conditions. So you have turned passive investing into active investing. Active investors rarely if EVER beat passive index investing. Did you see the Warren Buffet bet?

Wealthify Market Returns

We looked at the returns on your funds over the last 5 years and compared it to the strategy of investing in a Vanguard global index fund (Developed world ex UK).

Katie plotted out the returns of your funds, versus a global index fund and the consumer price index:

I think what surprised us was that two of your funds haven’t even beaten inflation. The cautious and tentative fund failed to keep up with inflation, so those customers have lost money in real terms!

What percentage of your 30,000 customers are in those two funds? Do they know you are losing them money? How can you justify not keeping up with inflation?

Your confident and ambitious funds barely kept up with inflation over the 8 year period we have data for.

You are calling that fund “confident?” Maybe you should rename it to “I want to slowly destroy my financial future?” It returned less than 50% what a global tracker fund would have returned for less fees!

So even the most adventurous fund on Wealthify returns just over half what investing in a simpler Vanguard index fund (with much lower fees) returned over the last 8 years.

If you had taken the money in the adventurous fund and passively invested that money into the Global Vanguard index fund, your customers would have earnt £11,700 more on a £10,000 investment!

How are you justifying these long term results to your customers? Do they even know how badly they are doing?

What benchmark do you choose to show them their investments in comparison to? Do you even compare results?

Katie has created a profit versus inflation comparison for you. I am still shocked at how poorly most of your funds do.

Profit versus inflation

High fees

Your fees are 4 times higher than Vanguard’s. I know you justify that by saying you are actively managing people’s portfolios but your active management is damaging people’s performance. Do you realise the impact fees have on people’s long term finances?

I like what you have done with simplifying the way of investing and trying to make it easier for people to get started, I just think you are doing them a disservice with these different risk tolerances.

If people are in this for the long run (we are massive proponents of the buy and hold strategy), they should all just be investing in a global passive Vanguard index fund. Put it in the market, forget about it, and wake up wealthy decades later!

Does your company understand the different between risk and volatility?

I like that you try to be transparent and explain to people how the process works. The fund factsheets show a “typical investment” for each fund type. I know that’s because your fund managers are changing the makeup of each fund periodically. If I was invested in Wealthify I would want to know exactly where my money is.

Looking at the factsheet for the adventurous fund, I’m curious as to why you have such a big home-country bias. 23% is invested in the UK which is significantly more than how much of the world the UK economy/stock market represents (4% or less).

What is the thinking here? Home country bias normally leads to under performing the market as a whole (apart from if you are from the USA since it accounts for such a big part of the global fund so the home country performance is highly correlated with the global performance)

The promise of getting better than market returns or minimising losses through active management doesn’t ever play out. At first glance through your website we were super inspired by your transparency and use of simple index funds.

Your cautious fund has failed to keep up with inflation over the last 8 years. After 8 years your customers would have lost £2,146 compared to inflation. Have you been reporting that to your customers under your drive for transparency?

The company name, the marketing and the mission seem to be completely missing the mark. You aren’t making your customers Wealthier, you are making them poorer. Maybe you should change the company name to Poorify to more accurately reflect what you are doing?

One last thing to mention. I think it is unethical that you put in your marketing materials that people get “an instant 25% tax relief top up”. You make it sound as though this is what you get if customers invest with you. EVERYONE in the UK gets this no matter who they invest with. You shouldn’t need to sell this or bribe people with a prize draw for opening an investment account.

Call to change

What specifically do I call on you to do, Andy Russell?

  1. Stop promoting the tax back that everyone gets as a feature of your pension
  2. You don’t live up to transparency on your investments, as it is difficult to see what the money is actually invested in
  3. You have done the opposite of your mission by making the investments complex. You have taken simple index investing, turned it into active management and given it a one word title. I call on you to offer simple passive funds that don’t have human intervention. You have failed to deliver results to your customer for 8 years now.
  4. I call on you for clarity comparing the returns on your funds to inflation. People need to know that investing in the cautious fund is WORSE THAN INFLATION over the long term and has increased risk compared to a bank account.
  5. I call on you to change your system, so as to reflect in the numbers that your customers are underperforming the market. You can do less work, your customers can be better off and everyone wins if you stop adding complexity to justify fees.
Your customers are calling out to you and it seems they are going ignored. Please pay attention to the damage you are causing.

​You are harming the financial future of your 30,000 customers , and the people you are actively trying to persuade to invest with you.

I wrote this letter to you in 2022 and never heard back from you. In July 2024, we are now updating the figures again and the message is the same.

Please respond or do something about this. You are damaging the financial future of your customers who put their faith in you.

Yours sincerely

Alan

Be careful who you choose

To everyone reading this blog; investing is a mine field. Be VERY careful who you choose. Don’t get bought in by flashy websites, awards or generous missions. CHECK the financials and the costs. Read the fine print and really understand what you are getting into.

This letter uses lots of different financial terms. Sometimes learning finances can be a little bit like learning a new language. you need to translate it all! Here are some articles that relate to this letter that clear up some of the terms and impacts.

Be very careful. This is your financial future you are playing with.

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