Another year has passed in what feels like the blink of an eye. It’s only when I take a moment to pause and reflect that I realise how far we’ve come during a year where each and every day has been packed with wonderfully impactful work for university and college students far and wide.
Even when compared to a string of ‘unprecedented’ years for Blackbullion, 2023 has felt like a big one. We’ve broken even more ground to support students’ financial wellbeing and become the all-in-one place where they can learn about money, find more money and manage their money.
While we may have increased our capacity, had a full makeover and even switched over to the fintech (financial technology) lane from being ‘just’ an edtech (who does that?) – our goal always remains the same: to help students develop financial skills and confidence for life.
And arguably, this year – our mission has never been so important. 2023 will likely be remembered as the year that the cost of living crisis shifted from something on the financial periphery into full focus. Much of the financial news has been dictated by soaring energy costs and historic highs in interest rates and inflation.
So, without further ado, it’s time to get on with what has become a Blackbullion annual tradition. Here’s a look at the 8 ways becoming a fintech helped us provide bigger and better support for students in 2023.
1. Hit a record-breaking £20 million awarded to students through Blackbullion
This year, we hit a massive milestone: more than £20 million has now been awarded to students through Blackbullion!
This figure is the collective total across our partner universities and colleges who are using the Funds Management System (FMS) to manage their organisation’s student support funds. In doing so, it saves staff significant time in reduced admin while providing an easier, faster and less stressful application experience for their students.
There has also been a lot of behind-the-scenes work this year to make sure the FMS is as powerful as can be for the staff and students who use it. Some of this work includes:
Gave students the option to connect their bank account to their application
We now offer students applying for financial support through Blackbullion the option to use Open Banking. In other words, they can connect their bank account to their application to automatically pull in the bank statements they are required to provide alongside it.
Meaning they no longer need to manually download and annotate every bank statement they’re required to provide – where it would usually take a student around 40 minutes to provide this. They can now do it in just 3-5 minutes!
It’s been massively popular with students so far since its launch in August: 9 in 10 students given the option to use Open Banking have chosen to do so.
Provided students with one place to go to find more money
We’ve worked hard to build out the Funding Hub on our platform this year. Did you know it’s the UK’s largest hub of scholarships, grants and additional funding for students?
It gives students one place to search and apply for tens of millions of pounds worth of supplementary funds. Relieving stress and reducing confusion for students in need with one clear message: visit the Blackbullion Funding Hub.
There, they can filter through a high volume of additional funding opportunities to find those they may be eligible for. This includes scholarships and grants from our growing number of corporate partners, as well as student support funds available at their place of study. If their university or college uses our Funds Management System, students can apply for funds directly through Blackbullion. This streamlined funds management process has allowed institutions to collectively award over £20 million to students so far.
Made it easier for staff to communicate with students
Staff can now speak to students in an online-chat-style conversation from inside the Blackbullion platform to ask them anything about their funding applications. There’s no need for additional emails or phone calls – making it much easier for both parties!
These are just three of many new improvements to make it easier for students in financial need to get the extra money that will make a real difference in whether they are able to continue their studies. All the while streamlining the funds management process for staff so their time is freed up to focus on other demands. Get in touch if you want to find out more.
2. Released the Blackbullion app
Financial education has always been at the heart of what we do, but this year, we’ve taken it a step further and built a tool that will help students put their financial learning into practice when it comes to managing their money.
In the autumn, we released the beta version of the Blackbullion app! It’s the first app made specifically for students – to help them make their money last until the end of the term by:
- Supporting students to build healthy financial habits and track their spending over time
- Projecting students’ future finances based on their current spending trajectory, giving them real-time insights and suggesting areas they can make savings
- Rewarding students for becoming financially confident
It’s great to be able to plug the platform for financial education then offer the practical element of the app at the same time. It’s instantly tangible for students. It feels right.
This needs to be advertised and offered at all universities! Many students are struggling to manage their money at university and Blackbullion helps to wrap your head around money.
3. Raised awareness of what the cost of living crisis is costing students
We published our third annual Student Money & Wellbeing Report following a winter when costs of food and energy were rapidly accelerating. The report highlighted the real ‘cost’ of the cost of living crisis for students in the UK.
Watch this space for the next report (it’ll be published in February 2024) – as we expect some of the figures from our 2023 research to have climbed significantly. But until then, a recap of this year’s headline findings:
was the amount of money that, on average, students felt they needed extra a month to feel confident they would be able to complete their degree. This shortfall had increased by more than a third from £395 in 2022 and was 67% more than in 2021 (£329).
of respondents were worried that the cost of living crisis would have a negative impact on their final degree result.
of students had received a lower than expected grade in an assignment or exam because they were too cold to study or concentrate, 58% said the same because they had been too hungry.
We are far from being out of the economic woods just yet, and Student Money & Wellbeing 2024 will dig into the extent to which students feel that not having enough money has negatively impacted their university experience and whether the reality misaligns with their expectations.
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The findings from our research only continue to make us more steadfast in our mission to support students’ financial wellbeing and help them develop financial skills and confidence for life.
It’s hard to give your all, mentally, to studying when you have to worry about number-crunching just to exist.
4. Partnered with corporate businesses and organisations to offer scholarships – to put more money in students’ pockets
Our origins lie in financial education and we’ll always believe in its transformative power. But if there’s one thing that the findings from Student Money & Wellbeing 2023 showed us, it’s that the financial shortfalls students face now are so severe that, for many, the only thing that can make a real difference is more money in their pockets.
That’s why this year, we’ve worked hard to actively approach external businesses and organisations, partnering with them to provide scholarships, grants and bursaries for students to supplement any student finance funding they may receive.
Each one is added to our Funding Hub and will often come with employment or internship opportunities for students as well.
It’s been incredible what our Scholarships Team has been able to achieve in just 12 months – all in the name of helping students in need get vital additional funds. In total:
offered to students by our corporate partners in scholarships, not counting additional scholarships which covered the costs of students’ maintenance loan, living expenses and tuition fees.
scholarships offered by businesses in total this year, now on our platform.
Part of this work includes shifting the perception of scholarships in the UK to be seen as prestigious opportunities rather than ‘hand-outs’. In support of this cause, we held the first National Scholarships Week that the UK had ever seen. National Scholarships Week will return in 2024 from 15th April 2024 to 19th April 2024. Watch this space!
I didn’t expect that you could search and apply for funds, and it made it a lot easier than having to search for each one individually because I could filter for my course. If I had found Blackbullion sooner, it would have saved me a lot of time and made my life a lot easier.
5. Grew the Blackbullion community
Our community continues to grow each year as more universities and colleges join us on our financial wellbeing mission. We now support:
partner universities and colleges in…
We’re delighted to have grown our student community by more than 50% since last year – now with 225,000 students with a Blackbullion account, compared to 150,000 this time last year! Many of them also take part in our regular financial wellbeing events – like Unibattle. Learn more about these here.
6. Doubled our team to give us the capacity to do more to help students
The Blackbullion community isn’t the only thing that’s grown this year. In 2023, we also doubled the size of our team following the £2.5 million we raised in 2022.
As much as this has been incredibly exciting on a personal level, it’s also been pivotal to achieving everything that we have in 2023.
7. Had a makeover!
Looks aren’t everything, but after taking onboard feedback from students, we gave our platform and everything we do a makeover! This was another important piece of work we did this year – to make sure that our look and feel reflect the values and ethos we’ve built over the past few years.
Want to take a look? Here’s our student website.
And, of course, we made sure staff weren’t left out! We gave our staff website – the place to get free blogs, reports and resources to share with students – a new look too.
8. Won an award that means a huge deal
While awards aren’t what we do this for, every so often, we win something particularly special because of how it aligns with our mission.
This year, we were nominated for ‘best fintech’ at the Money Awareness & Inclusion Awards (MAIA) in recognition of ‘accelerating financial inclusion with the Funds Management System’. We were also shortlisted for Europe’s most prestigious Fintech award, The Europas.
It means the world to us that not long after moving into the fintech (financial technology) category, the tools we create are being recognised for making sure financial support is accessible to everyone, not just the few.
Outside of awards, Blackbullion was also signposted as a worthwhile financial support resource by:
- UCAS – in a series of articles for students published on their website
- The government – is included on a list of cost of living support resources for students
What to expect in 2024
With 2024 just around the corner, we are more committed than ever to taking our platform and app to the next level – so that all students have access to funding, learning and financial technology to support their financial wellbeing at every stage of their university journey. There are loads of exciting things already in the works for 2024! Stay up to date here.
But before then, we need to give a huge end of year thank you to our partner universities and colleges! Everything we do to help your students is only possible with your support and hard work. And if you’re not already part of the Blackbullion community, there’s still time to invest in your students’ financial wellbeing to set everything up in time for next year! Whether you want to provide financial education for your students or improve their access to additional funding in 2023, get in touch.
Thank you also to all of our corporate partners who have created a new scholarship opportunity for students over the past 12 months and hosted it on our Funding Hub. If you’re a company of any size or sector that would like to contribute to our growing pool of scholarships, get in touch with Jon.
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