Belfast Telegraph

‘We are helping this generation with managing their finances’

Small Business Can

By Lisa Smyth

Gavin Shields was just nine years of age when he first displayed a flair for business, producing and selling a newspaper to friends at school.

Fast forward just under three decades and he is the chief executive of Yomo, a Belfast-based company aimed at helping young people make the most of their money.

The firm has developed, built and launched a money management app in just a matter of months and Gavin said he hopes it will be used by one million people in the UK within the next five years.

It is an ambitious target but one that 37-year-old Gavin is confident the company can achieve.

With a professional background that includes working for a large US venture capital firm and starting up and growing a tech company, Gavin has the credentials to make a success of Yomo.

However, he said that building the right team will be crucial when it comes to business.

He founded Yomo with Steven Hylands, Phil McClure and Will McNeilly.

The team came together quite by accident when Gavin met Steven for coffee.

Gavin said: "We went to school together - he was a friend of a friend, really, as he was about five years below me, but we met up a couple of years ago for coffee.

"I told him what I wanted to do and he was really interested.

"He'd been working with Phil and Will and within three or four days we had all sat down and talked about what I was trying to achieve and within a few weeks we had set up an office in Belfast."

Originally, they developed savings app PiggyPot, which was launched in May 2016, but the team subsequently decided to develop the idea further and introduce investment capabilities, so began working on Yomo in May last year.

Gavin said: "We have been working in personal finance for a couple of years and had identified that a perfect storm is happening, particularly for people in the age range of about 20 to 35 where wages are remaining static, house prices are skyrocketing and it is very difficult to get on the property ladder.

"More needs to be done as we are going down a black hole of people getting into more and more debt and we want to do something to help those people."

The Yomo app has three sections - the first, which was launched in November, is a savings scheme for users.

Users set up an automatic weekly deposit, which is held in guaranteed, fully authorised and FCA regulated accounts with Barclays.

Gavin added: "We are empowering this generation to manage their finances and help them to create wealth.

"We want it to be done in a fun way. We're getting rid of all the gobbledygook, we are dealing with money in a fun and educational way as it can be a scary thing to look at, particularly if you are in debt.

"The savings product can be set up very quickly, we only ask for the minimum of detail compared to a bank, which can be off-putting to people.

"In fact, it can be set up in 30 seconds.

"The second part of the app, which we are launching this month, is the educational part to help people learn a bit more about the basics.

"It will answer questions about whether it makes sense to save, how inflation affects savings.

"For example, if inflation is 3% and the interest rate is 0.5%, for every single year your money is held in a savings account, it becomes less and less and less and there comes a time when you should consider investing the money.

"The third part of the app will be an investment element, which will be launched in the summer."

Since it was established in May, the number of people employed by Yomo has grown to nine, including a person working in London.

Gavin said he hopes staff levels will rise to between 10 and 15 this year as they continue to grow the business.

The creation of a detailed business plan will be crucial in doing this.

"Sometimes one of the biggest challenges is actually forcing yourself to step back and think where you will be in three or five years.

"There are so many pressing issues today and you are focussing on today but you also need to think about the future and that's why I know exactly how many users we want to have in five years.

"It is an ambitious plan but if we do things right, it is definitely achievable."

Product development and meeting customer requirements has also been very important to Gavin.

"We are constantly talking to users and potential users to pinpoint exactly what it is they need, what they think," he continued.

"We do that a couple of times a week and every time we do it, we learn something new.

"We are using a mobile app at the moment as it is the best way to help people, but in 10 years it could be with a chatbot.

"We might not even be using apps by then, we use an app as it is the best delivery mechanism for our service.

"Setting up your own business is definitely harder than I ever thought.

"It is incredibly exciting but it takes a lot of work and you have to put your heart and soul into it.

"It's not just like another job where if you lose it, it would be upsetting, there is much more attachment to it.

"I don't think anyone can prepare you for how difficult starting up a business can be."

Belfast Telegraph

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