Interview with Matt Walkden, Business Owner & Professional Will Writer
Matt Walkden runs online will writing service www.wills.org.uk and has just launched an app with the aim of inspiring and enabling everyone in England and Wales to write a legal will. He told Today’s Wills and Probate’s Jane Common why Will Do — the first will writing app in the country — is the start of a quiet revolution in the way we write our wills…
When did the app launch, Matt?
“It launched in March this year so it’s only been out there for a short while. I haven’t had payback on my investment yet but it’s working beautifully and has had plenty of downloads so fingers crossed. I keep drip feeding it out there on social media and I’m planning a bit of a marketing campaign in January — let’s see what happens.”
How does it work?
“It’s very simple but it ticks all the legal boxes. It’s on iOS so it’s just a matter of downloading the app from the iTunes store, which is free, and then opening it up and completing the necessary sections. So users list information about themselves; details of who they want to be executors (between one and four people); details of who they choose as guardians where children under 18 are involved (either one or two and a reserve guardian); and details of their chosen beneficiaries (up to five, sharing it equally or split between them). With beneficiaries there’s also an option for the user to select people in reserve, in case one beneficiary predeceases him or her and, if one or more of the inheritors are under 18, the app automatically builds in an education and maintenance trust. So, even though it’s simple, every eventuality is covered off. And there are help buttons along the way so, for example, if someone doesn’t know what an executor is there’s a button they can press that will explain that.
“When all the sections have been filled in there’s a review page; then the terms and conditions section to agree and, as the final step in the process, the user is automatically directed to a PayPal page to make payment of £6.99. Once that’s completed there’s a page with instructions on how to print out and sign the will and four PDFs of it are emailed straight to the client and to me.
“The whole process, from start to finish, takes ten minutes at most. The app’s mission statement is to inspire and enable everyone in England and Wales to have a will and I think it provides that — it’s cheap, quick and easy! People tend to have writing a will on their list of things to do — but never at the top. But, with this app, they can tick it off the list when they are sitting on a bus or waiting in a queue of traffic. No excuses anymore!”
What’s your background — how did you get into will writing?
“Well for many years I was in the manufacturing business — I spent 14 years with my previous company and for the last five of those I was overseeing factory builds all over the world. But when I returned to the UK there wasn’t really a job for me as, when I’d gone abroad, my previous role had been filled. That actually suited both parties — I was ready for a new challenge — and the bosses at my company granted me three months’ gardening leave.
“Initially I put myself out there as a management consultant — obviously I’d worked as senior management in multinational corporations — and through that I was contacted by the boss at a will writing company who wanted to expand the business. So I spent five months helping with that and I thought: ‘This is a nice little business — I could do this.’ I retrained and acted as an independent consultant for them for a while then, in March 2006, we parted company and I joined the Society of Will Writers and set myself up on my own. Will writing was a good fit for me. When I was in manufacturing I was general manager of a factory in Wales and I had 280 staff and millions of pounds worth of stock. It was a pain and made me realise how liberating it would be to run a business with no staff and no stock — and will writing ticked those boxes perfectly. I don’t have any staff and the only stock I possess is about five reams of white paper! I started working from under the stairs in the house and gradually expanded to take up three rooms in the house so my wife kicked me out and I built an office down the bottom of the garden. Most of the will writing I did was over the Internet — I used to spend £60,000 a year on adverts on Google. But it was getting ridiculous — I was working 14 hour days writing ten wills a day. I have nearly 18,000 clients now, which is huge! But it reached the point that I was working too hard and, three years ago I suffered a heart attack. I’m a fit and healthy person — I’ve played hockey all my life — but the cause, tests showed, was genetic high cholesterol. That, coupled with the stress of working too hard — well, my doctors told me I had to take a gentler approach to work. So now I’m on pills for cholesterol and I’ve fine-tuned my work life balance. My business ticks over nicely now and I’m in the office four days a week, four hours a day, doing online will writing and visiting a few clients locally.
“All of this was the inspiration behind the app, really. I had the idea back in February 2014 — I was thinking about ways of making money that wouldn’t be too much effort once they were up and running and the app fitted with that. And I couldn’t see anything similar on the market — it seemed quite a unique proposition — so I thought: ‘let’s put a bit of money into this and give it a go.”
How much input did you have in the design and build of the app? Presumably you had to employ a professional app developer to help?
“Well, I designed all the routes and questions but the technical side, yes, I gave to an app developer to create, although I was very involved with the look and the feel. We hoped it would be out for Christmas 2014 as January is such a busy month in will writing but there were a few technical hitches that needed to be ironed out, which was irritating. So the first time I used the app, instead of being exciting, it was actually just frustrating as it didn’t work. But when it was operating seamlessly and my phone pinged to alert me to the fact someone had downloaded it and paid the £6.99 — a stranger, rather than someone I knew — I was so chuffed I took my wife out for a £120 meal to celebrate. These days I don’t do that every time someone uses it!”
And what sort of feedback have you had?
“Well a few people in the industry have used it and been very complimentary but, with an app, there’s very little contact between developer and end user — people who use apps don’t expect that. So while with my online wills clients interact with me via my website and tend to fill in the customer satisfaction forms I email them, only one person has ever replied to the satisfaction survey I’ve sent to everyone who has used the app. Only one reply! But that chap said it was fantastic and that he’d tell his friends about it. So, yes, the feedback so far has been excellent — 100% satisfaction!”
Where do you hope this app will be in five years’ time?
“Everything I’ve done in the past from a projection point of view hasn’t realised so, to my mind, there’s no point getting het up about projections. But I do believe this is the way forward for will writing — it makes it accessible to everyone, whatever their personal circumstances. Often people can’t afford to make wills and this takes away that objection; often people don’t have time and this removes that obstacle. It really is the way forward!”