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Empowering Women And Underrepresented Communities Financially – Rukayyat Kolawole, Founder at PaceUP Invest

Rukayyat Kolawole –  ESSEC & Mannheim Business School Executive MBA Class of 2020

Tell us more about your company and what you do

My business is a fintech platform called PaceUP Invest based in Mannheim, Germany. It is a B2B and B2C fintech personal finance platform that helps women and more underrepresented communities take control of all aspects of their finances to become financially resilient and independent. It is a holistic community, financial education, and investing platform. We utilise AI to make learning and investing easy and less complex. Behavioural finance and economics are used to ensure that our customers act on their finances once they learn, and they stay on course to a sustainable wealth building path.

The company was incorporated in September 2020 but the platform for financial education and financial advisory was officially launched in Feb 2021. We are now on the route to incorporating an investment platform so that our customers can invest directly and have access to their portfolio wherever they are. We are currently fundraising for this.

The B2B aspect focuses on helping companies provide financial wellness as part of their social responsibility programmes to their employees and customers digitally and in person. The B2C focuses on financial education and investments for direct customers.

What inspired you to start a business focused on women’s challenges, and how did you identify the specific needs or gaps in the market that your business addresses?

This goes back to the culture I was born in. I am Nigerian by birth with a strong lineage of strong entrepreneurial women who controlled and invested their money. My passion and reason for going into investment banking were a result of me learning how my grandmother empowered women in her community. She was a gold trader who travelled to Ghana to buy gold and sold them in Nigeria. She taught me the basics of empowering women via money to build wealth in addition to the power of communities, as I watched her do this seamlessly when I was growing up in Nigeria. Real wealth to her was about freedom.

My culture is Yoruba culture. A study by the University of California looked into female power in Yorubaland. Yorùbá culture of present-day Southwest Nigeria and the Southeast Republic of Benin has received much attention from academics over time. In part, this is due to the culturally ingrained female power that has existed and persisted over time in Yorùbáland. 

The goddess Ajé, as a deity of the marketplace, provides an example of the importance of womanhood in Yorùbá culture. Àjé represents female power throughout many facets of Yorùbá life, including economic, domestic, religious, as well as political spheres. These expressions of culturally grounded female power within Yorùbáland are exemplary of the dynamic gender structure in Yorùbá culture. Yorùbá women have been able to harness female power to their advantage throughout Yorùbáland over time.

Having over 15 years in the finance industry, I identified this specific need and noticed how very few women knew about basic finance and how the industry does not support them in an understandable format. Upon moving to Germany, the pay gap and pension gap between men and women were jarring and I decided to work on this as part of my executive MBA entrepreneurial project at the Mannheim and ESSEC Business schools where four of my classmates across three continents and I worked on the project for one year to identify the needs, pain points and how to help women get the job done when it comes to their personal finance. We realised this is a global issue, not country-specific. 

As a woman but also from an underrepresented community, I am well equipped to help women and underrepresented groups live self-determined lives and manage their finances independently. This empowers women who educate further generations to deal with their financial issues in a self-reliant manner. I support women and the underrepresented in gaining more financial knowledge, building confidence in themselves, and, above all, taking action, thus achieving a mindset that leads to financial well-being. With PaceUP Invest, I promote the natural approach to money as I learned it from my grandmother. And this is exactly what I transfer into everyday business life in line with today’s zeitgeist.

How important is it that this key area has more start-ups focused on tackling this specific challenge for women?

According to a study by Merrill Lynch, 61% of women say they’d rather discuss details about their death than talk about their money. Forty-one percent said their biggest financial regret was not investing more. When asked why they didn’t invest more, 60% said it was because they lacked the knowledge, while 34% said they lacked confidence.

A study from BlackRock found that 68% of non-investing women thought their future would look better if they did invest. This feels all the more incongruous, given that although women invest less, they are better at it.

The third regret was that they wish they didn’t have as much credit card debt and the last one is they wish they had lived within their means. This means that three out of the four regrets women have are not about wages, but rather about financial education.

Finances are very important for women. Lacking financial wellness leads to financial strain that will likely lead to difficulty in meeting household expenses in time, taking a distribution from retirement accounts, and so on. In order words, there will be a lack of financial resilience. It is important to take lead on our finances because we are living longer, on average we earn less than men, and at retirement have fewer assets and we are likely to outlive our assets.

It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically altered the way we live and work. What is less obvious is the impact on people’s finances and financial well-being. We know that many people, especially women, either lost their jobs or resigned to care for family members, but we don’t see the impact on their bank accounts. We see those who remained employed during but pandemic, but it’s not obvious that their financial stress is on the rise, with 63% of employees surveyed by PwC saying their “financial stress has increased since the start of the pandemic. We may know individuals who took part in the “Great Resignation” in the hopes of finding more fulfilling work or recovering a work-life balance that was lost, but we don’t see their worries about retirement plans that are now off track.

It is very important to tackle these challenges for women because we are half of the population yet very few of us understand our finances and building financial resilience as part of asset building. As I always say that when we empower women, we empower generations to come. 

What is your long-term vision for your business, and how do you see it evolving?

My long-term vision is to scale and have more impact on women globally. We want to impact more than 3 million women in the next 5 years to start investing. With women potentially controlling more wealth in years to come, we are providing resources for women to improve their financial knowledge and understand how their wealth with impact them and how they can also invest sustainably. We see a holistic approach to learning and investing and this is what we offer at PaceUP Invest. 

At PaceUP Invest, we have impacted over 2500 of our members. 89% developed financial habits while 80% started investing. Many of our members are women. My wish is that more women become more financially independent and build sustainable and generational wealth on their terms. One of our clients, Katherina (name changed) is a mum who is relying on state pensions realised that it will not be enough for her when she retires in 15 years’ time. She currently sees how her mother struggles in retirement.  We provided a personalised holistic approach to taking care of personal finance and ultimately investing to build assets and reduce stress her stress. We use AI to simplify learning and simulate a personal investment portfolio according to her unique needs. We use AI to help with behavioural biases and provide support accordingly.  She has access to a trusting and growing community where she can grow and also share experiences. She has started building her assets for retirement.

What advice do you have for other women who are interested in starting a business focused on women’s challenges, and what resources or support do you recommend they seek out?

My advice is to go for it and not be afraid to create solutions to problems that currently exist, especially for women. 

Supporting female entrepreneurs is not only fair but can be of value to society as a whole as female entrepreneurs often invest in sustainable causes. They should seek both mentoring and sponsoring support. Financial support is also very important. They should not be afraid to reach out to friends, organisations and individuals that they feel could support their journey. I reached out to Stadt Mannheim who has been extremely supportive with an amazing sponsor called Sonja Wilkins. Mannheim Business School played a huge role in me finding out about the work she does in helping start ups. 

There are lots of incubators and accelerators to help women develop their ideas to commercial value.

I also stress the strength of having a good team. A good team makes a great difference in ensuring that business goals and strategies are aligned.

I would also suggest having good-sounding advisory board members to help drive the strategy of the business.

Starting a business will ultimately increase the representation of women in a leadership positions. Not only does it not lead to an increase in financial strength where they can save more, invest more, and invest in their communities and households, but also show to generations coming that they can achieve what they set put to achieve and impact in a positive, sustainable way.

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