I was meant to graduate from Stirling University in June.

    Lockdown meant that I came home in March, finished my dissertation from home and that was my degree over. My graduation ceremony has been postponed until next June, but who knows if that will happen?

    My friends and I are trying to see the positives; it’s nice to be home with all the family, especially having been away for so long.

    A lot of my friends have gone back to university to do a postgraduate degree or a Master’s, just because there’s no jobs going and they don’t want to sit about and do nothing. So a lot of people are studying for longer – they’ve gone back to do a year they didn’t really plan to do.

    Growing up, I always wanted to be a teacher, but towards the end of school I started to enjoy business studies, and then moved to specialise in marketing.

    An introduction to financial planning

    I came to work at Cornerstone Asset Management through my mum, who’s friends with Rebecca Kowalski, Cornerstone’s compliance manager.

    Rebecca said they were looking to do a lot more in digital marketing, where is where I’m looking to focus my career, and Mum mentioned that I was looking for work experience as part of my degree.

    From there, I had a call with Jen Paice, the managing director, and we spoke about what Cornerstone were looking to do and how I could help them out.

    "I didn’t imagine myself working in financial services. I didn’t think there was a place for marketing, and thought I wouldn’t have the creative flair that I could have in other industries. But I was wrong."

    I started with the firm on an internship basis in April, and at that point I’d secured a graduate job with an IT company doing project management. That was due to start in June, but got postponed due to the virus, and Cornerstone then offered a part-time role instead as a marketing assistant.

    Before I joined Cornerstone, I knew of financial planners but didn’t really know the ins and outs of the role, and I didn’t imagine myself working as part of the financial services sector. And pensions weren't something I'd really thought about either.

    I have friends who work in financial services, and their days are filled with numbers and finance. I didn’t think there was a place for marketing, and thought I wouldn’t have the creative flair that I could have in other industries. But I was wrong.

    The biggest thing that changed for me is the perception I had of people who worked in financial services. I always saw them as men in suits, very serious, straight to the point and out for themselves. I was completely wrong.

    Going into Cornerstone everyone has been so willing to help me and embrace the newer side of marketing, things like social media that maybe they hadn't considered before. They were all really welcoming.

    Even the way they talk about clients, you can tell they've got clients' best interests at heart, and while I thought it was all about being out to get the most money, it's a lot softer and friendlier than I expected.

    Before all this with the virus, I had a plan and knew what I was going to do. I was going to go into the grad scheme, then progress from that into a full-time job and then perhaps get a mortgage.

    Obviously that has all been thrown off track, and I’m only 21, so the mortgage felt a way off. But being with Cornerstone has taught me there's nothing better for your money than to be prepared with it, and to start applying yourself in terms of what you're going to do with your money.

    While I don't have enough money to be considering a financial planner, I have been able to sit back and think about what my goals are financially, and where I want to be.

    Working part-time means I've not got the income that I expected, so it's a case of looking at where I want to go next to be able to achieve those goals.

    I've realised that buying a home and getting a mortgage is probably the next thing that I want to do, and that there are different routes open to me. I can't stop looking on Rightmove to try and find flats that I like!

    Understanding what a pension can do

    Having to worry about my pension was never something I considered. I always just thought it was there; I'd eventually have a pension and when I retire there'd be money in it.

    But as I started to understand a bit more about where your pension money's invested, and Cornerstone’s Responsible Futures portfolios, it made me realise you can invest your money in good things and things that are good for the environment.

    It kind of opened up a whole new idea for me of what a pension can do, so that it's not just a pot of money sitting there, it can actually do good for the world while you're putting into it.

    You’re rarely shown how you get a pension, you just know you will eventually have one.

    At uni we did personal development modules which talked about mortgages, loans and managing your money, but pensions were just never mentioned. It seems like an issue you deal with when you’re older.

    Pensions are so attached to retirement that you don't even consider it when you're in your 20s, you think that's something that will happen in my 60s or 70s.

    But the reality is if you have control over it when you're younger and when you're starting to build it, you can do more with your money and put it into better places.

    I’ve learned that if I'm not in control of my money, I don't know what's happening with it. Or, I can be in control and make sure I have enough money in retirement and that my pension is invested into positive funds.

    I feel like I should have perhaps been more anxious about pensions earlier. The reality is you pay into your pension quite soon when you start getting a job. So it's a part of your wage, and you should want to know where it's going. But I just didn’t have the information, it wasn’t on my radar.

    A pensions cheat sheet

    The thing with pensions is young people are less likely to seek out the information they need if no one is telling them they need it.

    We’re not told when the ideal time to look into a pension is, and then when we do want to get on top of it we’re not told where to look or what we’re looking for.

    When you do a Google search for pensions, the results are complex.

    I’d like to see a pensions sheet for people my age, which gives a really simple explanation of this is what a pension is, this is when you’re going to pay into it, and this is why.

    With people automatically signed up into a pension, you don’t have to ‘do’ anything for it. That could lead to people being lazy about it and thinking: “Oh, that'll just work out, my pension will just happen.” That can then lead to people in retirement not having enough money to live the lifestyle they want to live.

    I just think there's a sort of missing bar of information there, and of simple information. You can read into pensions and get back loads of complex information, and then have to spend ages trying to work out what it all means.

    For advisers looking to engage younger people, it sounds cliché to say, but social media is obviously a big form of communication for people my age. That’s where we get a lot of information, particularly about brands.

    I think being able to bridge across through social media comes down to using the kind of language young people use. It’s not about emojis, but just simple designs and things that can draw people in.

    There’s a big new market with people like influencers, and even finding someone like that who’s willing to talk and explain more about pensions and money can reach a whole new audience.

    I notice in the financial industry there's a lot of abbreviations, you've got all these letters thrown at you and you just think "I don't know what any of that means."

    My advice would be to take it right back to the beginning, rather than jumping ahead and assuming people already have pensions knowledge, because they might not.

    What I’ve learned so far

    Having worked at Cornerstone for about seven months, I have a basic understanding of things like financial advice, pensions and money. But the difference now is, I’ve also got more of an interest in those things too.

    Beforehand, I could probably have told you that I have savings accounts, but I wouldn’t have been able to say what I was saving for, or were what my goals were. The experience has woken me up to think that if I don’t manage my money, it’s just going to be sitting there.

    There’s been many good things about working here, but one of them has been getting to do things like our Fourword Thinking podcast.

    I never thought going into financial services that I'd be able to do a podcast, or spend time building up an Instagram page. But I’ve really enjoyed seeing the response we get from people like me, who are just interested in learning more about how their money can help the world.

    Overall, I think I've been able to explore different options that I didn't even think were possible with the financial industry. It's really been an interesting experience.


    Original interview and reporting by Abigail Harvey

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