Developing resilience has become increasingly important, and over the last year in particular. The cost of living crisis in the UK, fuelled by the war in Europe, persistent inflation and rising interest rates, is still very much impacting day-to-day household spending and individual wellbeing.
The world continues to evolve rapidly and to grow in complexity, making it feel hard to navigate at times. The rise of technology, changing regulations, and an increasingly global economy set against the complex backdrop of geopolitical considerations, all drive changes in our lives.
Financial resilience is essential for managing, surviving and thriving in difficult times. By cultivating this resilience, we have a better chance of handling whatever life throws at us and of remaining more hopeful in the face of adversity.
Before I joined PensionBee in 2020 as the Chief Corporate Officer, I’d been lucky enough to enjoy a long career in investment banking, private equity, and subsequently as a founder of an online retail business.
In 1999, I began my career in financial services. After running a gruelling gauntlet of tests and interviews, I was fortunate to be accepted to the prestigious Morgan Stanley internship program, and would later be offered a position on their graduate scheme. Now, more than 20 years later, here’s what my career and life has taught me so far about the importance of financial literacy and resilience.
Challenging the status quo
People close to me would probably say I’ve always been pretty driven and that I gravitate towards a challenge. What bigger challenge than being the sole non-white female in my analyst class across investment banking in Europe, in a very male-dominated industry. Back then, the c.10% female proportion of the class was considered ‘good’. Statistics became dramatically worse with increasing seniority.
Today, women make up nearly half of the UK workforce, marking a record high from the previous 2019 figure of 47% labour representation. However, women still face significant barriers in the workforce, especially in terms of pay equality and access to leadership positions. These disparities are even more pronounced for women of colour.
As I rose through the ranks, I’d often find myself as the only woman in my team, in my division, at the table or in the boardroom. But I was determined to ensure that neither my gender nor my ethnicity was my memorable or differentiating characteristic, instead allowing my technical skills, work ethic and individual personality-based characteristics to hopefully make an impression of their own. A better way to be remembered, with more longevity.
During my time in investment banking and in private equity, I felt privileged to gain invaluable experience, but it wasn’t easy. I often felt like there was a greater spotlight on me than others in the ‘sea of suits’ - this is especially difficult when you’re under pressure in an intense job, difficult early on in your career when you’re trying not to falter, and equally difficult when you’re rising through the promotion ranks - especially when you don’t represent the majority. I felt pressure to have to outperform my male peers, in order to prove my worth.
But with the support of some great allies (including both men and women) and some grit and determination, once I’d earned the recognition, I did feel that I had a platform to stand out and a voice to help empower others to challenge themselves and the status quo.
Empowerment through financial resilience, but mind the gap
After welcoming my second child into the world in 2013, I made the decision to leave the bank and pursue my dream of running my own business. I set up an online retail business with my best friend, selling new and pre-loved luxury kids fashion. Up until then, we’d both been strengthening our financial resilience and building personal resilience through lived-experience for many years, without necessarily realising that it was this that allowed us to take this opportunity.
Moving from a role in a large global organisation to becoming the driving force behind a fresh enterprise was a major change. We worked incredibly hard to build our business from the ground up, doing everything ourselves, no task too big, no task too small. Despite the challenges of juggling our roles as business owners and parents to young children, the experience was incredibly rewarding.
We created a supportive environment where we could be our authentic selves, working with passion and drive, while remaining honest and open. The training I’d received in my career to date, and the very important experience of being a mother and tackling all that comes with that, both prepared me well for this venture.
Spending those early years of my career building my financial and personal resilience empowered me to seize opportunities and to take calculated risk, without being overwhelmed by the fear of consequences or the fear of failure. Resilience enabled choice.
Self-employment rates have been rising over the past decade. As a business owner, you’re able to control the amount of money you receive in terms of your salary, bonus, and pension. Shockingly, only 16% of self-employed workers pay into a pension, causing millions to retire without adequate savings.
Despite my financial experience and knowledge, with the immediate expenses of setting up a new business, and with two young children to raise, I found it hard to prioritise saving for my future (including my pension) during that period, experiencing first-hand just how easily the gender pension gap can arise. A very common problem, and a very valuable lesson learned.
The gender pay gap’s well documented. For example, the Office for National Statistics found that among full-time employees the gender pay gap was 8.3% as of April 2022. However, over time this gender pay gap compounds into an even bigger gender pension gap. PensionBee research from 2021 revealed an average gap of 38% across the UK, peaking at almost 60% in Northern Ireland.
Let’s talk about embracing equity
Joining PensionBee, to lead its transition to becoming a publicly listed company, was a unique opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up for many reasons. Being part of an ambitious, dynamic and diverse team, on a mission to improve the lives of many UK consumers by helping them to save for a happy retirement, while shining a light on important societal issues, was very appealing to me.
Having come from running my own business, and having enjoyed a wonderful working environment there, it would have been impossible to work for a business that didn’t prioritise its culture. Luckily for me, at PensionBee we’re driven by our five core values: honesty, innovation, love, quality, and simplicity. It’s so frequently remarked upon, how extraordinary it is for a financial services company to include ‘love’ as one of its core values. I’m very comfortable embracing this value.
The theme for this Wednesday’s 2023 International Women’s Day’s ‘embrace equity’. At PensionBee, we’re committed to fostering an inclusive environment that mirrors the variety and beauty of our society and of our customers. We’re proud to have achieved 50% gender parity among our employees at all levels of our company, including across our board and senior management team. And we’re always looking for what more we can do to move things forward in the right direction.
As always with investments, your capital is at risk. The value of your investment can go down as well as up, and you may get back less than you invest. This information should not be regarded as financial advice.