Exo Investing Blog

Investing, Podcasts and Greggs: Our Interview with Sarah Kocianski (Part 1)

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Sarah Kocianski was interviewed by Exo CMO Mel Palmer and Head of Partnerships, Nick Cullen at the 11:FS Offices in London.

Have you always been in FinTech?

Like many people, I had a bit of a curve in my career path to end up getting into FinTech. I'd started out working in educational publishing for six months, and was made redundant, which was good because I hated it!

Then I did bits and pieces of research, which is where my core skill set is. I did a bit of work with BBS, doing research on history programs, which was amazing, but it's a very hard lifestyle. You don't finish a job before you have to leave for the next job, it's just very stressful. So I decided that wasn't a good idea.

Then I was living in London, I needed to pay my rent, so I needed a job. I took a job as an admin assistant for what turned out to be a FinTech startup. They realised I could do more than just admin, so I started working with their business development team, doing a lot of competitor analysis, and also potential client analysis.

'That's where I started to build an understanding of FinTech, but also of the financial services industry.'

So, for about four years, I worked in various jobs while there. I went into supporting the sales team again, with client analysis. Then I went to work with our head of industry relations and he just spotted me.

Sometimes in business somebody takes an interest in you and what you're doing. He was always very much trying to help and guide me even though he wasn't on my team. Eventually, I ended up working for him and that was amazing because I spent a lot of time working with the big research houses.

Finally, I ended up in the product team doing competitor analysis and then Monetize, the company who acquired my own, downsized. I was made redundant, again.

I was made redundant twice before I was 30. The first time, I panicked and applied for every job under the sun, and then I got offered three jobs in a week.

This time, I thought; “You know what? it's not the end of the world.” I took some time out, travelling. When I came back, the job at Business Insider Intelligence appeared, which was to create a FinTech vertical for them. I did that for two and a half years. About 18 months into that time, I started appearing on the 11:FS podcast.

After the first podcast I did, David (David Brear from 11:FS) messaged me on Twitter and said: “do you want to come work for us?” Like, literally off of the first podcast I've done. It actually took them a year to convince me. So yeah, that's kind of like the strange trajectory I've had.

Within Fintech, the wealth management industry is growing pretty quickly. What's your experience of the wealth tech industry?

It's been very interesting because I didn't know an awful lot about it until I went to Business Insider Intelligence.

The first of my 'Wealthtech' work was when the “Robo-advisors” were starting to come to the fore. Betterment was doing really well in the States. Scalable Capital had come over here, Wealthfront in the states was really making some waves, and that's when I started to have a look at them.

Did you have any personal experience at that time with investing?

I remember my mom had a big stock portfolio and really suffered in the crash of 2008. The message I got from my mom was to never invest more than you're willing to lose, which is actually quite a sensible message.

It gets really close to gambling there, which is so dangerous.

Exactly and to a certain extent, in my head, I believed it.

'I saw it as gambling because I couldn't see it any other way. '

When I looked at the stock market, as somebody who's a researcher and who bases every decision on in-depth analytics, I couldn't pick a stock because I had nothing to base it on. So, the Robo Advisor, to me, was really interesting because they allowed you to put such small amounts in that you could play with.

I think that “play” is an important word. It’s stripping away the gambling narrative, but it's not something that you stick your life on necessarily. It's something you stake a bit of money on and you see how it goes.

I've always been interested in the mechanics of it, and whilst I will never properly understand the inner workings of portfolio management, I did understand the idea of balancing risk, and that helped me learn, therefore taking away this kind of fear I'd had about investing.

Exactly. And just look at the initial success of Betterment, and then Nutmeg over here. The simple idea of having a tool that showed your wealth projection. Bringing that out was, to a younger audience, revolutionary.

Definitely, especially for an educational system that doesn't effectively explain compound interest. I didn't go to a bad school and I was taught about compounding interest by GCSE level, but it just wasn’t really a priority in the teaching. I think you're absolutely right, that kind of projected wealth, seeing that metric and seeing how it could grow is really powerful in spreading the popularity of financial knowledge to younger people.

Keep an eye out for part 2...