After university, I applied for tons of marketing and sales roles and ended up with a pile of rejection letters. Eventually, I was offered a job as a Sales Development Executive at Mortgage Express, then owned by Lloyds TSB. I helped set up the first website and was surrounded by many great female role models - strong, proactive women running departments. As a Marketing Manager at Abbey, I was managing a £5m budget. It was a massively different and layers of management sometimes made it feel like you were handing in your homework! Even by the time I left, I’d spot people in the corridor and think: ‘I’ve never seen you here before’. My son Dominic was born with a serious heart defect and his condition went undiagnosed for four weeks, so by the time the problem was identified, he was extremely sick. He was rushed to hospital and had his first open-heart surgery at four weeks old and the second at 10 weeks. It was a difficult time and because of the seriousness of his case, I stayed at the hospital for those first two months.
In the middle of worrying whether he was going to be OK, I was also anxious about practical things such as: Do I have health insurance? Will I need to stop working permanently, to care for Dominic? If so, how will we manage financially as a family?
I was faced with an unexpected situation and found myself to be completely unprepared. After two months, Dominic was discharged from hospital. He’s 12 now and very well, which we’re extremely grateful for. Before that happened, I’d been thinking about starting my own business and coming through the worst thing imaginable – my child being so ill that he could have died – left me with no fear of failure. I remember thinking I had nothing to lose. So, there was my long-standing interest in tech and my experience of the independent financial adviser sector, pensions, savings and mortgages, which meant I understood what consumers were looking for. But the catalyst was what happened with Dominic, where I’d felt so unprepared financially and I realised there must be millions of others in the same situation.
The concept of an easy-to-use, free, online service that can be accessed 24/7 from anywhere and which used technology to match people with the best, trusted professional advisers, suddenly made total sense. I made sure I worked with people who’d been through the process before and knew how to negotiate with investors. And preparation was key, not only in securing funding but also in selecting the right investor partner to work well with, post-deal. Unbiased raised £5.6m from investors last year. I’ve been the only woman in a room of a hundred men and I’ve been in meetings when men have talked over me and I’ve had to say: ‘Excuse me, I’m still speaking’. There are advantages to being a woman in fintech - you stand out and have an opportunity to have your opinions heard. But, the business has to be well run, as you’ll always be compared to the market. I’m also delighted that Unbiased was included in the JP Morgan Private Bank Top 200 Female-Powered businesses – it’s so rewarding to have recognition of what we, as a team, have achieved together.
Married women or those in relationships often take time out of the workplace to have children and it’s not uncommon for them to stop pension payments, because they can’t afford them.
I’m lucky to be surrounded by strong women in my family. They’re all wonderfully positive people you want to hang out with. And I think I’ve inherited my ‘make the best of life’ vibe from my mum, as she’s always encouraged me to believe I can do anything. I love property and have renovated quite a few houses. I enjoy managing the numbers and have the knack of being able to visualise how a place will look once it's been stripped back, redesigned and redeveloped. I go to bed and am on my phone ordering tiles and carpet when I should be sleeping! Married women or those in relationships often take time out of the workplace to have children and it’s not uncommon for them to stop pension payments, because they can’t afford them. But with higher rates of divorce, it’s not a given that things are going to end up how they expected, so they could be putting themselves in a very precarious position.
Women are more likely than men to struggle with debt, with women making up 55% of over-indebted people in the UK.
If I could change one thing, it would be to persuade more women to start managing their own finances. It gives you the confidence of knowing you can look after your loved ones and it’s incredibly empowering, because if you have financial security, you have choices.
Here are Karen’s 5 top tips for managing money:
1. Retirement planning Do you know how much you need to save for a comfortable retirement? Research shows that nearly three quarters of women don’t know the answer. Don’t delay, get financial advice as soon as you can to help you prepare for life after work.
2. Till divorce do us part The Office of National Statistics reveals that 42% of marriages now end in divorce and that the number of people aged 55+ divorcing has reached an all-time high. Women may need expert planning when it comes to potential pension sharing orders and asset investment as part of a divorce settlement.
3. Great expectations Longer life expectancy for women (which currently stands at 83) is a consideration for later life care. The average annual cost of a residential care home in the UK is around £35,000 and with the latest health and social care reforms changing the way care is funded, it’s important you seek the right financial advice in advance.
4. Money worries Women are more likely than men to struggle with debt, with women making up 55% of over-indebted people in the UK, and being 14% more likely than men to go insolvent, according to research by Money Advice Service and the government (Feb 21). For a financial health check, speak to a trusted adviser.
5. Will power Taking control of your finances is key for women and more women are also recognising that making a Will and getting their Lasting Powers of Attorney in place is incredibly important. No matter your marital status, seek expert advice to ensure your affairs are in order.
Karen Barrett is the founder and chief executive of Unbiased.co.uk, an online platform, helping women take control of their finances, by connecting them with trusted, independent financial advice.