TechRound recently caught up with Olga Miler and Jude Kelly, co-founders of the money learning toolbox SmartPurse.
SmartPurse strives to inspire women everywhere, helping to support them in building up financial confidence and independence, and offering a supportive, jargon-free space for those wanting to learn more about money.
Here, both Olga and Jude discuss their business, exploring what SmartPurse helps to achieve, where it is now and where it hopes to be in the future…
What Is SmartPurse, and Why Is It Relevant to Women (and Men) Today?
We are a unique financial educational space. When first embarking on this venture, we soon found out that there wasn’t really a safe space where women could come and discuss the questions and feelings they had when it came to money.
A traditional financial services environment didn’t offer that level of comfort, and felt intimidating to many, usually being very much linked to the financial products themselves or to the world of investing.
So that was the core idea, to build a space where people can come to talk about money, get answers to their questions around it, and more. We are educating people on the subject of money, starting from the very basics of, for example, “how do I build a budget to…” or “how do I build an investment portfolio”.
We are an independent financial educator, helping people to unpack things around their money feelings.
It’s only recently that people have realised, the world that has said women should be equal, doesn’t know how to make it true. There are a number of impediments to women’s progress, history being one of the greatest.
The way people have been brought up and taught, the dynamic between men and women, has included the idea that men are the ones going to financial experts, and women are the ones who spend the money on things – but all without a broader context or a wider horizon, or without a sense that money can have the power to make more fundamental changes in society.
This is, of course, borne out by the fact that women will not just earn less than men, but are invested in less than men – it’s not just the gender pay gap that is one of the biggest problems, it’s also the investment pay gap for women.
These things are allowed to drift forward if women aren’t themselves confident, and then equipped, with the tools and the language to challenge it. You have to believe that you are worth it, that money is interesting, and that you can get across it, that you can understand it.
Women’s confidence around entrepreneurialism or investment has to increase enormously, because we need women’s brain power and creativity in the economy. We need women to have more of a say in what investments look like in terms of the ethical future that they would want for their family. Women clearly want money, often in order for their family and their communities to thrive, but they’re reliant on financial tools that are operated by people who perhaps haven’t got that front and centre in their heads.
Ultimately, it’s both a personal and a practical journey that women need to take of confidence, and then aptitude, and also something which society really needs.
Once the confidence and realisation is there, there is always still the art of doing it. This is best illustrated by a quote we got last week from one lady, being an example of going from not daring to ask the question to actually being able to have that calculated for yourself, saying that for 10 years she didn’t even dare ask the question of “what my investments cost me” and now, she finally knows what she’s paying for, letting her money grow.
This describes very well what we at SmartPurse can do, installing confidence and encouragement by equipping people with the knowledge on how to do things themselves.
What ultimately then results is the empowerment and trust in their own decision making when it comes to money matters.
How Did SmartPurse Start?
The experience of how we met was extremely significant in the starting of SmartPurse. Olga was, and still is, a finance guru, looking into women and financial markets. When we met, she was working at UBS, choreographing and making change happen around that female portfolio.
Jude started WOW (Women of the World), 11 years ago, celebrating all the areas that can affect girls’ and women’s lives, celebrating what they’ve done throughout the whole of history, and then challenging things that still need to be changed.
Olga spent 11 years in UBS, and detected very early on that the bank wasn’t doing anything particularly well with their female clients. She spent years researching and dealing with the subject of women and money.
Olga suggested that UBS sponsor a strand of the WOW programme about money, which Jude assumed would be filled with dry and technical questions about financial products. However, in reality, the experience was massively emotional.
In unpacking the idea of “how much do you really know about your money”, women were saying that they actually didn’t know what their mortgage was, the amount of interest they pay on it, or even whether their husband had another bank account. They all began to reveal how much they didn’t know, how foolish they often felt, and also how frightening it was not to know or understand what to do about it.
Within UBS, Olga then wrote a book around women and money, and started to programme a financial education tool to make it scalable. However, what Olga found was that the content didn’t resonate with people, and when tested at the WOW festivals, it wouldn’t resonate at all with the women.
We soon then realised that this was much bigger than UBS, and different than WOW – this was a particular thing all by itself.
It became clear that financial education had to be impartial, but could this be done in an impartial way? And if yes, can it be done in a way that is globally scalable?
This is one of the really unique things about SmartPurse. We are now in two countries and we also have a global version. So besides developing the safe space, we also developed a completely new content altering and content management process to actually make this financial education scalable and deployable to a variety of countries.
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Where Is SmartPurse Now? and How Has the Business Managed Through the Pandemic?
For SmartPurse itself, we’ve seen very good growth. Our business was impacted in two ways, as we have a dual business model of B2B and B2C distribution.
Of course, we saw a negative impact on the B2B distribution, especially in the UK as all of the corporates were not ready to embrace anything around financial education. Whereas, in parallel, the B2C certainly was.
The B2C is, and has been, growing. There’s a lot of personal interest from people to consume financial education, to attend courses and to talk about these subjects, even down to the broader sense of money and how to invest sustainably.
As a business, on the one hand our original strategy got completely dismantled by Corona. But then of course, on the other hand, the second leg started to thrive, and very much so. So we were in the fortunate situation that we always had a multiple revenue stream business model. So therefore, our focus shifted a little with the pandemic.
Where are we today? We are very happy. We managed to close our fundraise which started in March of last year, we put Switzerland online, and are now finishing our app. We also managed to get some additional corporate partners, and upgraded the whole course calling curriculum.
We have a lot of free events for women to ask questions about what’s happening with their investments, and we have a huge money rally event to help the money mindset. For every premium subscriber, we also give 10 premium subscriptions to Save a Life UK to support all of the women that are victim to domestic violence. Because financial education is one of the core components to change that situation.
So for us, while this has been a very challenging time, it’s also still been a very interesting time, making us rethink our business model.
What Does The Future Hold for SmartPurse?
We’re doing our big money rally online on the 10th of April, which has got a number of speakers, including Ruby Wax and Dr. Leyla Hussein, all talking about our mental health in relationship to money, and also the practical ways that you can give yourself comfort, peace and excitement. This is a big event, with hundreds having attended last time, and we’re expecting even more to attend this time.
We’ll also be launching our app by April, which is in many ways the final piece that we were missing – to have a presence on people’s phones.
We are also going to be running a very interesting, playful activity around investing in the summer, which we don’t want to reveal too much of just yet…
On top of this, we’ll also be thinking of where to take SmartPurse next. We have requests for small press conferences in Europe, Germany and Austria – so there is a lot of interest, and we’ll be looking at how to expand after this summer.
We are also writing a book, looking at the history of finance for women (publishing date yet to be confirmed). It’s one of the most fascinating things, the history of women’s finance, and there is a lot that can be learnt from this history.