Can you tell us a little about your inspirational journey and how you got to where you are today?
My parents came to the UK in 1975. They’re Nigerian and came over here to work and study. They had me in 1979. My parents were working two jobs and studying at the same time, so when they had me, I was a bit of a surprise. Because they were working and studying at the same time, they couldn’t afford to look after me so they put me into foster care when I was three months old.
I was fostered in Hastings, East Sussex until I turned eight. Then in 1988, my parents decided to send me over to Nigeria for a 2-week holiday. As a kid, I wanted to be a pilot so the thought of being able to get on a plane actually excited me. I remember thinking “In two weeks I’m going to get back on this plane and do that whole ride again.” Needless to say, two weeks turned into ten years and I had my entire secondary school education out there. When they finally sent me back to the UK in 1998, they gave me fifty quid, a suitcase and said “there you go”.
When I came back, I actually landed on my foster parent’s doorstep with no notice; no prior knowledge on their part. I was very, very fortunate that they actually still lived at the same address. If they hadn’t, I don’t know what I would have done. My foster parents did their best to set me up. I got my first job stacking shelves in a Spar in Hastings. My dad wanted me to be a doctor, so in secondary school I studied Physics, Chemistry, Biology; all of the sciences, and did really well at those. When I came back, the plan was to basically study, go to university and become a doctor. I found out very quickly that I didn’t qualify for any help, because I’d been out of the country for ten years straight, and even though I had a UK passport, I just wasn’t eligible for any financial help to go to university. So, I’ve pretty much just been working ever since. I found my way into financial services back in 2005. I was given my first role as a cashier in a building society in Eastbourne by a lady called Jenny Berry who I actually caught up with two days ago, and I guess the rest is history. I’ve worked my way up from retail banking into corporate banking, then into management, and into what I’m doing now, which is all about financial education online.
Do you think the adversity you faced growing up has fuelled your educational drive?
I think it’s definitely been formative for me. When I look back, I always reflect on a couple of key things. First, my childhood upbringing wasn’t traditional – I don’t know what it’s like to have a mum and dad at home and have that family unit. It’s always been very disjointed. The eight years that I spent with my foster parents – I don’t really have that many memories of that time. My mum and dad, whilst they were together, lived in completely different states in Nigeria, so I’d either be with my mum or with my dad. But one thing I have realised is that because I was born in the UK, I was always told that I was the one with the “opportunity” to make the best of myself. They always drilled that into me. I’ve seen the lifestyle differences between Nigeria and here, so I guess that’s definitely been formative in terms of the appreciation for opportunity and the lifestyle that we have here. Also being homeless has put a fear of failure in me and a fear of not being secure. That has obviously driven me through my career to aspire to security.
As an educational speaker and reformer, what types of changes would you like to see in the school system with regards to financial education specifically?
This is really, really close to my heart. Whenever I talk about financial education, I always talk about the conversations I had when I first came back here. I think in the financial education sector, the curriculum isn’t up to date for the society that kids these days are having to deal with. When the curriculum was built back in the 80’s, you didn’t have access to the stock market in the way that you do now. You didn’t have access to all these apps. Trading has become such a popular thing. Technology is a wonderful thing, but at the same time it brings its risks. I feel there needs to be revision of the curriculum for financial education, and I don’t just mean on the budgeting side, because there is a little bit on the curriculum at this point in time.
The big problem with the curriculum at this time is that its relying on teachers to deliver the subject matter and unfortunately you can’t teach what you don’t know or what you’re not confident in. There have been a number of government papers which have basically recommended that they need help from financial services, financial advisors, banks and financial institutions. Unfortunately, they haven’t come to the table because there is no financial funding for any of this so the expectation is that the financial institution would do this off their own back when there are commercial pressures for any business to be able to survive.
Now, some may argue that these banks make a lot of money, which they do, and they should allocate part of their money for social responsibility but the reality is, nobody is willing to take up the baton, purely because of the lack of funding.
In addition to a revision of the curriculum, I think there needs to be a clear structure or restructuring of the curriculum to enable our kids to be equipped for what they are going to face and what they are facing currently. This isn’t hypothetical, this is already happening. They are already integrating with Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, and being pushed passive income strategies, investment strategies, Bitcoin, Krypto, a lot of which are actually dangerous and detrimental to them. There are just a ton of financial scams. The last numbers that I can remember was in 2018, there were 3,385 financial scams, most of which started on social media totalling £50million in losses. That number, with the pandemic, will be astronomical now.
I’ve been impersonated on Instagram and YouTube a number of times so kids need to be taught to keep themselves safe. There are underlying things that also need to be addressed – budgeting, understanding the value of money. There needs to be an emphasis on the curriculum to be brought up to date to equip kids as best as they can for what they are currently facing and will continue to face.
The rest of this editorial will be published at a later date.