Learn the story of money, like energy flowing around a system. Understand how it contributes and takes away from other systems. People don’t see how investment can make a difference, they just focus on the pennies in their pocket — but it’s so much more than that when you connect the dots.
As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Georgia Stewart. Georgia believes sustainable investment is the best way to affect positive change at global scale. She studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge, focusing on climate change and conservation. During her degree, she sat on the Positive Investment Committee, tasked with improving the way Cambridge invested its £6bn endowment; fighting for transparency, ethics and shareholder engagement. She’s worked for multiple green investment teams, such as Jupiter Asset Management; as well as on the Natural Capital Coalition with NGO Fauna & Flora International. Georgia is now Co-Founder of Tumelo, a fintech startup designed to give transparency and influence to investors who want to make an impact with their money.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
I never planned to go into finance — I actually came to it through the sustainability side, by studying climate change and conservation. While at Cambridge University, I became involved in the positive investment movement, encouraging the university to change the way it invested its six billion pound investment pot. Between 2012 and 2018 £6.4 trillion was dis-invested from fossil fuel companies by institutions from Bristol all the way to Honolulu. The groundswell for change was immense, and so exciting. Through that work I realised that I could make a much greater impact by working in sustainable finance than on individual conservation projects. And that was that.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far?
I’ll choose amusing, but really I mean traumatic. When we bootstrapped the business to begin with, Ben and I moved into our third co-founder’s parent’s house. Dogs, and siblings and all. At some point a grandparent moved in. It was mayhem. While incredibly grateful to Catherine and Charly, we were over the moon when we raised pre-seed investment after 6 months and could afford to move out. I guess they do say that discomfort is a good source of motivation!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
At Tumelo, we are working on a project for shareholder activism. We want to give transparency and a voice to retail investors, who at the moment can’t see what they’re investing in or speak to the companies they own. We’re going to change that.
One key difference is that much of investment innovation is designed to benefit the big investors themselves: big funds, high net worths etc. We’re talking about changing the way that everyday people invest — through their pensions and their ISAs, however much money they have. These smaller investors wouldn’t typically have a voice on their own, they need to be a part of an investor community, so that’s what we’re building.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
As a fintech startup, I think we stand out because of where we came from. Each of us — myself and my two co-founders — are scientists; and we came from a campaigning background, not finance. I’m very passionate about the sustainable finance movement and I want to encourage others to ask questions: Where is our money going? What activities is it supporting? What is it building? Tobacco companies or medical research? Oil exploration or renewable energy? Illegal mines or clean water developments?
For me, the finance element is a means to an end. So few people realise that investing can be a tool for positive change. Our platform is about transparency, creating influence, and helping individuals to come together to build a better world through our money while it grows.
Of course, we want good returns just like the rest. We just know there’s no point saving for a world we don’t want to retire into, so we’re betting on a better one.
Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
I spend a lot of time pitching, and it’s still very much an all white boys club in many cases.
That said, there are loads of women in the positive investing space: impact investing, sustainable investing, green investing, ESG investing — whatever you want to call it. There are definitely more women in those angles of the industry. That’s supported by our own primary research, which shows women are, on average, more passionate about sustainable investing than men.
I think our ‘lower risk tolerance’ lends itself to sustainability: where is my money going? What’s it funding? Does it align with my personal values? It seems like we think more deeply about the consequences of our decisions.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and /or c) society to support this movement going forward?
For individuals, we should be conscious of our unconscious bias and of our own privilege. For companies, I think it’s about offering flexible working and having role models. Mentoring has been so important to me, but because of the industry I’m in, I often have to go to male role models. I’m really grateful for all of them but I can’t deny that the advice I get from women can sometimes feel more ‘me’.
There is a big push for gender equality but in the startup space we have many other challenges too. For example, there’s a socioeconomic issue which is rarely talked about. I personally don’t know many founders who have come from disadvantaged backgrounds, for example, and often think about how much harder this would be if I didn’t have a supportive family to fall back on when things go wrong.
I’ve heard investors casually describe the expectation of founders to put everything on the line for their idea: to mortgage the house, to eat beans for dinner. That’s a very limited picture of ambition. However passionate she might be, a mother with two kids is unlikely to put their home on the line. Similarly, someone who knows what it’s like to have nothing might be less likely to risk going there again, however good their idea might be. I’m speculating, but that traditional view of a founder who ‘really wants it’ seems inherently bias to me.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.
Since I’m pretty much an “adult child” myself, I can talk to my own experience but no one has time for five so I’ll give you three:
- Learn the story of money, like energy flowing around a system. Understand how it contributes and takes away from other systems. People don’t see how investment can make a difference, they just focus on the pennies in their pocket — but it’s so much more than that when you connect the dots.
- Read about the pension industry. And let its scale blow your mind: apparently the total value of the UK pension industry is 120% of GDP. Imagine what we could do with that money if it was invested with the remit of doing good? Renewable energy, sustainable transport, healthcare systems, social housing…
- Join a personal finance group, like a book club for money. It will help with education & accountability! I run a female climate change finance group in Bristol — we have great fun!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My Dad is an entrepreneur, but in a very different field — marquees! Ever since I was little, he has told me that I should do something that scales (because marquees definitely don’t)! He had so much freedom while I was growing up, and he loves being an entrepreneur. I guess he pushed me to take risks I might not have naturally!
As a business, we’ve been supported by many different accelerator programmes too, like SETsquared in Bath, and the Natwest accelerator. The Finance Innovation Lab in London has been amazing too, an all women team helping me to hold onto our original purpose (sometimes it’s hard to cling onto that when you’re trying to make everyone else happy!)
I’ve enjoyed the support of mentors who have helped me with the stuff which you can’t learn quickly, like team building.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Mae West — “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough”
I have crazy high expectations so I’m often disappointed — that’s probably my worst flaw. But looking back, I’m so proud of what our team has achieved over the last year. We’ve absolutely smashed it. This one life is definitely enough: I love what I’m doing and I’m learning so much.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Inspiring a movement is exactly what we’re doing! After all, what is more powerful in the world than money? There are trillions of pounds in the world, and if we harness that money and do great things with it then we wouldn’t need sustainable development goals..
The world’s economy needs to be more circular: we need investment to solve problems like poverty, hunger, and climate change. We need investment to grow food, plant forests, dig wells. If we can inspire a movement where the world wakes up and asks “Where is my pension and how can do I good with it?” then you can change the world entirely.
Thank you for these great insights!