We sat down to talk about financial education for young people, the importance of apprenticeships and their development in the UK, and what key tips Vivi has for breaking into the fintech industry.
Can you introduce Blackbullion and tell us a little more about the business, specifically, what inspired you to launch it?
So we started as a financial education learning platform and I usually refer to it as “Netflix meets Wall Street meets Sesame Street”. But it’s now grown into something much bigger. Our headline goal is to help young people, not just students, to be able to make their money work for them to build the future that they want.
I started Blackbullion, because I think there’s a huge problem in this space. I was lucky to be raised very financially savvy because of my family background. I just assumed everyone got the same education as I did. And then you realise most people didn’t buy their first stock at fifteen, and don’t talk about this stuff around the dinner table.
After the financial crisis it became really clear that there’s two types of people. People who make money work for them and the people who don’t. I thought this is a great time to launch something that helps educate young people. Student loans had just tripled, US student debt went to a trillion dollars (which we now call the good old days because it’s now $1.8 trillion). I thought, if I fail I can go back to banking… but I really want to try and make a dent in that problem.
Why do you think financial education is still lacking in the UK? (Thinking of my own experience, I learned nothing at school or university about it) Shouldn’t this have changed by now?
It’s a universal experience. It’s no worse in the UK because it’s very bad everywhere. There’s a bunch of reasons why. We have the all party parliamentary group which Martin Lewis was leading, which pushed to financial education in schools. They passed the legislation to say it needed to be taught in schools, and that was deemed job done.
But the average school that is providing financial education is doing just one hour a year. Which is nowhere near enough. But because legislatively it was done, people considered it problem solved. And as always the devil is in the detail and the execution.
In my opinion, it needs to be taught differently. We shouldn’t approach it like a separate class like Latin or Chemistry. Money impacts every single part of our life, and the whole curriculum should be viewed through the lens of understanding money. Why learn compounding in maths, when you can learn compound interest. Why learn about wars as if they just happened, when most wars have an economic driver attached to them. It needs to be thought of much more holistically.
We’ve seen Blackbullion is driving financial support for young people in the form of scholarships. How do you do this, and how does this help young people?
The quantum between the US and the UK is staggering. The US scholarship and bursary pot is about $180 billion, and in the UK, it’s about £2 million. Obviously the US has a very different funding system, and it’s also a much bigger market, but ultimately there is a tighter connection between corporate America and education America, in a way that doesn’t really exist in the UK.
Universities and corporates need to be working much closer. We hear a lot about graduates not being ready for the workforce, but if companies want to change that they need to put their money where their mouth is.
We need to view it as a commercial imperative. If you want talented students who are diverse and who come from different backgrounds, if you want to be really inclusive, you need to fund that. Because those are exactly the students who tend to be struggling with money. If you can give them support, they can focus on their studies and their education, and not on working four jobs just to pay the rent.
We’re only six months into the scholarship journey, so we’re very early on, but it’s a very big shift in mindset that we’re trying to initiate. We want to see a £100mn pot of money within five years for scholarships and bursaries in the UK. That’s what we’re aiming for, and we’re really excited about it. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.
And how can communities and businesses support this type of work?
This is one of those crude things, where it is fundamentally about money. What these young people need is the cash. We always say you can teach a man or woman to fish and feed them forever, but in the meantime they’re starving.
Sometimes you have to do both, teach them to fish, and give them the fish.
What has been the biggest challenge since launching your business, do you have anything you wish you had done differently?
There’s probably a million! As is the way with launching a business. I was really lucky in the sense I was really passionate about what I was doing. You can’t be that passionate about building APIs for enterprises. Of course it’s amazing work and very important, but we get emails from people saying “you’ve changed my life” and that’s a very different level of rewarding.
The challenges are standard. I worried about running out of money and being a female founder in a male dominated industry. We are building something brand new which has it’s own challenges when you’re a category creator. Education is a tough space because it’s slow, and people tend to default to “this is how it’s always been done” which isn’t ideal for us.
But, the biggest challenge we’ve had, and it sounds like a humble brag but I promise it isn’t, is that we’re solving the right problem at the right time, and so we’re getting pulled in a lot of directions.
People ask us about corporate financial education, and why aren’t we in schools and universities. They say we should go international and bring our work to people all over the world. I want to do everything at once, as my team will tell you, so my biggest challenge is being hyper focused and sticking relentlessly to the biggest problem. I also have an amazing team to help keep me on track, they’re the best.
At The Heard, we’re focused a lot on the important of public speaking, and taking on public opportunities. Was there an interview, an event or something similar which you spoke at that made a huge difference to yours or Blackbullion’s trajectory?
Public speaking is so crucial for everyone in the workplace, but lots of people and often women aren’t leaning into it. I totally understand, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to stand in front of hundreds of people and talk, but it is so incredibly powerful, and one of the most empowering things you can ever do.
One of the most powerful public speaking moments I had was actually me in the audience. I had just been made redundant and was attending an event that had been in the diary a long time. I was thinking about starting my own thing and listening to the sessions, I realised about half the speakers had started their businesses because they had recovered from cancer, lost a child, or gone through divorce. They were handling these really challenging and life altering events. I thought, I had to do it, I have no excuse.
It was so motivational, and I would encourage all people, and women in particular to get good or at least confident with public speaking.
What would be your key piece of advice for women and non-binary people in fintech who want to grow and progress in their career?
I have a few! I think my main ones would be:
1. Don’t be afraid and stop worrying about what others think.
2. Find mentors who have followed a path you respect. You don’t have to walk the same path (and you probably won’t) but it’s helpful to have someone in your corner, or just in your Whatsapp that can help you see around corners. They can also point you towards opportunities you might not see.
3. Assume that anything you don’t know you can learn. But don’t lie about your abilities – you will always always always get caught out. Humans are capable of immense growth and development, lean into it. There is so much knowledge out there – go grab some!
4. Bank value. Everything you do, everything you learn, every contact you add to your network (and you should network like your wealth depends on it – because it does!) should make you more valuable. Life isn’t just about money, but if your career doesn’t put you on a path towards financial security (especially in fintech) you might be doing it wrong.