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Interview Breaking Down the Numbers: Q&A with Financial Expert Jasmine Birtles

Breaking Down the Numbers: Q&A with Financial Expert Jasmine Birtles

For a history graduate I’m always looking forward – tomorrow never dies right?

For both businesses and consumers alike, the finance industry is undergoing an incredible pace of change with Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies and FinTech to name but a few.

However, the messages delivered to target audiences can still be daunting, confusing, even off-putting. The benefits are hard to fathom. The technology sounds complicated. 

But when we sat down with financial expert Jasmine Birtles, we started to see this perhaps isn't the case. We thought it might be worth exploring this a little further, so without further ado, let's dive right in. 

When you popped in to see us, we were struck at how you made those complicated financial terms seemingly straightforward! What’s your approach to making this work?

As someone who is very much not a maths genius (I did English at university) I struggle with a lot of financial concepts myself, so I know what it’s like for the majority of Brits who are not maths-savvy.  What I do is work out the facts clearly to myself first and, once I can visualise them, I can put it all into words that someone like me would understand.

As far as possible I turn abstruse concepts into sold ideas that  people can ‘grab hold of’, such as describing things in terms of ‘buying tins of baked beans’ or talking about putting a credit card in the freezer. As far as possible I keep numbers and percentages out of it and talk in terms of ‘a quarter of..’ or ‘a handful of…’ etc.  

You’re a regular financial media pundit, so what would you say are the typical questions consumers fire at you, and what should the corporate world learn from what you hear?

The questions really are varied but some of the main themes are:

  1. Saving - where can I put my money to get a decent return?
  2. Pensions - what am I entitled to? Are pensions really worth it? Why aren’t I getting more from my pension? I don’t understand any of the letters I get from my pension company - can you explain them...
  3. Investing - most people know nothing about investing and are very afraid of most investment products. so the questions are mostly fear related
  4. Benefits and tax credits - there are regularly questions about these as they are so confusing, and the rules often seem arbitrary.
  5. Property - (from millennials) How can I get on the property ladder? What is a Help to Buy ISA?

Those are just a few of the themes I hear. Generally, my message to financial companies is to make their communications much more simple and the products much more transparent. It’s not possible to underestimate the lack of financial knowledge that 90% of Brits have (including how much 90% is!) and just how afraid they are of anything to do with money.

Ideally companies need to help to educate customers in personal finance, but if they can’t do that then they can at least make things a little easier for them by explaining what they are doing in the very simplest and most basic terms.  

Your website, Moneymagpie.com, has a wealth of information useful for businesses and consumers alike. What’s the journey been like in driving Moneymagpie.com to where it is today?

Very much a learning experience! Running a website is like fishing on the ocean - you never know when Google is going to change its algorithms and suddenly tip all the fish out of your boat!  

We have never spent any money on advertising as we have generally managed to do quite well with organic search and brand recognition from my appearances in the media. However, there are no blueprints for running a consumer website and we change our tactics depending on the new situations we find ourselves in. Much of it is learning as you go, particularly as Google regularly moves the goalposts.

However, as with stand-up comedy, with a website you know pretty much immediately if something is working or not because you see it in the traffic, so that has at least enabled us to realise which subjects are most popular with our readers: mainly making money and getting things for free.

MoneyMagpie is known primarily for its ideas for making money on the side and every week we try to come up with something new (and often daft) like being a professional mourner, selling your hair, getting paid to play Harry Potter games and so on.

At the same time, though, we need to keep updating the rather more dull but essential elements of personal finance information such as saving money, getting out of debt, taking out insurance and so on.  Actually, if any businesses out there want a guest speaker for a talk on how to set up and run a commercial website, I have 10 years of (often hard) experience to draw on!  

We also spent a little period of time talking about how to build a personal brand. Why did you delve into this area, and indeed what top tip could you share with us?

This is very much from my own experience. It’s something I used to talk to friends and fellow freelancers about and then a few years ago the BBC asked me to teach a workshop on it for employees looking to set themselves up as freelancers. I created the course for them and then adapted it for students and later for employees (through FT Training).  

It is based on my own experience of being a freelancer (which I have been throughout my career) and having that ‘lightbulb moment’ where I realised I had to stop thinking of myself as a little, struggling freelancer and start thinking of myself as a brand - a big brand! - if I wanted to be successful.

I thought about big names like Coca Cola, Disney and Microsoft and realised that they have a lot of similar departments so I needed to be conscious of those ‘departments’ in my work. After that I got a lot more businesslike and approached my ‘brand’ n a more professional and successful way. Having done this for a couple of decades at least I thought it was time to let others into the secret!  

And finally Jasmine, what’s next for you?

All sorts! I’m working on a book about how to survive and thrive in the digital world and am taking in bookings for talks in the UK and abroad. I’m bringing in a couple of new people to improve the traffic and profitability of MoneyMagpie, and also setting up the MoneyMagpie Awards which will happen in November. I’m also creating an online investing workshop which I hope will go live in the Autumn. 

For further information or to book a speaker, call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070 or email info@speakerscorner.co.uk.

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