From Warwick Economics graduate to FinTech entrepreneur: Interview with alumna Elisabeth PragerWednesday 28 Jun 2023
Meet Elisabeth Prager, Warwick Economics alumna and co-founder of money advice company Aila. Elisabeth graduated from Warwick in 2009 with a first-class degree in Economics and Economic History and worked in a variety of roles in the financial services industry before establishing her own management consultancy in 2019. She has worked with multinational for-profit and non-profit organisations to help them solve strategic challenges.
Elisabeth (pictured above left) recently launched Aila Money with her close friend Nitika Vyas (above right), a Warwick alumna from the class of 2008. Here she tells us about the aims of Aila and how she has used learning from her economics degree throughout her career.
Why did you establish Aila?
Nitika and I met after university and bonded because we both worked in finance, as well as both being Warwick graduates! Working in the finance sector, it struck us how much financial advice was available to people who had money.
But at the same time, our friends were coming to us for guidance on investing. Questions like ‘How does investing work and what kind of product or fund might be right for me?’ or ‘What is ESG (Environmental Social and Governance) investing and how do I know my money is doing good?’ kept cropping up.
We became increasingly dissatisfied with how the financial services industry is exacerbating wealth inequalities. There is a huge money advice gap, especially with the younger generation and women. A Royal London report estimated that approximately 75% of the UK population don’t receive independent financial advice, and without this, individuals stand to lose an estimated £48k on average every ten years. In addition, the gender investment gap is substantial, with high-earning women losing out on almost £800k over their careers by not investing (Ellevest 2018).
At the same time, we realised there was a huge inter-generational wealth transfer taking place. In the UK alone, between 2020-2050, £5.5tn is due to be transferred into the Millennials’ and Gen Z’s hands (FT Advisor, 2020). In addition, by 2025, 60% of the UK’s wealth is projected to belong to women (WealthiHer, 2019). For these groups, having access to high-quality independent financial advice is essential.
With the current cost of living crisis, rising interest rates and high inflation, financial stress is also on the rise. These gaps and inequalities seemed worthy issues to tackle.
So, what is Aila Money?
Aila Money is a personal finance coaching solution for people embarking on or in the middle of successful careers, who are looking to be more financially effective and efficient.
Aila comprises three core capabilities:
Aila Assistant is a digital financial assistant that provides users with a complete overview of their finances and gives them personalised prompts and information to help them better plan and manage their money, in line with their life goals and financial situation. The prompts leverage behavioural science principles to nudge people into action. Financial learning modules are also embedded into Aila Assistant.
An example of a prompt might be something along the lines of ‘I notice you don’t have a Lifetime ISA, did you know as a first-time buyer if you save £4,000 a year, the Government will add an additional £1,000?’.
Aila Coach gives users access to an accredited financial coach - a human - to guide their financial journey and hold them to account. When interviewing people about money, we realised that their financial behaviours were often intertwined with emotion. From lacking confidence to invest to feeling a heightened sense of financial responsibility when becoming a parent; emotions and money are inextricably linked. Aila’s accredited financial coaches help users address the emotions and the money side of things.
Aila Advisor connects users to a network of experts and vetted advisors to help with more complex money situations. For example, you might need to speak to a mortgage advisor or lawyer if you want to buy a house - or a pension advisor if you are looking to plan for retirement.
What does the word Aila mean?
In Scottish Gaelic Aila stands for ’bearer of light’ and in Finnish, Aila means ‘from the strong place’. We felt this was fitting, given we are looking to shed a light on people’s financial situation and empower them to better manage their money, so they can find the financial freedom they are seeking.
Turning more to you, what was your career journey from graduation to setting up Aila?
My career has been an interesting one, so far! After Warwick, I started on a graduate scheme in the life and pensions industry and then moved into private banking. These two jobs provided me with a solid understanding of the financial services industry and good insights into how people manage their money.
Thereafter, I joined a boutique strategy and innovation consulting firm and worked on multiple financial services projects across Europe, America and Africa. These experiences allowed me to see how different countries solve similar customer needs in different ways, especially through leveraging innovative technology solutions. I then moved into the philanthropic, non-governmental and impact investing arena, where I enjoyed exploring how investments and technology can contribute to solving some of the world’s biggest challenges.
This was also the time when I started to think more seriously about my own finances, as I moved countries multiple times, bought a flat, set up as a freelancer and became a mother of two.
Starting Aila seemed like the natural progression; bringing together so many of the things I learned so far and tapping into a personal passion - to shrink some of the gaps I highlighted earlier.
How has learning from your economics degree helped you in your career and in your current role as an entrepreneur?
Warwick was a great springboard to starting my career and continues to be so as an entrepreneur. The learnings from my degree have shaped the way I think and how I approach problems. I’m also grateful that the professors held us to a high bar when it came to using solid sources and data and taught us to think critically and independently.
What were the highlights of your time at Warwick?
What a question! There are so many highlights. To name a few: meeting some of my closest friends in halls, to dressing up for Union evenings, to learning to climb and playing squash, lacrosse and rugby, to debating that econometrics is fundamentally flawed because it assumes that humans are rational with the professor… these were all great and very memorable moments at Warwick!
Elisabeth Prager, BSc Economics and Economic History with study abroad, 2009