We catch up with Sarah Marks, CEO of RedSTART, who MRM recently entered into a long-term partnership with. As part of the relationship, RedSTART will become the official charity partner of MRM. We hear from Sarah on the biggest influences in both the asset management and the charity industry, financial advice for her past self, and the largest issue affecting her clients currently.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do
I am the CEO of RedSTART Educate, so I run a not for profit. RedSTART Educate is a financial education and social mobility charity. My ambition is to shut the charity down in 2030, because by then we will have provided the government with the evidence that they say they need and the blueprint for them to follow, in order for them to roll out this primary school financial education to every primary school in the country, which is 20,000 primary schools, 4.7 million children. I own that strategy and it’s my job to support the team to get to the point where we have proved that it works, and we’ve also demonstrated that it’s scalable – those are the 2 key things that we need to do in order for the government to pay attention. We’ve also commissioned research from King’s College independent of us, to track our pupils to demonstrate independently the impact of our work.
What do you think has been the biggest influence on your career and in the industry you work in?
In terms of my career, I would say people. When you’re growing through your career, people around you are links in a chain. The right people come along at the right time, and you learn and gain from their mentoring, from watching them, from the suggestions they make, from the connections made, and even from mistakes they make, without almost realising it’s happening at the time. It’s only when you look back that you think gosh, those conversations I had with them really set me off on that track. In terms of the industry I work in, this is a new industry for me. I’ve only been in not for profit for about four years, and prior to that I was in asset management. In asset management, the really big change was the adoption of Liability-Driven Investment (LDI). I was in an organisation that was at the leading edge of that at the time, so it was very exciting getting involved in something that was really new and figuring everything out as we went along. In the not for profit sector I think we all learn from one another. I don’t think there’s a single charity that exists that doesn’t fill a role in some way. It’s like a load of fingers plugging all the holes that exist in society. Every single one, be they tiny or huge, is working on something that matters to people.
Is there a particular project or campaign that you’ve been a part of that you’re most proud of?
I’m really proud of RedSTART, and proud of the way that we’ve got this off the ground and the extent to which we’ve attracted funding and strategic partners. This whole thing really means a lot to me, and in the environment we’re in at the moment, obviously right now we’ve got the cost-of-living crisis and inflation and the cost of power and energy going through the roof, and we’ve got lots of families in repeat cycles of debt that they’re really struggling with. Whilst I’m not suggesting that understanding how money works and how to manage and take control of your life is a silver bullet for everybody, there are a lot of people who would be better mentally and financially if they’d had the skills to manage their financial situation and been taught how to deal with it when they were young. These young people we work with are growing up in a world where they’re going to have to stand much more on their own two feet, financially. Retirement for them is going to look very different to the retirement that they’ve seen their parents and grandparents enjoy.
Is there a book or podcast that’s essential listening for you?
I tend to read as more of a relaxation thing when I’m on holiday, but most of my weekly and daily life is with podcasts – I like The Rest is Politics, which is a Rory Stewart and Alastair Campbell podcast that I listen to regularly. I like the Good Life Project, which is about how people have changed the way they think about their lives, and it makes you think about how you do that with yours. And, because I lived in America for a while and I’ve always had a love affair with America, I also like This American Life which is about odd and quirky things that go on in American life, culture and society.
Is there a column or website do you read every day?
I read The Guardian online every day, I don’t think there’s a particular column within it, I’ll read down through it. I’m particularly interested in anything that has a social mobility angle. I read that on my iPad when I’m travelling around.
If you could give a younger version of yourself one piece of financial advice, what would it be?
To start planning and saving earlier, probably. I never really understood the impact of compound interest and therefore, the value that putting money away when I was very young would have. I almost resented the money that went into my pension when it was compulsory to remove it because you have mortgages and stuff like that that you’re dealing with and it’s quite a lot of money, seeing it come out. That’s the one piece of advice I’d give myself, is put a bit more in than you’re required to, because you’ll be glad of it later.
What’s the biggest issue affecting your clients currently?
Well, I have three clients currently: Our corporate partners who fund us, the volunteers who work with us and the schools that we support. The schools are really having a tough time and the cost-of-living crisis has been really difficult for them and they have an awful lot going on right now. The teachers, I mean I have so much respect for all teachers but especially for the ones that choose to work in this sector with schools that are serving communities that are more deprived and face bigger challenges. A lot of our schools are running food banks for their families. I find that shocking really, I never would have thought that in 2022 we would be in a situation where the schools are running food banks for the families that form part of their community. Some of these children lead really chaotic lives as do the adults that are trying to provide for them. It’s a hard, hard way to live without hope, without money, without status and without support, it’s tough for anybody. There isn’t enough help in social care and mental health support for either the adults or the children, the waiting lists are getting longer and longer for referrals. It’s really tragic, because for somebody who is really suffering, waiting 2 or 3 months is a long time when you’ve got a problem like that. We’re focused on one piece of the problem; but everyone in the third sector is working to plug the various gaps.
What would you do first if you received a windfall of £10,000 today?
I’d book a big house to take my family and friends to, like a national trust house or something like that for a week. Somewhere where you could all go together and do a lunch for them all, I think that would be great. I think with the rest, I might buy a car, I haven’t got a car at the moment. An old car, like a Triumph Herald, they’re really cute. They’re very old but I’d like to have a really old car. I would really like that.