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Jazz Shaper: Daniel George

Posted on 25 June 2022

Daniel George started his career as a government economist, working on solutions to protect natural resources and provide people with an adequate standard of living.

Elliot Moss

Welcome to the Jazz Shapers Podcast from Mishcon de Reya.  What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut due to rights issues.

Welcome to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss, bringing the shapers of the business world together with the musicians shaping jazz, soul and blues.   My guest today is Daniel George, Founder of StepEx, the fintech startup providing student finance based on future earnings rather than traditional debt.  When Daniel decided to pursue an MBA – that’s a graduate business management Degree, in case you didn’t know – he realised both the lifechanging quality of these top tier courses but also the high cost.  As he says, “Many high potential, less wealthy candidates, simply can’t afford the qualifications to achieve their professional goals.”  After being fortunate to receive a scholarship, Daniel was committed to understand why the financial system couldn’t effectively provide education finance.  And in 2017, he founded StepEx to solve this problem.  Designed and developed with leaders from the finance industry and the UK’s financial regulator, StepEx enables people to pay with a share of their future earnings, giving equal opportunity to all, with the belief your career should be based on where you are capable of going and not where you’ve been.  Daniel, hello, thank you very much for coming here to join us today.  Tell me a little bit about your life before we jump into StepEx because you, you’ve been around. 

Daniel George

Yeah, great to be here, Elliot.  Yeah, I grew up in Kentish Town but I did spend a year in the Highlands of Scotland.  I was the nineteenth student in a very small little town called Glenelg and the people were lovely but they did have… they called me The Onion when I got there because there was a few very patriotic Scotsmen who used to say, “What’s the difference between an onion and an Englishman?”  “You don’t cry cutting up an Englishman.”  Which was quite a baptism of fire and an introduction to the school but by and large, it was wonderful so, yeah, I feel really privileged I had a great upbringing. 

Elliot Moss

And I imagine some of that passion has probably stayed with you but we’ll find out where it got applied.  So, you spent a year in Scotland with your mum and dad.

Daniel George

Well, my dad was actually a musician so he was coming and going, recording songs in the UK, in London, and we lived in a caravan in Scotland while my mum picked vegetables on an organic farm, so it was called woofing, which has become popular nowadays but was quite rare back then so, she’d pick vegetables, we all would, and then the farmer would give us food and accommodation for that.  So, it was fantastic, I think it’s quite a rare experience from a London born person on a council estate to get to go to Scotland for a year, in a completely different scenario. 

Elliot Moss

How old did you say you were when you were doing that?

Daniel George

I was ten then.

Elliot Moss

Right.  Okay, so you were part of a woofing family, you went… the nineteenth student in a small school, you were The Onion and it goes on, I mean amazing things.  And then tell me, I believe you then went to live in Australia?

Daniel George

Yeah.  I had a… I was about to go to William Ellis Secondary School, I had my brother’s second-hand, oversized uniform ready to go in my cupboard and about four days before, my parents thought it would be a great idea – and it was – to travel around Australia in a bus that they did up, so we flew across to Adelaide in Australia, we got an old Coaster bus and all of our uncles came and sort of rebuilt it so, as a family we could live in it.  So, that stage there was me and my two younger siblings and my parents in the bus, we call my youngest brother The Shelf Boy because actually his bed was a shelf with a little pillow on it and we travelled around Australia so, we went through the desert and then all up the East coast and about eleven months later, my parents decided actually, this is pretty good, we should stay here so, we stayed for fourteen years.

Elliot Moss

He drops in… and then we stayed for fourteen years.  I want to just juxtapose this with the fact that then you go off and do a Degree – in Australia, I believe – is that right? 

Daniel George

Yeah.

Elliot Moss

Yep.  You do a Degree in Australia, you then do an MBA and here you are now, talking to me about financing people who haven’t had the opportunity to have access to money to go off and do, you know, masters and postgraduates and all the rest of it.  It’s incredibly untraditional, unacademic if you like, beginning in an itinerant view, you know, you’re moving around, you’re peripatetic, all the way through that.  How did you end up deciding to go a very formal route in terms of education and then how did that lead you to the place that you are now?

Daniel George

For some reason, I always wanted to be a doctor but didn’t really think I could do medical school for so long because my parents didn’t have the money to support me.  I was working forty hours in a supermarket, which was great, you get to chop fruit and eat fantastic tropical fruit and then stack it out on the shelves but it was difficult to do university and work full-time at the same time so, I thought medicine was a little bit too long so, instead at school I quite enjoyed economics so, I did economics and then I became an economist for the Australian Government, which was great fun but there turned a point where I realised all the friends I grew up with, there was a real barrier to them.  I think most people, you don’t really realise you are poor until you try and do a sort of a postgraduate course because that’s the point at which you walk into a bank and say, “Can I have £50,000 for an MBA?” and they laugh at you and then you go to the sort of the student debt providers and they say, “Hey, for credit card rates of interest, we’ll give you a fraction of the cost” and you say, “What about the rest?” and they say, “Well, most people get their family to contribute that and if you don’t have family to contribute that,” like probably 90% of the population, you just don’t get that Degree and becoming a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, all of these fields require top quality education and postgraduate education, by and large, and that’s just completely excluded so, that was a point I thought, I want to change this system. 

Elliot Moss

I want to just go back to Australia for a moment and you touched on being an outsider in Scotland and the funny little… the welcome that you got, which looking back is a warm welcome, at the time you probably were petrified.  The fact that you were a young boy really in Australia with your family as an outsider, do you think the outsider thing has helped you look at the world more objectively or is it just coincidence that you were able to do that and think about more broadly the notion of fairness and the like, in terms of funding education?

Daniel George

It’s a great question.  I never really thought of myself as an outsider, I just thought it’s a… it’s just different situations.  I felt really lucky to be able to do that and experience lots of different places and people and like Australia was great.  I went from a sort of inner city Council estate to suddenly beachside paradise where you sort of you surf in the morning and it was literally this sort of the pictures you draw as a kid of the Bahamas, suddenly it’s, it’s suddenly come to life so, yeah, it was fantastic and I never really felt like an outsider, I think I sort of became a bit of a chameleon and after a few years, I spoke like an Australian and most of my friends there sort of assumed I was Australian and were quite surprised when I moved back to the UK.

Elliot Moss

And all the jobs that you did before you came back to the UK, just tell me a little bit about how you think, if you could see a golden thread, what would be?  Was there anything that they had in common that led you again to this point that we are now at?

Daniel George

Well, most of the jobs were sort of how do I make enough money to survive and do what I want to do, so I was a brickie, I was a labourer, I was yeah putting rocks in high-rise buildings to… in the flowerpots, which was, looking back, very, very, very dangerous because we had no safety equipment at all and I think the best job I ever had was, yeah, in supermarkets, I actually really enjoyed that, which is a little bit strange because obviously the business is about helping people who would otherwise be stacking shelves in a supermarket become doctors, engineers and lawyers but I think as you get a little bit older then and you suddenly do want a career and you do want a path so, after that I went to University, I did an economics degree, became an economist for the Government and that was sort of driven by a, throughout my life Governments have helped me a lot, society has helped us a lot, they housed us, they fed us, had free school meals as a kid and I sort of thought how do we help make this society better and I thought becoming an economist for the Government was a good way to do that and then it got to a point where I thought actually, when you are trying to describe a solution you think is really good, there was a little bit of frustration at times where politicians would say actually, that’s not the politics of the day and I was a bit more of a naïve sort of purist, I thought well, it’s good for everyone, why don’t we do it and I thought actually, the easiest way to make those solutions real was to do an MBA and actually go into business because then you can, you can effect that change directly instead of trying to influence politicians. 

Elliot Moss

And that was a pivotal moment, right because when you went to do the MBA and you realised the cost of it, it was Cranfield wasn’t it, Cranfield?  Did you then, at that point, go do you know what, there’s a problem here, if you haven’t got the money, you can’t carry on, I’m going to do something about it or did that… was that just a personal thing, you go how am I going to get round this for myself?  At what point did you think I’m actually going to try and solve this problem?

Daniel George

That was exactly it, I was, I looked at a number of MBA programmes, I decided Cranfield was the one I wanted to go to the most but the fees were just a complete barrier, they were astronomical to me at the time.  I got really fortunate that they gave me a full scholarship, without that I would not have been able to go so I am eternally grateful to them for doing that but when I was looking at all the student debt providers, it just wasn’t feasible and the situation hasn’t changed at all, in fact it’s gotten worse, back then banks would give you some of the money, now no bank in the country will give you money to do a… as a student loan and there’s Government grants but the Government says look, we’ll give you £10,000 and you say well what about the other £45,000?  So, yeah, that was the moment I realised actually there’s this barrier to doing what you want to do, even if you get all the offers from all the Universities you want to go to, that’s not the problem, if you are capable, price is the barrier to most people in getting that qualification.

Elliot Moss

And Daniel, how did that make you feel at the time?  Is that, was there a sense of injustice?  A sense of anger?  A bit of both or a more of a I’ve just got to fix this?

Daniel George

Yeah, I think it’s more sort of fascination because as an economist you sort of, you’re taught the world works in this nice system and then suddenly it seemed like this was a bit of a glitch in the matrix.  It was like well, finance providers are there to sort of connect capital and opportunity, it seemed like loads of people had the opportunity to earn far more and be far more in their lives but capital wasn’t properly helping them do that and I just, I really wanted to understand why, which is why after my MBA, I tried to launch this and then had to pay my rent so, decided I needed a job before I did it and then I went into the banking world to try and understand, look, why don’t banks do this today?  Why is there no solution for people to fund their education, in a way that’s available to everyone?

Elliot Moss

And now of course we’re sitting here and we’re going to get into it in a bit.  You are a well-funded business with a nice valuation and Daniel George has been rocking a few boats for quite a while and slowly but surely things are going to change.  You’ll be hearing much more from him very shortly.  Right now, we’re going to hear a taster from the Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions.  They can be found on all the major podcast platforms.  Mishcon de Reya’s Joe Hancock and Katy Ling talk about current trends in cyber fraud and what companies need to do to protect themselves. 

All our former Business Shapers  are available for your delectation on the Jazz Shapers podcast and you can hear this very programme again, if you pop Jazz Shapers into your podcast platform of choice.  My guest today is Daniel George, Founder of StepEx, the fintech startup providing student finance based on future earnings rather than traditional debt.  Do those words describe it?  Is that it in a nutshell, Daniel?  Is that how you pitch it when you are getting people to invest?  Is that how you present your wares to those people looking for financing?

Daniel George

It is.  I think the only difference is for the people providing the education so, Universities, IT bootcamps and now we are even looking into the construction, logistics industries and for them it’s slightly different, for them essentially, if you are a University, what you want more than anything is more applicants and it’s not us actually giving the money to someone, it’s the University saying instead of paying me this money upfront, I’m going to price my qualification differently, I’m going to do that because I want more applicants, I want applicants from… I always say to them look, the Nobel Prize winner on a Council estate who will not become a Nobel Prize winner without your course and your help and that’s what Universities want from… the top Universities so, London Business School, Cambridge, ISEAD, ADSA they are our partners, Cranfield, Buckingham University and then we’ve also got a whole load of other IT bootcamps like The Wagon, Makers Academy, Northcoders and they all do this because they want more applicants, they do it for different reasons.  Some of them say we want more applicants because we want the best, no matter where they come from and I initially went in to them, into those conversations and said hey, poor people deserve a chance and everyone nodded and no one did anything and they didn’t want to adopt this because they said well I want my money now, I don’t want it in the future but actually we realised then what the benefit for Universities and qualification providers is, if they have more applicants, they can say well we’re going to raise the selection criteria and once they raise the selection criteria then they have a better brand, their rankings go up, they can charge more money in the future and like there is a reason a Harvard MBA costs so much and people are willing to pay and it and other courses are not, it’s because they have very high standards to get in, you’ve got a really talented bunch of people you study with and then every single company in the world will accept a Harvard MBA and basically it gets you an interview.  All Universities aspire to increasing their rankings, increasing their brand, so they like those applicants and there are some universities where, and qualification providers, they actually have extra capacity, they say I’ve got a hundred seats in my classroom and I’ve enough applicants at this selection criteria to fill sixty of them but then there’s forty empty seats and that’s a real waste because other than some sort of extra coffee and a tiny bit of the professor’s time, it’s essentially no cost to them to have someone sitting in that seat so, if they can get really talented to sit in those what would otherwise be empty seats, it’s really good for them so, they say look, you can come and sit in one of those seats, you don’t have to pay me anything upfront because you couldn’t afford to and instead what I’ll do is, I’ll share a little bit of the benefit this course gets to you.  A little bit like in music, it’s a bit like a royalty for a qualification.  So you say once you are earning a good salary when you graduate, I’m going to take a small share of that for the five years after you graduate and that’s my payment for your course and if you earn loads of money and this Degree gets you a great job, you are going to pay me a bit more but if this degree doesn’t get you a good job, then you don’t have to pay anything sometimes or less.  And I think that’s the way this should work because it means if you are a qualification provider with a good course then you are going to get paid, if you’re not, you’re not going to get paid and it takes the burden from the student onto the University.

Elliot Moss

What I love about the way you just described it is, it’s kind of an economics thesis.  I mean in a good way.  What I mean is, if you look at what drives the economic engine of Universities and academic establishments, that is it in a nutshell, what you have just said, it’s precisely that.  What really fascinates me though is the following.  You started when you said, you know, I grew up on a Council estate, I could never have imagined living on the beach and all that and these things are amazing.  By the way, no one can imagine living on the beach, right, but in your particular thing, I’ve interviewed many people whose lives have begun in Council estates, I don’t think it’s a coincidence they go off and do stuff.  I don’t think… and of course it’s harder and the consequences of failure are higher and all that and the challenges are bigger but that beginning of life for you, do you think, although you have articulated it in economic terms, do you still think it comes from the sociological beginning of your life and the way that you viewed the world?

Daniel George

Yeah, no, absolutely.  I think it’s… you really have a sort of a sense of community when you grow up when you don’t have much money, your entertainment is playing football with an old leathery ball that you found on the railway tracks on a sort of patch of concrete with holes in it, with all of your friends and that really bonds you together, I think.  So, there’s definitely that sense of look, you want to have the people that you grew up with which, that is the majority of people in the world, there’s very few who are wealthy enough to afford a £100,000 for an MBA.  You want to lift those people up and you want them to do well and be all they can be and it hurts you when you see that they can’t.  So, that was absolutely one of the drivers and funnily enough, we have some very interesting data now because people have graduated, they are repaying a share of earnings and people from really poor backgrounds who actually get into places like Oxford and Cambridge and LBS, they do really, really well when they graduate, far better than the average and it’s not because poor people are smarter than rich people, it’s because some of the stories they tell us, like there was one person who was the only person from his secondary school to ever go to a top University and he told us stories that there were people, there were gangs out the front of his school, there was people getting stabbed and he managed to avoid all of that and he still got an offer from one of the best Universities in the country, to come and do a degree.  And if you go to Eton and you have tutors and you’re sort of trained sometimes to pass those exams, he had none of that, he had to work a job part-time, he had to help feed his family and contribute to the sort of household bills and he still got into one of the best Universities in the land and that means this is someone with a lot of talent, he was probably one in ten thousand.  So, the applications you get from people who actually go through that process and then they’re sitting there next to people who have been trained to pass those exams and have had all of the benefit of a wealthier upbringing, they’re really, really high potential people.  The biggest barrier to him was he just couldn’t afford £50,000 and no bank would give him that money so, we were really fortunate, we were able to provide this option so he could pay with a share of his future earnings.  He’s now graduated, he’s got a great job, actually, he did a law Degree at Oxford and he’s now earning a very good salary at a top law firm and I’m sure he’s going to go on to great things but he said his mum wept when she learnt that he could go to a University like that and do that kind of course and it’s great hearing the stories of people who sort of said look, they had to share bath water with their siblings to save on energy bills and they never wanted to take out debt because they saw the damage of having to put coins into a gas meter did to their parents but this type of financing means well, if they earn a lot, they pay, if the don’t, they don’t, it doesn’t put them into the same financial difficulty as debt.  So, for me, this was just a no brainer, I didn’t understand why it didn’t exist already.

Elliot Moss

There’s a bit in this right, beyond the economics and the sociology, which is just graft and the graft that I, as I did my research looking into this, was the ability that you have had to navigate the regulatory landscape, to work with – and you mentioned you worked at NatWest and you did various other finance jobs to see what the thing was inside, this thing called the financial system – but how did you manage to navigate, I guess, through talking to the regulator, the FCA, working with individuals who helped educate you in terms of what was possible, what wasn’t, because that is no mean feat.  Just help me understand a little bit about that. 

Daniel George

Yeah, I’m not actually sure, to be honest, in hindsight.  I think people sort of gravitated towards this solution because it wasn’t just hey, I’ve got a great idea and I want to make loads of money from it, it was hey there’s lots of people in this world who need this solution and you should help me make it a reality.  So, we had sort of leaders from the financial industry, we had the regulator themselves, they all sort of came together and said we need to make this a reality because we can see how it’s good for society, it’s good for the people, the students, and it’s also good for the Universities so, let’s try and make a way for this to become a reality.  And in the beginning, I thought okay three to six months, we’ll have this done.  Two and a half years later, it was finally done and we’d built a completely new framework for this type of product.  So it took a lot longer than I thought it would and there were definitely times, the first time the regulator said no, they said no twice before we finally got it approved and we had a couple of smaller law firms helping us out in the beginning who tried for a few months and then threw their hands in the air and said this is impossible and I think just knowing that this makes logical sense and I know there’s people that this would help got us through that.  And there were definitely times I thought, yeah, this is tough and you sort of, you get some hammer blows but then you just think back to all the people who would have been better off if this would have existed that you know and we thought, this has to be a reality so, yeah, that basically.

Elliot Moss

But someone in it who had done it and comes through the other side, any kind of structural change, if there was a top tip, apart from, I assume, tenacity and just sheer bloody mindedness, right, I imagine that’s a big part of this, Daniel.  What else would you say, if you were to look back were the secrets of the success of this incredibly difficult thing and I’ve met loads of people who have tried to make change happen and change is fundamentally what entrepreneurship is all about, in many ways.  Change to regulation, is kind of the nightmarish sweet spot, where you have to, you literally have to change the framework, as you said, to make your idea work.  What would you say to people if they are in it or thinking about doing it?

Daniel George

I think for a start, the FCA, so the UK’s financial regular, did a phenomenal job.  Without them, this would have been impossible.  They are the only regulator in the world to have a framework for this product and they worked with us to get this, to make this a reality.  They… we went through the FCA Project Innovate, which is where you get the regulator to help you build something which is in the national interest and I don’t know of any other country in the world that has that type of programme with their regulator so, I think a lot of the credit needs to go to the regulator in the UK but I think it’s sort of just take it one step at a time.  If you think of, these are all the steps I need to get there, you are probably going to give up but if you just think, okay, this is the next step I need to do to, to make this a reality, you sort of somehow blindly walk your way through until you get to the end.

Elliot Moss

He’s still smiling by the way, which is quite a thing after having done what he’s done.  Final chat coming up with Daniel George and there’s some new music from Ezra Collective, that’s in just a moment, don’t go anywhere.

Daniel George is my Business Shaper just for a little bit longer.  So, you are kind of five years into this journey, Daniel, although I, the way I see it is the journey began a long, long, long, long time ago but it’s led you to this point of actually addressing, as you said, a kind of an economic conundrum and a social injustice and so on and so forth.  Where do you see this going?  How big can it be?  At the moment, I think we are in the hundreds of people you have helped.  Can this be a global idea?  You touched on the fact that, you know, credit to the UK and to the innovation that’s within the system over here.  Are you already talking internationally because this is not, you know, and you touched on Harvard being a very expensive place to study and obviously because it’s got, there’s a lot of demand for it.  What do you think is possible for you?

Daniel George

I think this is the way education should be priced so, I think it should be Universities saying we don’t need you to go and find a financial provider, we select the students, we train them and usually we help place them in jobs as well so, we’re going to take that risk, we’re going to accept you’re not going to pay us upfront if you don’t want to, if you have the funds of course that’s good but if not, you can just pay us a share of what you earn in the future and then when you go and get that higher job once you graduate, we’re then going to take a share of that and if you don’t get a good job, that’s fine, you’re going to pay less or nothing for the degree because it didn’t get you to where you, where we told you it would get you.  We have no real outbound sales.  We had Cranfield University was the first to adopt this for Masters and then followed by LBS and University of Buckingham is the first one to say we’re going to do this for undergraduate students and then a whole load of IT bootcamps, Capslock, The Wagon, Makers Academy, they’ve all said this is something that we want to deploy and then from that, we’ve had a whole load of inbound requests from other education institutions who’ve seen it so it’s just spread though word of mouth so far.  So for us, the big opportunity now is to say we’re going to provide this infrastructure, so we’re going to provide the ability for all these education providers, initially across the UK and EU, to let students come and pay with a share of their earnings but absolutely, you touched on the US, it is by far the biggest education market in the world and there is plans to get there eventually but we are focussed at the moment on the UK and the EU because of something called Open Banking Regulations so you can see what people are earning through their bank transaction and that only exists in the UK and EU today.

Elliot Moss

And in terms of you, Daniel, obviously now the business is growing, how many people are currently working in StepEx?

Daniel George

So, currently there’s twelve people in StepEx and we’ve got a few open roles, we’re hiring more people and the technology team is significantly growing because it’s become a technology product.

Elliot Moss

Yeah, and are you comfortable in your own skin with regard to where the leadership piece needs to go?  You are going to be scaling, obviously, there’s the tech, as you said, it’s going to become a fundamentally a technology business underneath the bonnet.  Do you go that’s fine, I’m here, there’s no issue.  Some people kind of get to a point and they go this isn’t for me, I can see the scale is going to be too rapid.  It doesn’t strike me that’s an issue at the moment for you, you seem very happy where things are going.

Daniel George

It’s by far my favourite job, I feel really privileged to be able to work at StepEx.  I think someone told me once that it’s much better to be lucky than smart and I think that’s true so, we got very lucky to be able to hire really good people who are far smarter than I am in technology, operations, sales, so yeah, I can just do my favourite job in the world while people far more capable and better than I actually make sure the business is in really good shape. 

Elliot Moss

It’s been really nice talking to you and it is, what I love about the idea is, it’s a game, it’s a proper gamechanger, I mean this does re-engineer, rewire the structure itself, which will hopefully enable many, many thousands of people over the coming years to enjoy the benefits of a future education and you are challenging the Universities economically as well, I guess, their model is going to need to change if they are looking at future earnings rather than current cash but I am sure they are going to get to that and work that one out.  Great to talk to you.  Just before I let you disappear, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Daniel George

I’d like the song to be Harder Than The Rich Man Says and there’s sort of two stories to this.  The first one I think it really nicely displays what the problem that we’re solving so, it’s about someone from a poor background who gets told, it’s easy to be a lawyer, a doctor or an engineer, comes to the city, so London, and finds that it’s much, much more difficult than his richer friend said and actually, the song ends saying I’m going to tell my son not to do this because it’s far harder.  And then the personal story is, I’m actually that son so, this was written by my father and sung by him with my uncle as well, playing the guitar, and that was thirty years ago, he released this song and luckily, he didn’t stand by that, he really valued education, he was probably overly he was playing sort of times tables audio cassettes as we went to sleep, making us do MENSA puzzles and play chess so he really set us up very well.  So I think it very well displays the problem we’re solving and luckily, now I think it is hopefully a little bit less hard than the rich man says for people from less wealthy backgrounds but there’s another underlying story here as well so, once upon a time, my father and uncle were in the recording studio, recording this song and Led Zeppelin’s tour manager came past and Led Zeppelin’s tour manager really liked this song and he said “I’ll take your card, give me a copy of it” and then a few months later he called them up and he said Jimmy would like to jam with you, he heard your song.  So, Jimmy Page, it was one of my father and uncles’ idols, he’s probably one of the best guitarists ever and my dad always thought actually, I’m not ready and he never called the guy back so, it was an answering machine message, he still has it to this day of Hey Jimmy wants to jam with you in his studio and who knows where that would have led and he just felt, I’m not ready, it’s too overwhelming, I’ll do it one day and I think it really gave me the, it sort of showed me that you just have to do what you want to do in life even if you don’t feel completely prepared and ready, sometimes you just have to go for it and do it.  And at StepEx, many times I’ve felt like that, like how can I go to the regulator and propose a completely new framework?  Sometimes you just have to say look, let’s just do it and see what happens. 

Elliot Moss

That was Harder Than the Rich Man Says from The Great Unknown.  The song choice of my Business Shaper today, Daniel George.  I loved how he, in a quintessential, entrepreneurial manner, was challenging and is challenging the status quo.  It doesn’t have to be the way it is.  I loved his personal investment.  The fact that he said it hurt that people weren’t getting the education that they deserved, underpins his approach to life and making this happen.  And finally, as he said of his song choice, sometimes you’ve just got to not question yourself and you’ve got to go for it.  That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers, have a lovely weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers.  You’ll find hundreds of more guests available for you to listen to in our archive, to find out more just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to Mishcon.com/JazzShapers.

After pursuing an MBA, he was exposed to the lifechanging potential of top tier qualifications but also the high cost that was a barrier to the less wealthy majority. Post-MBA he joined Deutsche Bank and subsequently became a director in a consultancy to the banks to better understand why the financial system couldn’t effectively provide education finance. In 2017 he founded StepEx to solve this problem – an award winning, venture backed fintech, providing the infrastructure for education providers to enable people to pay with a share of their future earnings. From 2022, financial institutions will also be able invest in these future earnings as a new asset class via StepEx. 

Highlights

I became an economist for the Australian Government which was great fun - but there turned a point where I realised all the friends that I grew up were facing real barriers to getting a good education. 

You just don’t get that a degree to become a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer; all of these fields require top quality education and postgraduate education, and by and large that excludes so many - so I thought I want to change this system.   

Throughout my life, Governments have helped me a lot and society has helped me a lot.  

The Government housed us and fed us, so I thought: ‘how do we help make this society better?’ 

The easiest way to really change things was to do an MBA and actually go into business, because then you can affect change directly instead of trying to influence politicians.   

Finance providers are there to connect capital and opportunity and it seemed like lots of people had the opportunity to earn far more and be far more in their lives - but capital wasn’t properly helping them. 

You really have a sort of a sense of community when you grow up that really bonds you together. 

There are very few who are wealthy enough to afford a £100,000 for an MBA. You want to lift those other people up and you want them to do well and be all they can be, and it hurts you when you see that they can’t.  

There were definitely times I thought ‘yeah, this is tough’ and you get some hammer blows - but then you think back to all the people who would have been better off if this would have existed - and we thought, ‘this has to be a reality’. 

If you think that about all the steps you need to achieve something, you are probably going to give up. If you think about the smaller steps to make something a reality, you can walk your way through to the end. 

I can just do my favourite job in the world while people far more capable and better than I make sure the business is in really good shape.   

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