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On the money

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Kendall Flutey: “I’m really grateful that Otago supported my academic growth through allowing me the flexibility to do things a little differently, and remain excited and engaged in learning that I was genuinely passionate about.”

On the money

University of Otago alumna Kendall Flutey is on a mission to help prepare every Kiwi kid for the financial world ahead. A lofty goal? Definitely. But this New Zealand entrepreneur might just have what it takes.

It may come as a surprise that tech entrepreneur Kendall Flutey – the 28-year-old recently named Young New Zealander of the Year who is responsible for helping more than 100,000 New Zealand and Australian kids become financially savvy through her innovative online financial education platform Banqer – once struggled to choose a career.

“I was so jealous as my friends would say they wanted to be builders, doctors or sports stars,” says Flutey. “When adults asked me that question or the teacher wanted us to make a poster about what we wanted to be it left me feeling there was something wrong with me.”

But the panic Flutey felt determining her course of study during her late teens transformed into the realisation that there wasn’t yet a name for what she wanted to be – or not one she knew. Tech entrepreneurs were few and far between in Christchurch, the city where she grew up. Fewer still were Māori and women.

“I could never have fathomed this to be my life today and would say most of my high school teachers would agree,” says Flutey.

“I didn’t have the hallmarks of someone who might go on to do something like I have. I feel extremely privileged to be able to set my own course and contribute to the world exactly how I want to. This isn’t something I take for granted and I’m thankful to everyone who has contributed to this being my reality.”

“The exciting thing is that money is interwoven with other stresses and pressures in society. By improving a child's financial capability we alter their financial trajectory which will protect them from various other unfortunate life outcomes.”

At the heart of the self-proclaimed “reformed accountant’s” mission is to ensure every Kiwi kid understands the rules and expectations of the financial world that lies ahead.

“Financial capability is tied to an individual's financial well-being and these behaviours develop very early in our lives. If we can play an intentional and positive role in a child’s financial education I believe we’ll see a reduction in the likelihood of individuals being financially misled, an increase in financial opportunity and at a scale that corresponds to thriving societies. This would lead to greater national economic performance and that, in turn, pays dividends to New Zealand.

“The exciting thing is that money is interwoven with other stresses and pressures in society. By improving a child's financial capability we alter their financial trajectory that will protect them from various other unfortunate life outcomes. I’m excited by the prospect of an entire generation of wealthy Kiwis – and I use the word ‘wealthy’ to represent more than just money.”

And while the goal seems a lofty one, the early success of Banqer, the business she founded and leads as CEO, suggests it’s closer than you’d think. In less than four years, the app – which teaches primary and intermediate students fundamental financial concepts – is being used by more than 100,000 kids around New Zealand and Australia.

Launched in 2015, Banqer transforms classrooms into a virtual economy where teachers set up a currency and facilitate real-life situations over the course of the school year to enable students to learn about saving and growing money, debt, interest, tax, KiwiSaver and insurance. The programme aligns with the New Zealand curriculum and has been translated into te reo Māori for Kura Kaupapa Māori schools. Next up will be a version for secondary schools and Flutey says the business is also assessing new markets overseas.

Like Flutey herself, the project developed unexpectedly. It started life as a programme for 25 kids, designed to help her 12-year-old brother’s teacher – Micah Hocquard – bring to life a classroom economy project he had launched in the school. The programme relied on printed spreadsheets that Flutey, who had recently upskilled in coding and computer development, working alongside talented web developer and former Otago student Ben Wigley, turned into a series of online tools. From there, the team took Banqer to a start-up weekend and, after establishing an early partnership with Kiwibank, the goal posts shifted overnight.

“Success is a moving target and I never really feel as though we’ve fully reached that target. I guess that’s what keeps us pushing,” says Flutey.

“We’re an impact-driven business, so hold profit alongside purpose. Inherently, our goals focus on the business succeeding through both of these lenses. I truly believe there is an opportunity in business to derive outcomes that are greater than simply shareholder dividends and we use Banqer as a vehicle to prove this.”

Flutey’s strong altruistic values come from a lifetime of influences. Raised by a solo mother in her formative years, Flutey and her sister learnt the value of money from an early age. But when her stepfather Richard, also an Otago alumnus, came into her life, he “opened her eyes” to another world, introducing her to the world of personal finance and the ability to control her own finances. From him she also learnt the value of education – in all forms – and fondly remembers stealing books from his bookshelf and staying up to ask him questions when he got home late at night. She is still learning about her whakapapa and whānau (her father was Ngāi Tahu) – which she describes as an “incredible journey”.

“Being a woman in tech and, in fact, a relatively young Māori woman in tech is different, yes, but it’s something I’m extremely proud of. I know that I’ve faced challenges others haven’t, but I have it a heck of a lot easier than those who walked before me in similar shoes. All going to plan, if I do my part, those who come after me won’t face as many challenges either. We’re lucky to have solid role models in te ao Māori, and I take a lot from them and how they interact with the business world.

“My culture, my identity and my understanding of what I can offer the world will continue to be an evolving piece for me. But what I am sure of is how important different perspectives in business are and what a treasure embracing that is.”

Flutey, who has a BCom, DipGrad and Master of Entrepreneurship from Otago, credits her university experiences as vital steps towards Banqer. But as important as the degrees she gained is the love of learning that developed – and the relationship she formed at Otago with fiancé Simon Brown, whom she met in her first year of study.

“My university experience was able to be flexible and supportive,” she says. “In hindsight, I can see now that I had to be responsible for bringing exactly what I wanted to be to life and that my broad interests were the perfect blend of experiences to land me here.

“But, even more so, my Otago education helped ignite a love of learning that I hold onto today. Prior to studying at Otago I felt like I engaged in learning because I had to, not because I wanted to. But during my studies at Otago I was able to learn broadly, at my own pace and on my own terms. As a result, the academic path I took was atypical, but I was able to extend myself rather than needing to follow the norm, or a prescribed timetable. I’m really grateful that Otago supported my academic growth through allowing me the flexibility to do things a little differently, and remain excited and engaged in learning that I was genuinely passionate about.”

Being named as one of New Zealand’s most influential people at the tender age of 28 may seem a heavy cross to bear – and peaking too early was never on Flutey’s agenda. But she promises there is still more to come.

“It’s quite difficult to articulate how special winning Young New Zealander of the Year was for me – it’s almost unfathomable. By no means was it ever an end point I was aiming for, but an incredibly humbling by-product of my journey so far.

“I don’t think I’ll ever feel satiated from the sense that we’ve done what we were meant to; the problem we’re trying to solve is just too complex. It’s more a matter of the scale of the impact we can have.

“When you create your own businesses you’re somewhat charged with creating your own future too ¬– you don’t have the luxury of a clear career progression by just turning up to work. Right now my future’s very much so tied up with where we want to take Banqer, but what I do know is that there’s always more to learn and different ways to grow. There are also other problems in the world aside from financial illiteracy, and I just hope I continue to invest my time and energy into solving real problems the world is facing.”