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Women's finance: Q and A with SkilledSmart founder Paridhi Jain

Paridhi Jain is the founder of SkilledSmart, a money school for adults that offers practical financial education courses in Sydney and online. Paridhi caught up with Six Park head of communication Erika Jonsson to talk about why she started her business and her top tips for building financial confidence and knowledge.

Paridhi Jain Skilled Smart Founder

What inspired you to start SkilledSmart?

One of my early jobs was at the Cancer Council, assessing whether people may be eligible for pro bono legal assistance. That was my first exposure to people in financial stress. I also saw how many people struggled with understanding their finances. That was my first wake-up call. The second wake-up call was more personal. I was changing my super fund, which inspired a lot of conversations with my friends, and I realised that the level of financial literacy wasn’t great among my friends either. They were well-educated working professionals, but they were often ‘winging it’ and didn’t really understand things like investing, superannuation or tax.

It made me question how ordinary Australians who, like many of my friends, don’t have commerce or finance qualifications, could get their finances ‘sorted’. The main answer was by paying for financial advice. But it’s expensive and it’s not accessible for most people. So I thought, what’s the answer for the rest of Australia? If you can’t afford a personal trainer, you go to a gym, right? So I saw that there was a space for a middle-market product that was more accessible by bringing down the price. My students still get access to professional financial guidance and knowledge, but in a group setting, where the planners don’t have to give personal advice, it’s more affordable. So I started SkilledSmart in mid-2017; it’s a six-week course in a small-group setting.

What’s the most common challenge you see people facing?

It’s probably dismantling some of people’s preconceived notions around money and finance. For example, in the first class recently, someone said “Surely it’s not that simple?”. People’s preconceptions around how much knowledge you need or how good you need to be with numbers can be quite destructive and harmful, so that can be challenging.

When I started, financial progress was what I wanted to see, but what’s also been really gratifying is the emotional transformation that I can see – people often start feeling overwhelmed and intimidating, and they finish feeling interested and empowered, and that’s really the most important shift to make. If you can help someone make that shift, they will continue on their own and keep learning. People have talked about their relationships changing, about feeling ready to move out of home, about taking big steps. That’s a great feeling.

What was the first thing you remember saving for? How long did it take?

I didn’t save a single cent from my first job – it just seemed to bleed dry. After that I did a bit better; I saved for a uni trip to go to India for a volunteer program for a month, which was pretty cool.

My parents were migrants and didn’t have a lot of money in their early years in Australia; that impacted me because I saw how tight money was, how much they valued education, and how hard they worked. But the interest in financial education started pretty young. By some coincidence, my older brother read Rich Dad, Poor Dad when I was 10 and so, of course, I had to read it too –and it was instrumental in changing how I understood the role of ‘money’ and how it works.

What’s the best advice you ever received about money, and who gave it to you?

Learning the difference between money and wealth was really significant – that came from Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and that was the idea that was planted when I was really young. That’s been the foundation of where my interest in finance and investing began.

What was your first investment?

My super fund. We’re quite lucky in Australia that way; we have that compulsory system of investing set up for us that helps us get started at a young age, if we get engaged with it. We try to really get people think about this through our courses. Start with your super if you can.

What’s the general gender split in your courses?

When I started, I never intended the course to be seen as a woman’s product – it’s gender-neutral and delivered that way – but about 80% of our student base is probably female. It knocks on a lot of assumptions that society has built that suggest women aren’t interested in finance. But the financial services industry hasn’t generally spoken in a way that’s attractive or engaging to women. Imagery around wealth looks very different for men and women – there are so many great movies and books about men and money, but when it comes to women and money it’s often all about shopping and spending. That really doesn’t help women feel empowered to take charge of their finances.

The gender pay gap starts to create financial disadvantage for women from the very beginning of our careers. What’s your message or advice for women who are looking for ways to bridge that gap?

The structural issues are outside our control, but there are a lot of things you can do individually that can have a huge impact on the balance you have for retirement. All of that stems from education. You can’t control the gender pay gap, but you can control whether you consolidate your super fund or put it in a high-growth portfolio. Investing in financial education pays for itself so invest in education until you feel that you’re in control. It’s never too late to start learning, and many women don’t start managing their own finances until later in life – that might make it feel intimidating, but the foundations are actually pretty simple and you can make huge progress in a short time. Working on your priorities and values financially is also a really important exercise.

SkilledSmart runs regular courses online and in Sydney. For more information, visit https://skilledsmart.com.au or email info@skilledsmart.com.au

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