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The Indian American behind the jewellery label worn by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex

Source: Vogue

Meet Shilpa Yarlagadda, the 24-year-old Harvard University student and founder of Shiffon Co.

BY PRIYANKA KHANNA

A few weeks ago, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, made it to the cover of the Time100 issue. Of course, the cover was scrutinised, memed and pontificated over. And as is now par the course, fashion followers scrambled to identify Meghan’s wardrobe choices from head, to well, pinky finger.

Spotted on her left hand, was the dainty Duet pinky ring, by Shiffon Co. The jewellery label, started by the then 20-year-old Shilpa Yarlagadda, between her freshman and sophomore year at Harvard University was founded on the idea of jewellery, an important and emotional part of Indian culture, empowering women.

This ring in particular, has also been worn by Michelle Obama and Serena Williams. Set with a tiny diamond beside a larger diamond, this adjustable ring represents one woman supporting another through a “pinky promise, to pay it forward to support other women. 50% of the profits from sale, then through the company’s nonprofit, the StartUp Girl Foundation, seeds grants to female entrepreneurs.

No surprises, that the Meghan effect is in full swing; the ring is currently sold out. We spoke to Yarlagadda on paying it forward, on balancing school and entrepreneurship and what the future holds for her.

What was the impetus in starting your label, especially while in school? Why the pinky ring?

I grew up in Silicon Valley around entrepreneurship which was in itself very inspiring but I was aware from a very young age that there were not enough women in the fields that I hoped to one day get into which were tech, investment, entrepreneurship. Today, less than 2.3% of venture funding goes to women.

On starting school I started to ponder this concept more, and when thinking about rings (I didn’t know my own ring size and couldn’t quite figure it out) I thought about the idea of an adjustable ring that everyone could wear. This idea grew, along with that of creating a community where women could support other women.

Shiffon Co. was a way to create opportunity through the concept of the ‘pinky promise’ – our Duet Ring design features a spiral – representative of the upward and sometimes downward spirals of life, and the smaller and bigger diamond, of the act of paying it forward. Women deserve an equal opportunity in both failure and success, but those opportunities are rarely there to start with, and yet it has been proven that female led businesses have a higher chance of success. Since founding Shiffon, we have been able to garner an incredible board of mentors and create opportunities for a group of mission focused female founders through our not for profit Start Up Girl Foundation — our hope is to continue to support and inspire positive change here!

What are you most proud of at ShiffonCo?

I am so lucky to have an incredible group of mentors – one of whom, Rebecca Selva, Chief Creative Officer of Fred Leighton, taught me that beauty, function and purpose can all be a part of the same thing. Women are so multifaceted — we can be beautiful, powerful and purposeful all at the same time – and everything we put into Shiffon Co. is built on these pillars. Our philosophy is that individual and group success are more or less the same thing — we just want to be there to create the initial opportunity.

Your Instagram bio says, you are on a mission to fund more female founders.

“We are so proud of our current portfolio companies. We were the first female investors for Trisha Goyal’s startup Break The Love which is creating the Bumble of Sports as well as in Pepper, a bra company centred on body positivity. Pepper has since created an annual fund for black female entrepreneurs and we are so happy to support this initiative through Startup Girl Foundation. It’s amazing to see a cycle of paying it forward especially for women of colour who we believe deserve equal opportunities but aren’t always given them especially in the world of business.

Not only do we need more female founders, we especially need to see more women of colour as founders. The journey to entrepreneurship is worthwhile but so much more of an uphill struggle for women, than it is for men. The most rewarding piece for us is seeing our philosophy of paying it forward coming to life with the women and businesses we have supported — through their own success they are in turn supporting others. We are never too small to make a difference and together we can make an even bigger difference — that is really what we embody.

You are still a student at Harvard. How do you divide your time?

When I am at school, I study Economics, but since founding Shiffon Co, my focus has had to shift depending on the priorities at hand. Another mentor, Celine Khavarani once told me that in life you can have everything, just not necessarily all at the same time. I really try to be fully present in the moment, so of course when I have exams I put my focus into my studies and when Shiffon Co has an important campaign or launch, I shift accordingly. I am in my final year and will be wrapping up school soon, but it has been a wonderful learning experience applying my studies in real time to my business. That said, I am really looking forward to being able to put more time and attention into Shiffon Co and hopefully make an even bigger impact for the women we support.

What do you see yourself doing next?

Making a difference in gender equality — there is so much more work to do!

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Business

Offering certainty to an uncertain PRS

By Paul Foy, CEO, RentGuarantor

The UK private rental sector is facing growing uncertainty. The number of landlords offering properties had already dropped considerably when the government imposed the Tenant Fees Act in 2019, and now, following the pandemic and amidst the current cost-of-living crisis, we are on the verge of a rental crisis – with the average lettings agent having just 11 properties available to rent in July per member branch, and 127 new prospective tenants on average being added to the books.

With the number of properties available already limited, and the recent government whitepaper, ‘A Fairer Private Rental Sector’, proposing drastic changes that are expected to drive more landlords out of the market, tenants looking to move need to make sure they are in a position to make an offer quickly, or else risk losing out on their dream home.  This includes having enough money to pay the deposit, and in most instances providing a guarantor, which is easier said than done in the current financial crisis.

For landlords, the need for a guarantor is becoming ever greater with so many facing financial insecurity. As rising energy bills and higher costs of living continue to put strain on the British public, 400,000 households are already expected to fall behind on their rent payments, meaning landlords need to find a way of ensuring they can still receive rent payments – so as to cover their own costs and income. The issue, however, is that the crisis is affecting us all, and a friend or family member acting as a guarantor may well find themselves in a position where they are unable to pay the rent themselves.

Evictions aren’t beneficial for either party and, despite how they can sometimes be presented in the media, most landlords care about the wellbeing of those renting their properties. But with rent arrears being a top concern for landlords, and 78% of tenants being worried about how they will pay rent, there is a clear need for additional support to be extended to all within the private rental sector.

Extra security for landlords

The last few years have seen landlords subjected to a great deal of uncertainty around their rental properties. Changing laws, the pandemic and the current cost-of-living crisis have all come together to spur an increase in due diligence when looking at prospective tenants and the security of the tenancy. This has in turn led to an increased demand for tenants to have a guarantor, rising by 36% over the past 4 years.

As financial pressure mounts for many in the country, that need for a guarantor is only expected to rise, but with the increased living costs hitting the majority of people it can dampen the stability granted by a personal guarantor.

Instead, many landlords are recommending tenants use a company guarantor, offering them a guarantee that is underwritten by an insurance company, and providing an additional level of security to both the landlord and tenant. On top of this a professional guarantor service grants the landlord with the peace of mind that any situation arising from a tenant falling into arrears would be managed on their behalf – including eviction in the rare circumstances where it should come to that.

Additional support for tenants

As well as the benefits afforded to landlords, rent guarantor services also provide a much-needed lifeline for prospective tenants. With the private rental sector currently facing a major housing shortage, having the right provisions in place when making an offer could be the difference between securing or losing that dream home.

The service provided by a rent guarantor company means tenants can quickly provide a guarantor when needed, without having to negotiate any awkward or uncomfortable conversions with friends or family members, and can often have a completed application within minutes – only paying once the contract has been signed.

Additionally, the majority of these services offer the option to pay in instalments, taking away the pressure of paying a lump sum up front – which can be a daunting prospect in today’s financial climate. This can, through some companies, include an upfront deposit payment that can be added to the instalments, further reducing the cost burden tenants face and helping to streamline the moving process.

A necessary service in an uncertain sector

While relatively new to the UK, rent guarantor companies provide an important service, which guarantees landlords will receive their payments. In turn, this takes away the financial pressure and concerns of the tenant by granting them a reliable guarantor that will back them if they’re unable to afford rent. With many of these services underwritten by some of the UK’s largest insurance firms, they can provide an invaluable level of security during these difficult times.

While the future of the PRS is still uncertain, and there are likely to be many more hurdles to overcome in the near future, the services provided by rent guarantor companies can at least provide some respite during the current crisis we are facing – offering the extra support needed by both tenant and landlord.

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Business

How to prioritise your customers’ mental health by sharing vulnerability data

Source: Finance Derivative

Author: Tim Farmer, Co-founder and Clinical Director at Comentis

The Consumer Duty and its ramifications are certainly starting to permeate through the financial services sector as a whole. That being said, we still have a long way to go and for financial advisers to make truly informed decisions on the important topic of customer vulnerability, all parties involved in the distribution chain will need to work much more closely together.

Collaboration is key.

If all parties in the distribution chain start to share their vulnerability data more intelligently, and take a more joined-up approach, they will begin to offer a considerably improved customer experience. But most importantly, they will help to ensure that their customer feels truly safe when sharing their story. After all, having to go through the emotional turmoil of sharing their experiences again and again – to multiple different providers – is only going to cause the customer greater anxiety. In some cases, it may even lead to them feeling unsafe to share their story.

I believe safely sharing customer data around vulnerability can actually ease a customer’s anxiety, reduce their stress and help to engender long-term trust between customer and adviser. I would even go so far as to say that a lack of joined up thinking can, unfortunately, allow some incredibly vulnerable people to slip through the net. Ultimately, failing to share data that is this important will only be to the detriment of the individual.

Vulnerability assessments can vary.

When we look at a customer / adviser relationship, we will of course note that who the customer is speaking to and where that conversation takes place will affect the way they feel. For instance, they might open up during a vulnerability assessment because they feel like they’re in a safe space, but then may not in further vulnerability assessments because they don’t feel safe or simply don’t trust one of the other providers they’re engaging with.

Alternatively, the customer might believe that because they have already laid their vulnerabilities out to one provider, they shouldn’t need to do so again to someone else. After all, they might (understandably) assume that all salient information would be passed over.

The other concerning possibility is that when a person tells a difficult story again and again, they forget who they have told which detail to and leave certain elements out the next time they tell it, merely because that information has already been shared at another stage. You can begin to see, without a fully joined up approach, how much potential exists for important information to be dropped.

Why we need an industry standard.

So, what can be done? And upon whose shoulders should responsibility rest, to ensure that key details about a customer’s vulnerabilities aren’t missed?

What we need is an industry standard of information sharing, that works across all product providers. This not only needs joined up thinking, but smart ways of working from a technology point of view. Providers should be using the same platform for inputting key information, and indeed, for intelligently digesting the vulnerability data that comes out.

It’s here that I believe a triage system would really benefit the financial services industry. Creating a triage system, much like you would experience when a patient physically attends an Accident and Emergency room at hospital, would allow all the right information to be gathered upfront and then shared safely and correctly down the distribution chain. This would ensure that the customer avoids needless repetition, continues to feel safe sharing their story in a different setting and won’t have to worry about missing out a key detail. It will also take the emphasis off the customer, who is going to be feeling very raw and exposed and puts it back onto the providers. After all, this is their responsibility.

Put the customer at the heart of all decisions.

The key here is transparency, detailed disclosure and ensuring all providers adhere to the same technology and ways of working. A practical and pragmatic guide or industry standard recognised by all would of course be very beneficial too. Until then however, a collaborative solution by all providers must be agreed – and it must prioritise the customer.

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Business

KICKSTART YOUR SAVINGS WITH THESE TIPS

Source: Finance Derivative

By Shelley van der Westhuizen, financial well-being strategy & applied research at Alexforbes

We often hear people talking about short-term, medium-term or long-term savings. But as an individual or family, it may be more useful to think about what your savings are for, like saving for a home, or a holiday, rather than time-based goals. This approach also helps you work out how much you need to invest for each goal you’re saving for.

Financial Planning Month in October reminds us of the need to have financial goals and to work towards achieving them over time. While many of us are battling to afford our expenses, it can seem quite daunting to also think about saving. The first challenge is making it through the month spending less than you earn.

Your three most important savings questions

To get started, there are three questions that help you work out how much to save regularly:

  • What do I want or need to save for? This is the goal.
  • How much does it cost?
  • How much time do I have until I need the money? For example, you might work out that you need R100 000 for your child’s studies when they finish school, seven years from now.

Considering your various goals and different time periods, which financial products to use and factoring in your expected investment returns, you may begin to feel overwhelmed. This is where a qualified financial adviser can help with a suitable financial plan that you can put into action.

Some savings come first

While we can work on saving for different goals at the same time, we also need to prioritise and manage debt. If you’re worrying about your debt or spending most of your money on debt repayments or have some overdue accounts, it’s time to get help. In the Alexforbes financial courage survey, over 80% of respondents said that they spent most of their time worrying while dealing with their finances. Almost 75% of people attribute their financial stress to debt worries. This means that money worries caused by being over-indebted often interfere with work and quality of life.

The value of protection

One of the ways to avoid becoming over-indebted is to prioritise emergency savings. Having emergency savings is an important part of achieving financial goals because, even if you’re not over-indebted, it means that any other savings you have can be used for their intended purpose.

Once you’ve considered your expenses, including your debt, and have built up your emergency savings buffer against unexpected things going wrong, it’s time to consider your other savings goals.

One of your financial goals is to have enough to live on one day when you can’t work any longer. When Alexforbes asked people if they knew how much of their salary they needed to save to have enough to live on when they got older, 94% didn’t know. Most people would be surprised to find out that they need to save around 17% of their income for 40 years, and always keep their retirement savings invested. In this way, they can enjoy a pension that is about three-quarters of the salary they were earning just before they stop working. How much you need to save for retirement and other goals is a very important personal question that needs an answer and depends on your circumstances.

Being realistic

By the beginning of 2021 the number of people contributing regularly to their own savings had fallen by 28%. Moreover, the average savings amount of those still contributing regularly had decreased by 23%according to Deloitte, The State of the South African Consumer Tracker. If you’re struggling to make good progress towards your financial goals now, you’re not alone. It may be a good idea to invest your energy in what you can manage while times are tough like reducing your spending wherever possible or growing your skills.

End financial anxiety

According to The State of the South African Consumer, our consumers are the fourth most financially anxious in the world. Over 33% of consumers spend more than they can afford.Combined with taking more control of our finances by following some of these suggestions, spending less on nice-to-have items may be a good way to reduce any financial anxiety you might have and have more financial success ahead.

Knowing how much you’ll need is a first step towards knowing how much to save each month. There are some fun tools to help you discover this information for yourself, like the Alexforbes My Retirement Picture(https://retirements.digital.alexanderforbes.co.za/), that’s available to everyone.

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