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Breaking the Money Taboo

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Emilie Bellet came to Cass as part of her degree at ESCP in Paris, and then moved to London when she graduated. She’s always been ‘good’ at earning money, but saving….less so. Her new company, Vestpod, is all about informing women about how to be smart with their finances. We sat down for a chat about it all.

Tell me about you time at Cass!

I studied at Cass for six months as part of my Business Studies degree at ESCP in Paris. I specifically came to Cass to study because of its fantastic reputation for finance teaching and I wanted to work in an investment bank. The finance classes at Cass are amazing! I studied corporate finance and markets. It was also great to spend some more time in the city and to study in London.

The summer before I came to Cass I had done internship at Lehman Brothers and that led to a job starting in London the summer after. So being at Cass was also really good for my network because I could start meeting people in the city.

Alongside my studies I also got to play field hockey for a local team. I had played for the French team in Paris – and had played for a year in Spain before too – and I played in the national division here for six months. That was a great experience. Basically, I shared my time between Cass and the hockey pitch!

What did you do after Cass?

I studied at Cass close to the end of my education, so I returned to Paris for six months to complete my studies and present my Master’s thesis. Then I returned to London to work at Lehman Brothers – this was a year before the bankruptcy!

What was it like at Lehman Brothers?

I was there for a year, and then the crash came in September the year after I joined. When you’re a junior in a bank you learn a lot anyway, but this was beyond anything I had expected. It was stressful, but I treated it as an experience and tried to learn as much as I could.

I got lucky because I was in private equity and my managers created a spin-off of the fund. We managed to get funding to replace the Lehman Brothers commitments, which led to the creation of a separate entity. Despite this, there were five months of uncertainty, and in that time lots of other departments closed and lots of people were fired.

Where did you go next?

My department at Lehman Brothers became this separate entity that was called Trilantic Capital Partners, and I stayed there until 2014. I worked for six years in the PE fund, investing in and managing mid-cap companies.

I had lots of fun at Trilantic, working hard on investments. I looked after a company in France, another in South Africa, and one in Turkey and my role required really broad skills encompassing strategy, marketing, finance, and HR.

And then you wanted a change?

I decided then that what I really wanted to do was something meaningful and to create something that could change people’s lives. I started a business before this one, called Seed Recruit, but it didn’t work out even though I got a round of angel funding. After a year and a half I closed it, but I had all that experience under my belt.

I turned to this nagging feeling I’d always had… “How do I manage my finances?” I always knew that I’m good at earning and good at spending, but not good at saving! I started to look at what I could do to address this and had a hard time finding financial advisors to work with, especially because they are expensive. So I turned to financial publications and the internet, and didn’t really find very much of use.

Money feels like a big taboo. I couldn’t find anyone to talk about it with, not family or friends and when you’ve been a banker you don’t want to talk salary! So I had no community to talk to about it with, and let’s be honest, it’s a pretty boring topic.

How did Vestpod come about?

I started researching, and realised I wanted to launch something dedicated to women and finance. The two main things that came out of my research were that more and more women are becoming the breadwinner of the family, and that by 2028, women will inherit two-thirds of the world’s wealth. In general, money can be intimidating, and many people are put off by the financial jargon. So I thought, how do I address this topic in a way where I can both engage and inform?

Of course, the banks are trying to modernise but they have essentially been doing the same for years, and they are still not really addressing women, who typically have less money in their pensions, less confidence in managing their finances, and live longer. So they need more help! And that’s where Vestpod comes in. I’m not trying to be patronising, I want to be straightforward in everything I write. I also regularly invite experts to share on my platform, such as people from the fintech world, as well as financial advisors, and in early February I did an event with the FT money editor.

What does Vestpod do?

My first product is a weekly newsletter. The tone is friendly and cool, and I try to keep it that way. I used to just send it to friends, and now I have several hundred subscribers. In particular I really want to help women who are just starting their careers to those who have 10 years of experience – so all the access to the content is free at Vestpod.

We also run events. At this recent event with the FT money editor we had 40 women who spent two hours listening and asking a lot of questions – there was lots of interaction. I think this is because we presented the subject in a different manner. I’m super exciting about doing more of that, covering topics like how to get a mortgage, information about choosing your saving products (ISA), investing your money and much more. For me, it’s about being informed and being in control. It makes such a difference to your life when you don’t stress about money.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

Really the challenge is starting. You can research an idea as much as you want, do interviews, talk to people and so on, but if you’re not launching your first product you’re just procrastinating. Lots of people have ideas that they talk about, but the upshot is that the execution is everything. Just do it. You’re never going to be exactly right the first time, but you can learn from your mistakes and iterate until you’ve got something valued and working.

What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps?

Since I’ve dropped out of the corporate world I’ve tried to dream bigger. If you have something you are passionate about, even if it’s outside work, try to spend more time and energy on it. So many people complain about their jobs, but I say be a bit less dependent on what people think and don’t worry about them judging you. In the end it’s your life and your destiny.

What is next for Vestpod and for you?

Now I’ve launched Vestpod I want to do more writing, and I’m always thinking about how to scale the business. It’s just me and two freelancers at the moment, and I can’t do events every day – so I need to leverage technology as much as possible.

I’m also pregnant with my second baby, so it’s been a bit crazy at the moment. At least I’ve launched the business so I’m going to do as much as possible before the birth. I may need to raise funds by the end of the year to make Vestpod a bigger company and to employ more people.

In the long term I want to be really empowering women, whether in finances or in work or life. Why not creating a modern bank for women. So I’ve got lots of long-term projects!

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!

Favourite place in London: Camden and Primrose Hill
Favourite holiday destination: Japan
Must-check every day website: (no hesitation) The FT
Dream travel destination: A round-the-world trip with my family, I’m sure I’ll do it at some point, take a year out and just go!
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate!

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