Spotlight: Meet Abigail Kwao
1. Tell me a bit about your background?
I was born in London, but my parents immigrated from Ghana, and I grew up with my three sisters in Deptford, South East London. Fortunately, my mum managed to move us to Dartford so we could go to a better school and then I went to the University of Nottingham where I studied finance, accounting and management. I’m so thankful because my mum sacrificed a lot for me, I truly believe I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. During university, I did a couple of internships including BlackRock in my second year. After my internship, I got a full time offer from BlackRock and started in the Institutional DB team, looking after defined benefit pension schemes, then I moved to the DC team and now I’m currently in the digital distribution team working with fintechs and D2C platforms like Wealth8.
2. So what sparked your interest in finance and wealth?
It was definitely a strategic choice — I did not enjoy studying finance, accounting & management but chose it purely as a means to earning a decent living. As I did not come from a rich background, I knew that I had to study something that was going to give me a good income and financial security; I feel that a lot of people can relate with my reasoning..
Once I accepted that I didn’t like my course at uni, I used that time to build my connections and get work experience. I attended events and joined societies and was treasurer of my uni’s Afro-Carribean Society (ACS). I was basically focused on getting involved in anything I could do to boost my experience and CV. I was all about laying the foundations for the future, even though I found my degree course so hard.
3. What do you love doing outside of work?
I love theatre; drama is me to a “T”. I would have studied it at university but I was not confident that I could make a good living from it. . I also enjoy netball, which is another thing that the corona virus pandemic messed up. We have a netball team at BlackRockso I’m so looking forward to starting that again. I love music, singing and screen writing as well! I also became a qualified masseuse last year because I have a passion for wellbeing and that kind of stuff and I’m all about adding to my roster of skills. Unfortunately, I haven’t started taking customers yet because I need to make sure that we’re not going back into another pandemic , however I practice with my skills on my family and friends.
4. What’s your attitude to savings and investments and how do you manage your finances?
I hate using this phrase but, coming from a ‘poor’ background and from parents of immigrants, there wasn’t much money in my family when I was growing up. So there wasn’t really an attitude to savings in my household because my mum was working three jobs so we could just get by. The whole idea of savings and investments wasn’t something I thought about. Even when I got my first job, it was more so to alleviate some of the financial burden from my mum or buy some of the things I wanted but knew she couldn’t afford.
It just so happened (thank you God) that by studying finance, accounting and management, I was forced to learn about financial market, s so my attitude tor savings and my interest in it, really started when I graduated and started earning enough money. The ability to save is something that a lot of people don’t have, especially in our communities where a lot of people are still living from pay check to pay check. I believe that you have to be in a relatively comfortable position to even think about savings, and that’s just not where a lot of people are. And then investments is a whole other thing because I believe that’s something that has been reserved for the elite so to speak. Traditionally, a lot of people can’t get access to financial advice or management, because they are intimidated into thinking that you need to have a lot of money to star with, before even trying to access it. This is the common trend in disadvantaged minority communities. Now, I have a very strong attitude to savings and investments because of my job. Luckily, working in pensions showed me that there’s a massive pension gap, especially for us as millennials, and then even more so as black women. I feel that there are so many hurdles that block us from reaching our potential (and the lack of knowledge about savings and investments is one major one). So, now I’m switched on to try to share any information I have wherever I can.
To manage my finances, I started off with having a budget spreadsheet — which I use less now because I know exactly what my income is and what my outgoings are. And then I also use apps like Wealth8 which is a good example of robo advisor platforms that give one access to investing in simple, multi asset portfolios with conditions that give long term exposure to the market. I know I’m not going to touch my savings & investment pot for at least 10 years, so that’s my strategy.
5. What does financial wellbeing mean to you?
The financial element of mental health and well-being in general is a key driver in our society. A lot of people’s problems in the UK come down to lack of funds. Finance plays a big part in our lives every day! I personally believe that protecting yourself from money worries is a good foundation to having a good overall mental wellbeing. That’s a very idealistic thing for me to say, though, because the reality is that not a lot of us are in a position to even start thinking about financial wellbeing.
6. Do you have any advice or tips for someone who’s trying to improve their financial wellbeing?
One thing I think people can do is to start with their mindset and attitude towards their finances. If you haven’t been exposed to saving, investing or financial literacy in general, the first step is to understand and that starts with educating yourself. There are so many resources online. For example, Wealth8’s hub is a great place to start for beginners. So it starts with your mindset — you can’t tell someone who’s in debt to start paying it off because they haven’t ever seen the value or understand the importance of doing that. So really wanting to take control of your financial literacy is the first step that I think we can all take. I’ve also got a lot to learn as well in terms of financial literacy because we just weren’t taught it in our community.
Another tip is trying to start getting into savings habits. My first job was at McDonald’s and looking back, if I could have saved a little bit, even if it was £3 a week, it would have been better than nothing. That’s the power of compounding so it’s important to just start small with whatever you have because in five years time, it will be something! Again, a lot of people think they don’t have the luxury of saving but I genuinely believe that if you’re disciplined enough and ready to make sacrifices for your future, it’s achievable. So, start changing your mindset and building those habits towards your financial goals.
7. So tell us about Equip, what was your motivation to start this initiative Equip and why do you think it’s important for the community you serve?
Equip aims to equip young BAME students with the necessary skills to thrive in university and in the workplace. The whole motivation and idea for starting it was due to some mentoring I did in university. I love helping, listening and talking to people, and even considered going into teaching. Mentoring really showed me the difference in opportunities for black people in London as opposed to the Midlands who are so far removed. So I felt I needed to do something that could connect the Midlands with certain opportunities and skill sets that they weren’t getting and networks they weren’t privy to. Because I was at Nottingham University at the time, I reached out to about five different schools and we ended up running a few workshops. After the initial success, I partnered with IntoUniversity, a social enterprise that aims to do the same thing, but they are across the UK.
Since then, Equip has evolved into something much more. When I started at BlackRock, it was difficult to focus on both at the same time as the work was a lot so partnering with IntoUniversity and Dancop, allowed me to deliver sessions through them and utilise their own tools and resources. Now, Equip has evolved into a collaboration with other organisations and we’re joining forces to reach a wider pool and students and make a bigger impact. It’s allowed me to grow my connections in the industry, work with more schools and deliver sessions that I’m really passionate about.
8. It’s felt like we’ve been in lockdown forever — what’s one thing you’ve been looking forward to doing? anywhere on your travel bucket list?
I am so so looking forward to getting on a plane, stepping off and feeling that Spanish sun hit my face! It’s been too long! In 2019, I travelled a lot and had major plans for 2020 so I’m ready to go. Top on my list is definitely South America, starting in Colombia and a whole tour around the country after that.