The man who has helped millions to save millions through penny-pinching tips today made a fair wedge himself by flogging his website to a rival for £87 million.
Martin Lewis set up MoneySavingExpert.com just under a decade ago to publicise his burgeoning television career. But the hugely-popular site – with its commitment to remaining advertising- free – quickly turned him into a multi-millionaire as it became one of the most profitable financial websites, making almost £16m in 2011, up £4.5m on the previous year.
The rising revenue levels attracted the attention of a host of suitors, and 40-year-old Mr Lewis decided to cash in by selling to comparison site MoneySupermarket.
Mr Lewis will also stay on as editor-in-chief to the site for three years and announced that he will give £10m to charity, including a £1m donation to Citizens Advice.
He told the BBC: “It won’t change me. I’m as tight as I’ve ever been.”
The website is already responsible for 59 per cent of MoneySavingExpert’s revenues. The money is paid when visitors to the MSE click through to the comparison site to buy financial products such as insurance or credit cards.
The deal includes an editorial code designed to retain MoneySavingExpert’s integrity, which has helped it become a trusted source of financial advice for the seven million people who subscribe to its weekly newsletter.
But many visitors to the site were unhappy with the news, feeling let down by the man they had backed as a reliable independent source of financial advice.
One disgruntled member wrote: “Unfortunately the voice of the consumer has been bought.”
But a more pragmatic poster added: “We save money. The site makes money. Presumably the deal won’t change that so I can’t see what the fuss is about.”
That was a message that Mr Lewis was keen to get across himself.
“While I may have sold the website, I’ve not sold out,” he said. “The site continues to follow its founding principles. Our primary job is to continue to ensure we provide the best information to help consumers, based on journalistic research, and this editorial line will stay independent of any commercial objectives or influence.”
The boss of a rival comparison site questioned how impartial MoneySavingExpert would be in the future.
Michael Ward, managing director of Payingtoomuch.com said: “Given that 59 per cent of MSE’s existing revenue is already coming from MoneySupermarket, has this impacted on its impartiality over the years? And going forward will impartiality be an issue?”
Martin Lewis has His rise to become Britain’s favourite money expert has been despite having no financial qualifications. In fact he started out as a financial spin doctor before turning to broadcasting with a job on BBC Radio 5.
A spell on a failed satellite money channel was followed by a money-saving column in the Sunday Express and appearances on BBC Breakfast News after which he set up his website in February 2003 with an initial investment of just £100.
He now employs 42 staff at the site and is renowned for his strong work ethic.
Under the terms of the deal announced today, MoneySupermarket will pay £60m upfront as a mixture of £35m in cash and around 22.1 million shares, then handing over an additional £27m after three years as long as the website meets growth targets.
As for the future Mr Lewis says he plans to continue with his campaign to get financial education taught in schools.