Former rugby star Olly Phillips talks to me and my money

Challenge: Oli Phillips has raised £3m for good causes since 2015

The biggest financial mistake former rugby union player Olly Phillips made was to trust fraudsters who were running a real estate investment company.

Millions of pounds of mortgage debt was defrauded in his name by fraudsters, who were eventually sent to prison. The fraud clouded Phillips’ life for years and prevented him from accessing any credit, he told Donna Ferguson.

After retiring from rugby, he founded Optimist Performance, a leading and motivational company. He is 39, and he lives in Henley-on-Thames with his wife Lucy and their three young children.

What did your parents teach you about money?

The importance of making it. My father was a used car dealer and a landlord – a self-made man who did well after dropping out of school at the age of fifteen. My mom was a housewife until my parents divorced when I was ten years old. Then she became like Del Boy, running all kinds of businesses to make ends meet – from horse racing to a solarium.

Was money tight while you were still at home?

Until I turned 10, life was comfortable. But after my father’s divorce, it became even more difficult. My mother was very good at protecting me and my brother from the situation. I had a really great education – thanks to a sports scholarship I had my own education in a good school.

Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?

Yeah. When I graduated from university, I turned down lucrative job offers from management consulting to play professionally for the Newcastle Falcons. The manager gave me the opportunity after seeing me play in three academy matches where I scored a hat-trick each time. He offered me £600 a month. Money was scarce. I had to buy all my shoes and equipment on that salary, as well as pay for all my food and my rent. Food was expensive because when you train, you eat three times more than average. Fortunately, I was selected for England within six months and was able to renegotiate my contract.

Have you ever paid ridiculous money?

Yes, I once paid £25,000 to give an hour-long chat with a company about my experience as a rugby captain in England and the series of challenges I faced for charitable causes. Since retiring from rugby, I’ve circumnavigated the world, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, rode a rickshaw through India, and cycled through America, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. She has set four world records, including one at the North Pole and two at Everest, all for charity. It has raised nearly £3 million for good causes since 2015.

What is the best year of your financial life?

It was 2019 when I sold a Banksy print. Four years ago, I had won a street artist print in a lottery, paying £500 for a ticket.

In 2019, I was getting married and the market for Banksy artwork was hot. So I sold it for £85,000.

What is your biggest financial mistake?

Trusting some real estate investment scammer in 2007. My club used to get sponsorship deals, and one of them was with a company called North East Property Buyers. I got to know some of the people who run the company and I trust them. They used to give me the keys to the Aston Martin DB9 every now and then. I even went on vacation with them. So when I decided to buy a property, I asked them for help. They said they would take care of me. Then I went on tour with England for three or four months.

When I returned, I found out that they had bought 30 properties for the purchase on my behalf – and had borrowed £6.5 million in my name to do so.

I later found out that they were buying real estate in bulk from home builders at a huge discount. Then they sold it for more than the market price, with a mortgage of 90 or even 100 percent. They made a fortune by making the difference between the price they bought and sold the property for.

They forged my signature and committed a mortgage fraud in my name. When I found out, I went to the police and they asked me to be the main witness at the trial. I was just one of the victims of what ended up becoming the biggest housing scandal ever in the Northeast, involving 2,500 homes. There was a civil and criminal case, and they were put in jail in October 2015.

What effect does this have on your money?

I was in my mid-twenties, earning £40,000 a year and mortgage payments on those 30 properties went up to £25,000 a month. Obviously, you fell behind on them right away. I couldn’t and didn’t want to pay it because I didn’t know anything about those real estate.

Even though there was an ongoing police investigation, I was getting up to 150 calls a day from the banks because I was behind on all those mortgages. It was very stressful. Financially, it was a nightmare. I couldn’t buy a house or rent a car. I couldn’t even get a credit card because there were a lot of black marks on my credit history.

Best Career: Initial play for England and the Newcastle Falcons

Best Career: Initial play for England and the Newcastle Falcons

Oddly enough, I played the best rugby game of my life in 2008 and 2009. That was when I got voted as the best player in the world, for example. I think rugby was an outlet for me, where I could channel all my energy and anger. Every time I went to the rugby field, nothing else mattered, and so I felt this massive sense of release.

It was only after the criminal case was decided in 2015 that the banks started listening to me and treating me as a victim. But it took another four years to get them all to remove their credit scores against me and accept that I don’t owe them anything.

Best financial decision you made?

Investing in a friend’s medical cannabis business in 2013. I bought £12,000 of stock and two years later, after the company was bought by a major, I sold it for £115,000.

The most expensive thing you bought for fun?

Classic car at £15,000 two years ago. It’s a red, soft top from 1971 Jensen Healy. I love driving it.

Do you invest in a pension or the stock market?

I invest in my pension. It started when I started playing rugby professionally, aged 20, and had used my pension to invest in commercial real estate funds, when I couldn’t invest in physical property myself.

Do you own any property?

Yes, my wife and I. Our house is a four bedroom river house in Henley-on-Thames that we bought 18 months ago for £665,000. We’ve since developed it and got planning permission to do a major extension, but decided to move on instead. With a four-year-old, two-year-old and a seven-month-old baby, we don’t think the construction work is worth it. So we recently put it on the market and it was valued at £900,000. I think the trend towards flexible working is one reason its value is so high – people are much happier living 40 minutes outside of London.

We also own 16 buy-to-let properties, which we have acquired since 2019 at a cost of around £1.8m. Now it is worth more than 2 million pounds sterling. They are all houses in Newcastle, close to where I lived when I was earning £600 a month.

If you were a consultant, what would be the first thing you would do?

If I were Rishi Sunak, the first thing I would do would be to borrow my wife money! [Akshata Murty has a £690million stake in Infosys, the IT services firm founded by her father]. Then I will reduce the value-added tax on energy bills to zero. The cost of living is going up and I think that will help.

What is your number one financial priority?

to achieve financial freedom. I would like to be in a position to have income from investments in my property that generate between £12,000 and £15,000 per month. I’m probably two-thirds of the way toward this goal.

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