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Spread firm defy recession to reach milestone in style; Steve Davies talks to Spreadex founder Jonathan Hufford about his decade at the helm of the spread betting firm.

Byline: Steve Davies

THE uninspiring metal, aluminium, is the traditional tenth anniversary gift but Spreadex founder Jonathan Hufford got something far more rewarding than a roll of foil to mark a decade at the helm of the spread betting firm.

In among the cards of congratulations for reaching the milestone were plaudits from customers and across the industry for a revamped website and, as a direct result of the success of that redesign, the highest monthly bet numbers since the company was founded back in 1999.

The increase was an impressive 8.6 per cent with more bets struck on the sports side since Euro 2008. Now that's what you call a happy birthday and not bad at all in the midst of the worst recession for how ever many years.

The St Albans-based firm has put a raft of new features and improvements on their website and marked the relaunch by slashing spread widths, margin rates and minimum stake sizes on a long line of their most popular markets, financial as well as sporting. And, as managing director Hufford says, the whole thing had been long overdue.

"There is no doubt that the website had become tired," he said. "We worked really hard on the launch, based on plenty of feedback from our customers, and we're really pleased with the outcome. We believe it brings Spreadex bang up to date but doesn't compromise any of the elements that have proved popular with our clients over the past decade."

And the subsequent upsurge in October bet numbers confirm that the effort was all the more worthwhile and confound the theory that you can't flourish in hard times. Not that Hufford is in any way complacent. He acknowledges fully that times are, to use that limpest of euphemisms, 'challenging'.

"Customer recruitment has prospered, lapsed customers have been coming back. We were pleasantly surprised by the figures and while I don't want to get ahead of myself we are feeling fairly positive."

But then Hufford has always had a positive outlook, from those days ten years ago when this spread betting disciple working as a dealer in the City was approached by some private investors who wished to open up a rival to Sporting Index, IG Index, City Index, William Hill Index and the other early pioneers of the art.

"It wasn't plain sailing," he recalled. "We launched sports and financial products at the same time and in the early days the vast majority of our sports clients either won or didn't pay so it wasn't an immediately attractive business model. I was naive, particularly about sports spread betting, but once we got the expertise in and improved analytically we became competitive."

SPORTING still boast the lion's share of the market - around 70 per cent according to Hufford - but Spreadex and IG (now Extrabet) have seen off the rest and, in terms of sports spread betting, they have the rest of the market sewn up.

Spreadex's strength, according to its founder, is customer service and it remains a cornerstone of the company's outlook.

"Ten years ago," Hufford says, "spread betting was a very confusing activity which was talked about in very technical terms. We endeavoured to soften the language and make the customer experience clear and polite, and it worked. It made us very popular."

Still popular ten years on, now all eyes are on the future - how Spreadex and the spread industry deals with the recession, the threat to its position from Betfair and the exchanges while looking longingly at a World Cup featuring an England team who are among the favourites to win it.

Hufford, a Watford and Spurs man himself, says: "The World Cup is a once-in-four years opportunity like no other. Our first World Cup was trading matches like Mexico against Croatia over breakfast. The time zones were all wrong but South Africa offers great opportunities for us. We would expect customer numbers to go through the roof.

"But these are challenging times. When you are in recession you have to keep an eye on costs - which we have - as well as your competitors. And we have to keep the product attractive.

"We have a variety of things on an IT wishlist that we aim to launch 18 or 24 months hence. In future, people will be betting on their mobile phones and we have to be ready for that as well as other product enhancements. But we will continue to do the simple things well and that gives us a chance."

Hufford, a five-handicap golfer and part-owner of the Walter Swinburn-trained Tagula Night which, he quickly and proudly proclaims, has won twice this season, won't go so far as prophecying another glorious ten years at Spreadex. He's written that many cheques over the years to cover misguided golfer finishing position bets, that he'll leave accurately forecasting the future to others.

"But it's been a very happy ten years," he confides. "I'm ten years older and a lot wiser. I remember speaking to Compton Hellyer, then chairman of Sporting Index, and he said you'll make a lot more money writing a book than you will in spread betting. I haven't got around to writing the book yet. I'm having too much fun here."


Jonathan Hufford is still enjoying life at Spreadex
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Article Type:Company overview
Date:Nov 10, 2009
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