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Dr Emma Black – MD of North East cash management company Cascade and 2020’s Women In Finance Cash Management Woman of the Year – shares the challenges and triumphs of being a female finance leader.

Written by High Life North
Published 08.12.2020

Dr Emma Black – MD of North East cash management company Cascade and 2020’s Women In Finance Cash Management Woman of the Year – shares the challenges and triumphs of being a female finance leader and offers up some pecuniary pearls of wisdom as we head into 2021…

You were recently named Women in Finance’s National Cash Management Woman of the Year – congratulations! What does this award win mean for you? And for Cascade?

It means a great deal to be recognised with such a prestigious award, particularly after so many years of working hard to get to this point. I’m thrilled! And what’s great about awards in general for Cascade – particularly with awards like this one – is that it gives a great deal of reassurance to those considering using or investing into our service. We’ve been a business that has mainly distributed through third-party advisors, so we’ve been largely a business-to-business company to date. We’ve white-labelled our proposition for other advisors and, in doing so, we’ve always kept Cascade as a brand in the background. Going forwards, we’re looking at expanding our services by reducing our entry point from £250,000 downwards. With this in mind, these types of awards and the recognition that comes with them should hopefully bring that degree of trust and respect from the industry, which will be invaluable going forwards. 

You currently sit in a figure of just 15% globally where women are finance leaders. What would you say are some of the biggest challenges women in the industry currently face?

There are many challenges that are facing women in finance, and unfortunately, none of these are particularly new. One of the classic challenges facing women is whether they are going to have a baby or not. I had my first baby about 15 months ago now and she’s an absolute delight, but that’s been a real challenge. As a woman, you’ve had a career where you’ve been very flexible and been able to work all the hours that you need to then suddenly your routine changes and you have to be disciplined to have that work/life balance. There’s a sense within the industry that once you have a baby you’re going to be done – your priorities are going to change and you’re not going to have that same professional hunger. I don’t think that’s fair and it’s definitely not the case for everybody. I don’t see it as a mutually exclusive choice. Yes, biologically, we women are going to have the babies, but that shouldn’t mean that our career is predetermined as being cut short as soon as you fall pregnant. That mindset has a particularly big impact when employers write off some really talented individuals or don’t provide the flexibility and support initially needed forcing those individuals to choose between working and incurring childcare costs or not working and missing out on careers that they have worked so hard for. A lot of women are forced out of the industry by not having that initial flexibility from their employers. 

But there’s also a vast amount of women who don’t have children and don’t want to have children – and sometimes they get impacted just in case they might! Long before I even had a baby, I had clients and managers that would say: “are you wanting to have a baby? Because I don’t want to invest this time with you if you’re going to go and have a baby”, as if it were a crime! If I was a man, that would never have been said. That happens a lot. 

There’s also traits of the female personality that come into play. We seem to doubt ourselves a bit more inherently. We don’t seem to naturally have as much aggression or confidence as a male equivalent would. I think sometimes it’s having our voices heard and respected that is one of the greatest challenges we face. And that’s something that, together, we’re collectively responsible for. A woman’s voice is just as important and should be heard just as much as a man’s. 

How did you get into wealth management as a career?

Really, through my family. I’ve got two older brothers, Stephen and Mark, who are six years older than me (they’re identical twins) and have been a fantastic example to follow. When they were thinking about going to university to study Law, as a family we looked at what would be a great skill set to have. I’ve always liked numbers since I was very little – I used to play with a cash register! – so I decided that if my brothers were going into the law side of things, I would complement and move into the money side. 

I had a serious car accident in my second year of my undergraduate which I am fortunate to have survived but it did incur four operations in the aftermath of that which took an initial toll. On top of that, we obviously had the financial market crisis in 2008, the year I completed my undergraduate, so I decided to stay on at uni to do a Masters to keep moving forward. During my Masters, Durham University asked me if I would stay on and do a PhD and offered to fund it, so that’s what I did. My focus was always in academic supporting industry and I helped companies in China who were looking to invest globally. My PhD supervisor was Chinese and I worked very closely with him to set up events in Beijing, working with a number of large Chinese corporates such as PetroChina and China Three Gorges. We also set up the China Research and Development Centre at Durham University. In 2012, my brother and I decided to bring our skill sets together and I started to migrate more and more into the industry, finally leaving academia in 2015 to set up Cascade. 

Tell us about how Cascade began.

My brother had joined the banking industry in 2007, starting at Barclays then moving to Kleinwort Benson before then on to Coutts. He left Coutts in 2012 to set up independently and asked if I would join. So me, him and one of my students – Tristan de Gabiole – started Cascade out of my kitchen! In between lectures, I was updating savings rates and building up our database with various banks. By 2015, it became increasingly apparent that I just couldn’t do both time-wise, so I left the university and went into Cascade full-time. Since then, we’ve been looking at supporting universities and schools from the industry side and I’m on the North East Regional Committee for the Chartered Institute of Securities and Investment, and my brother and I have also co-founded a new bank coming through – GBB, the Great British Bank.

Why should we consider professional wealth management advice, and how wealthy do you actually have to be to seek wealth management advice?

Cascade has an entry point, as of today, of £250,000. However, we’re busy digitising our on-boarding process, and that will allow us to reduce our entry point from £250,000 downwards. Our vision is that we want to be able to offer our services irrespective of wealth. 

In terms of why you should consider professional advice, the best example I can give is that if I’ve got a problem with plumbing, I don’t want the plumber that comes in to fix that problem limited to my knowledge of plumbing. The reality is, there are experts in certain fields for a reason. So when you live and breathe the market in financial services, you’re going to be much more abreast of the banks and building societies that are out there, as opposed to the average person who will just see the banks and building societies on the high street. Many haven’t heard of the new banks coming through, such as Starling and Monzo, or of all the supermarket banks that are now available and are, very often, offering much better rates. So you should consider taking professional advice because they will have knowledge beyond what the commitments in your life will allow you to have. 

In terms of how wealthy you have to be, it really depends on the organisation as to where you can gain support. Some services can work right the way from £1 and there are others focus on growing wealth and financial inclusion, so really at any level you should seek wealth management advice. There’s a fantastic book called The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason, which explains that it really doesn’t matter how much you earn – it’s how you manage your money and how you grow your money. If you earn £1 million a year, but you’re driving a Ferrari and you are living in a £3 million house and you’re out shopping every day buying Mulberry handbags, then the reality is that you might not have a lot of free cash. It’s the same thing for the other end of the scale. You can have people that are earning £16,000 a year, but they’re financially disciplined, they grow their money and they can get to be mortgage-free. So it’s understanding that every decision in your life has an opportunity cost and that, from a financial perspective, having financial discipline will lead you managing and growing your money in the right areas. We should all be seeking that advice to understand what is an asset, what is a liability and, irrespective of our salaries, how we should be using our money to make more money. 

What’s the difference between your everyday banking options (with Lloyds, NatWest, Santander, etc.) and companies like Cascade?

Cascade is a bank agnostic savings solution. So we track every single bank and building society and all the savings products that they can offer on any given day – from instant access right through to 5 years. So what we offer is an independent source of information. We aren’t paid by any of the banks or building societies, so we’re completely agnostic in terms of where your money is going. And we base our recommendations on a client’s bespoke requests. So if they tell us they want their cash to be instant access, then we’ll find the best instant-access account for them. And that’s whole of market, not just what’s the best available on our panel. So the differences between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is that we’re whole of market, we’re bank agnostic, we work for the client and we provide full savings information. 

There have probably been fewer challenging and uncertain periods of time for managing your wealth than 2020. As we head into the new year, what advice would you give people in the region about protecting their wealth?

I think the key thing about uncertainty is that (clearly) you just don’t know what’s going to happen. So uncertainty can be a risk to your portfolio and your finances, but it can also be an opportunity. In that regard, it’s important to take stock in terms of your position. Start off with cash: how much money do you need available to give you a sensible cash buffer, making sure you have 3–6 months salary cover is considered a good level to aim for. If you’re running a business, do the same. The next thing is then working out where the risks that you think you’re facing are and consider how you can diversify those. For example, if you work in a particular sector, you might not want to invest directly into that sector inasmuch as you’ll then have double exposure. And then finally, look to see where the opportunities are – and that’s when you should look at getting some professional advice. 

Read as much as possible and look to speak to people if you can. LinkedIn is a great tool to connect with people and ask their opinions. There are also some great online tools available that can give access to professional advice without the fees that are normally associated with obtaining that advice. Some of the new banks coming through – like Monzo and Starling – provide some fantastic technology to enable people to understand their spending habits and what their savings goals are.

So that can all be boiled down to: minimise your costs; make sure you’ve got a healthy balance of cash in terms of incomings versus outgoings; and make provisions for tomorrow – firstly, by making sure you’ve got enough of a cash buffer and that you’re adding to that regularly, and secondly that you’re taking the greatest opportunities that you can at any given time.

Anything else to add?

We’d just like to wish the HLN team and the readers a fantastic start to the new year! For more information about Cascade Cash Management, visit their website

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