GoHenry co-founder hits out at UK education secretary over comments that financial services firms are London-centric

Louise Hill, the founder of GoHenry, which has over two million customers, talks financial education in schools; unicorns; and why fintechs are not overly London-centric.
GoHenry co-founder hits out at UK education secretary over comments that financial services firms are London-centric

The co-founder of a UK children’s financial app with millions of customers and a geographically dispersed workforce, has dubbed the UK education secretary’s comment urging fintechs to “get out more” to attract staff as “really strange”.

Louise Hill, who co-founded GoHenry, a UK fintech success story, which was snapped by US wealthtech firm Acorns last year, was speaking to Tech.eu about a range of issues.

These include a GoHenry campaign to make financial education compulsory in primary schools, celebrity endorsements, the UK financial regulator, the value of unicorn status, along with other issues.  

UK financial services too London-centric

Earlier this year, Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, said financial services firms-which include fintechs- should “get out more” to attract staff, in comments to the business newspaper CityAM.  

Keegan said if there were “more routes people knew about” the industry could create a broader talent pool.  

“There’s many people all over the country who’d love to work in financial services, but maybe they don’t see those businesses,” she said.  

“They’re not familiar with them. They’re not on their doorstep. They don’t know anyone who works in them.”  

Education secretary's comments "strange"

Hill said she found the comment strange.  

She said:

"I find that a really strange statement. I am in close contact with a lot of the larger fintech players. Nearly all of them do what we do. We recruit from all over the UK, we don’t care where anybody lives.”  

Hill said GoHenry, which operates a flexible work policy, had staff living in Manchester, Edinburgh and Bristol.

Hill and GoHenry, founded in 2012, have been campaigning for the UK government to make financial education compulsory in primary schools, issuing a parliamentary petition which has  garnered over 10k signatures.  

By hitting the 10k level, the #makemoneycount campaign (the campaign, which ends on April 17, currently has nearly 12,500 signatures) gets a formal response from the government.

Amid calls to improve financial literacy and tackle innumeracy, the government has unveiled plans for all pupils in England to study maths up to the age of 18 but Hill believes the government could do more.

Lack of financial education in schools "criminal"

She says it is “criminal” that 60 per cent of kids leave school without any financial education at all.  

Hill, who was invited to give oral evidence on behalf of GoHenry at the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into strengthening financial education in schools, says she is not giving up the fight.

She said:

“I definitely not have had my fill because we haven’t succeeded I will carry on until it happens, I really do think we can make a generational shift”.

While receiving support from MPs and charity, Hill admits she expected the petition to “get much, much, much more traction” and was a “little bit surprised” at its slow progress.

By comparison, Marcus Rashford's petition to end child food poverty topped a million signatures.

“Maybe that’s the case", she says, when asked if it would have a bigger reaction if the GoHenry campaign had been celebrity-fronted.

Hill likens it to the “motherhood and apple pie” idiom, saying that everybody thinks financial education should be taught in schools, but getting them to sign a petition has proved tougher than she imagined.  

Differences between Tories and Labour on financial education

On the differences between the Tories on Labour on the issue, she says “there is a lot of verbal support” from both parties, but would need to see both manifestos before drawing conclusions.

Hill, along with other fintech luminaries, is part of a newly assembled Unicorn Council, the brainchild of the fintech trade body Innovate Finance, which will lobby the government on behalf of the fintech industry.

Michelle Donelan, the UK science and technology secretary, has set out goals to make the UK (which currently accounts for around a third of unicorns across Europe) home to half of all European tech unicorns – private companies valued at $1bn or more – by 2030.

Unicorn status gives "credibility rating"

Hill dd not comment on whether this goal is achievable but does think unicorn status does provide a " simplistic credibility rating", albeit being just one metric of success.

She said:

“It is only one measure of success, absolutely. I suppose what it does is provide a very simplistic credibility rating. If you have grown your business to a valuation of that size you have to hope that there is some meat behind it.”  

Hill does think London could be in danger of losing its status as the "fintech hub of the world" if certain challenges are not addressed.

London in danger of losing status as fintech hub of world

For example, she cited challenges around later-stage funding, and "outdated policies” on what banking and lending fintechs have access to, such as VAT reclaim, restrictions which, she says, put banking and lending fintechs at a disadvantage in the UK and Europe.  

A further issue, she highlights, is the UK financial regulator's Sandbox scheme- which allows startups to test innovative products- taking “quite a long while” to process applications, which is “slowing things down”.

On her future as GoHenry CEO, Hill said she hopes to still be in post five years from now.

She says:

“Unless someone kicks me out, I think there is a whole lot more to do, a whole lot of space to grow into doing more of what we do in the UK and beyond.”

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