Written by Vivi Friedgut

Founder & CEO

It’s our birthday month! And since so many new faces (both staff and students!) have joined our community, particularly in the last year, it’s the perfect opportunity to take a moment to reflect on where Blackbullion has come from and why, what we’ve achieved and where we’re going next. As well as to remind you how happy we are to have you along for the ride!

Then

Five years ago, I founded Blackbullion with the expectation of failure. 

Financial literacy was not a common expression yet in the UK (though the US had just crashed through the $1T student debt milestone). The first 30 minutes of each meeting I managed to secure was spent explaining why supporting students’ financial wellbeing and understanding of money wasn’t just hugely beneficial for them, but good for the university too. 

I was determined to tackle financial illiteracy, but I was one of very few voices singing the song at the time.

How things have changed!

Now

In the early days of Blackbullion, most of our surveys found that about 50% of students wanted to increase their financial knowledge and thought financial education was a good idea. In our most recent research, only 3% of students believe it is not the university’s responsibility to deliver financial information and advice! 

An increased focus on student wellbeing and experience, along with the growing recognition that financial wellbeing is a core component of mental health, is pushing institutions everywhere to invest more in the capability. 

Institutions with a “loco parentis” responsibility, from schools and universities to government and employers, see the multitude of benefits that increased financial wellbeing can bring.

It’s not just the push to support mental health, but also an increased understanding that the myriad of financial dangers facing students can play a significant role in non-continuation. Also that a misunderstanding about money and the student loan system can be a hurdle for students to even get started. These figures are more stark still for first-in-family students and other widening participation cohorts. 

While a lack of financial wellbeing and understanding is not the only factor, it’s increasingly one of the most important. Without adequate financial understanding (and support), a great university experience can be all but impossible.

It is through this prism that Blackbullion has grown – now partnered with more than 40 universities and colleges.

Financial education for every student

What started as pure financial education (that I have jokingly compared to if Netflix, Wall Street and Sesame Street were to have a baby!), is evolving into a complete financial wellbeing solution for students.

The financial education library in our platform has exploded from 4 core elements to more than 85 subjects. Evolved from the foundational elements of debt, budgeting, saving and risk, we now cover topics both needed (like tax and credit scoring) as well as desired (including pensions, crypto currency and sustainable investments). 

We’ve gone broader but also deeper by ensuring we cater for postgraduates, part-time and mature students too. Did you know about 5% of our users are university staff?

“I feel like I understand more jargon around the economy now and how it’s reported in the news. Blackbullion has elevated my knowledge and makes me feel accomplished. It definitely exceeded my expectations.”

Student Liverpool John Moores University

Support throughout the student journey, and beyond

Learning will always be at the heart of what we do and since we are community-led, we look continuously at how we can embed financial learning at all touchpoints that involve money. 

Blackbullion has become part of a student’s education journey – from pre-arrival financial preparation, to regular webinars and student specific campaigns throughout their studies, all the way to graduation and transitioning into the working world. 

We are increasingly the first port of call for staff looking for current and timely guidance in order to better support students financially. We provide resources and live sessions for staff (and students too!) on everything from activities that carry financial risk (such as using OnlyFans, crypto trading, gambling, day trading and getting involved with loan sharks) to understanding the link between money worries and mental health, and much more in between.  

In fact, we’re currently running a 5-part webinar series about how to support students with financial risks. Full details here.

Streamlining the financial support process

Beyond financial education, institutions also deliver financial support to students who need it e.g. through hardship funds, loans and scholarships. And last year, following feedback from both students and staff, we created our Funds Management System (FMS) to streamline the process. 

Our partners told us they were struggling with inefficient systems and processes for disparate pots of financial support across their institution. The process for staff was often time-intensive and manual. On the other hand, students found it clunky, confusing and were either put off applying or isolated as their accessibility needs were not catered for. Shockingly, in research we’ve conducted, one student even told us: “I’d rather rely on the food bank!”

Since launching in late 2020, I am incredibly proud to say that the FMS has helped our partners award over £2m to students with a 48 hour average application processing time (reduced from 2-4 weeks).

Instant Payments

Yet, while the FMS has digitised and centralised the process, making it significantly easier and faster, we realised that some students were waiting weeks to receive the funds after their application was approved. Far from ideal when students can access a payday loan in mere minutes!

So most recently, we’ve introduced Instant Payments to our FMS – giving staff the ability to deliver secure payments to students in seconds.

“The Funds Management System appeared at exactly the right time for us. I thought it would be amazing because we were using a very admin heavy, time-consuming process for financial support applications. We were looking at ways to rely more heavily on technology to cut down on time and manual admin.”

Hayley Borrett Student Support Officer
University of Keele

The future (with financial education at its heart!)

Looking backwards is fascinating but looking forwards is thrilling. As we begin to increasingly include more cutting edge financial technology into our financial education offering, we continue to see greater engagement and excitement from students. After all, learning what to do and actually doing it are two very different things! 

That’s why embedding financial learning into the financial support application has proven to be an overwhelming success and a hit with students.

Combining financial education with practical implementation is the most effective way to enhance financial wellbeing and build personal wealth, as well as ensuring future national prosperity – isn’t that a mission worth working towards? 

We may have been the first into the game, but it really does take a village and only by working together with our community of students and support staff can we truly ensure a money smarter world and financial wellbeing for all. 

Thanks for taking an interest in what we’re doing at Blackbullion and please do get in touch if you’d like to talk more.

Finally, don’t forget to sign up to our staff email newsletter for our latest reports and research, blogs, product updates, and free financial wellbeing resources to share with students.

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