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Money Mentors project

Money Mentors is an initiative funded by the widening participation department at King’s College, London, to help students from under-represented backgrounds get into university and be successful while they’re there. We spoke with with Rachel Glover, a former student money adviser at King’s College, on this subject. 

BB: Could you give us an insight as to what you do at King’s College London?

Rachel: I’m part of a dedicated team of student money advisors that help all prospective, current and recently-graduated students on a broad range of issues. Not just money, but housing, immigration, and welfare, among other things.

Can you tell us a bit more about what a Money Advisor does?

We can help with all sorts of areas – student finance, welfare benefits, budgeting, managing your money, getting retail and travel discounts. We can also help students that get into hardship with debt management.

What is the Money Mentors Initiative and why did you start it?

The Money Mentors project is funded by the Widening Participation Department at King’s College. They help students from under-represented backgrounds get into university and be successful while they’re there. It started last year via a grant and we trained 14 students to be able to give money advice, where to go for help, and how to access bursaries and grants from the college. Now that we’re starting our second cycle, we’ll have experienced mentors that can train new recruits. They also help us with our annual campaigns like Money Week.

Are there any other activities you do on a regular basis?

Yes! Money Mentors attend welcome events for prospective students, telling them about university life and how they manage their money, as well as workshops for students that are already on a course. They also speak at special events or talks and get involved in campaigns.

What’s the main motivation for students to become Money Mentors?

They’re very keen to get an alternative experience to put on their CV. Lots of students are trying to be more employable and that’s a big motivator for them. They also like the focus on helping peers and many agree this is an area of advice that is generally lacking. You rarely hear anything about how to budget or how to manage your money when you’re in school or college.

How does it impact on student finances? What sort of feedback have you had from students who came to a Money Mentor event?

We had a lot of good feedback from our Money Week, but mostly from the Mentors themselves. A lot of them said the students they spoke to weren’t aware of any of the support available to them. What might seem obvious to us may not be for them; lots of students don’t know that they can get discounts on their Oyster card, for example.

To address this Money Mentors will be giving information about financial support and discounts during induction week. At the Freshers Fair and at various talks students will be hearing about the Mentors and Blackbullion right from the first week that they’re here.

Is it the personal connection Money Mentors have with the students that’s valuable? That a peer-to-peer conversation is preferred over an email or post on the website?

Definitely – the peer-to-peer connection adds authenticity and it’s more engaging. They’re much more open speaking to fellow students and it’s more of an honest and frank conversation.

Can this initiative stop people from getting to a point where they have to come to you and say, “I’m in really deep financial trouble”? Is it a preventative measure?

We’re hoping that students will take the steps right from the beginning to budget and manage their money well so that they don’t end up in trouble later down the line. We’ve done a lot to raise the profile of our services, so we’re getting more people coming. But I don’t think that’s because there are suddenly more people in trouble, I just think that those people weren’t reaching out for help before.

Would you encourage other universities to start a similar program? Do you think it’s a good initiative to pick up?

Definitely. I mean, certainly the peer-to-peer support is a great way to engage. I’m sure universities will have struggles, just like we do, in getting people to engage in money management, for example. But if you can get other students to share their personal stories it’s more authentic and they’re more likely to engage, I think.

How is Blackbullion included in this program?

Blackbullion is one of the tools that Money Mentors use to initiate a conversation with a student:

“Have you thought about budgeting? Have you thought about improving your knowledge of money and how to manage your finances?”

And then they’ll say, “Well, King’s has partnered with Blackbullion, a free digital learning platform that will equip you with money skills for life”. We use the word ‘partnered’ now, which has a positive connotation. 

Then they would tell them how to sign up, explain what it is, why it’s a good thing for them to have a look at. I can tell students this in one-to-one appointments but it’s easier for the Money Mentors to capture a bigger audience than I would be able to.

What advice would you give to other Money Advisors around the country who would like to roll out a similar program?

Firstly, keep it light-hearted, keep it fun. It’s not about lecturing students or making budgeting boring. It’s about engaging people and making conversations about money less taboo.

Secondly, make sure to recruit students who are genuinely passionate about the role, understand it well, and know when something needs to be passed to an advisor. Also have an awareness that every student is in a different situation, so don’t make any presumptions.

And thirdly, make use of your brilliant partners. People like Blackbullion or the Student Money Manual.

Money Mentors give advice on topics such as how to sort out your Oyster card, how to get a particular discount or what do you need to apply for to get extra things. The sort of basic advice that can be very quickly implemented and doesn’t really affect your whole financial structure. – Rachel Glover, former Money Adviser, King’s College London

 

Note: This interview was conducted in 2016.

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