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Journey to an Ethical Superfund with Christina Hobbs of Verve Super

“So many of the funds that are called ‘responsible’ or ‘green’ are not truly ethical. So I was really motivated to start exploring what it could look like to use this enormous pool of capital for good.”

Christina Hobbs, co-founder of SheEO Venture Verve Super

In this episode

Join Christina Hobbs, co-founder of SheEO Venture Verve Super, as she speaks with Vicki Saunders, founder of SheEO. They break down Christina’s journey—beginning with her finance career, to humanitarian work with the United Nations, and eventually creating Verve Super, Australia’s first ethical super fund, for women, by women.

They also touch on:

  • What it was like in the first year of setting up a new business
  • Navigating regulations in the finance sector and how her naivety allowed her to dream big
  • Verve’s focus on serving their members and providing financial coaching to women
  • The importance of generating opportunities, and supporting ideas that make an impact
  • The value that Verve has received from SheEO through mentorship, coaching, and community
  • And her goal to shift into the mainstream and reach 1 million women in Australia

We invite you to join us as an Activator at SheEO.World.

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Podcast Transcript:

The podcast is being transcribed by Otter.ai. (there may be errors, run-on sentences and misspellings).

Christina Hobbs 0:00
And it was through that journey, I actually discovered that my own money had been invested in the weapons being used and some of the conflicts I actually worked in. And, you know, it was this incredible realization and realizing that even in Australia, so many of the funds that are called responsible or green, are not truly ethical. So I was really motivated to start exploring what it could look like to use this, you know, enormous pool of capital for good.

Vicki Saunders 0:29
Hi, I’m Vicki Saunders. Welcome to SheEO.World, a podcast about women who are working on the World’s To-Do List. On this podcast, you’ll meet women who are transforming systems, and committed to creating a more equitable world. Welcome Christina Hobbs from Verve Super, it’s amazing to have you here today.

Christina Hobbs 0:52
Thanks so much for having me.

Vicki Saunders 0:53
So you have such an awesome story about why you started this company. So tell us a little bit about Verve Super, and where it started.

Christina Hobbs 1:02
So Verve Super is Australia’s first superannuation fund that’s tailored for women. And it’s led by women. And superannuation is a bit like the 401k in the US, but it’s compulsory. So if you’re working in Australia, for almost all employees, your employer has to put nine and a half percent of your salary into a separate fund that you’re not allowed to touch until you retire. And so the purpose of Verve was to start a fund that really acted as a partner for women for life, to support them to build wealth, but also use this incredible pool of capital. So in Australia, these superannuation funds now own more than half of our stock exchange. So the idea was really to use this enormous pool of capital in Australia, women here hold over a trillion dollars in Super to invest it in ethical companies doing the right thing by women in our communities and our planet. And excitingly to also use some of that money to invest in impact investments that also support women.

Vicki Saunders 2:04
And so do you come from a finance background, has this been a passion of yours for a long time, what’s the backstory?

Christina Hobbs 2:10
So I started my career working in Deloitte for a couple of years, and then had a complete spin out one day, just what am I doing wearing a suit every day just completely like one of those moments. And I ended up being really lucky and took a year off to go and work with the UN overseas in Nepal for a year. And I was working as an economist, and I thought before sort of going to be a year off my corporate job to go and do some wonderful trekking and some interesting work. But it ended up being a 10 year long career change, which led me into doing ultimately, cash programming in humanitarian and development context. So it was really at a time when the whole development ecosystem was moving from giving people things like food, or blankets, and medicine and shelter to saying, hey, if markets are functioning, let’s give people cash and trust them to work it out themselves. But it was an industry that was full of logisticians, and no finance people. So I was really having a wonderful opportunity to be at the forefront of somebody with a finance background, to work in setting up these emergency cash transfer programs. And then also using cash through programs like micro finance to support women and communities in safer and more steady contexts. So that took me everywhere from working in Somalia during the famine to Syria during the conflict. And really, I spent the last six years working around that conflict. So in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey as well.

Vicki Saunders 3:41
Wow.

Christina Hobbs 3:42
And then and then how that led into this. So to really answer the question, because probably some people are still scratching their heads. But it was really two things. So one of it was that I started to see all these wonderful initiatives that were happening overseas with women, and finance, and you’re seeing amazing cooperatives popping up and like these really great opportunities, but then I was looking back at Australia, where we still have a huge, you know, really significant issues relating to women’s access to finance and we’re not seeing any kind of modernization or innovation. And then the second thing really was one day, I come back to Australia and my mother had collected all these letters from different superannuation funds that accumulate over the years that I’ve gone from one sort of casual job to the other. And she sort of sat me down and said, okay, like, you need to sort this out. I don’t want these paperwork coming to the house anymore. We need to put them all into one fund. And I caught up. I called up the one of the funds and I was talking through like the different options they had for investment. And they mentioned that they had a responsible investment option. And so I was asking them about okay, what does that mean? And they said, Oh, you know, we don’t invest in things like gambling and tobacco and I was like, what? And so then I became really interested in like, what, what are all these other things investing in? And it was through that journey, I actually discovered that my own money had been invested in the weapons being used and some of the conflicts I’ve actually worked in. And, you know, it was this incredible realization and realizing that even in Australia, so many other funds that are called responsible or green, and not truly ethical, so I was really motivated to start exploring what it could look like to use this, you know, enormous pool of capital for good.

Vicki Saunders 5:26
That’s amazing. I mean, I we continue to see over and over, like, all of our SheEO Ventures have some kind of life experience thing that’s like, How is this even possible, right, asking that unique question? From our perspective? Everyone’s like, Oh, yeah, that’s just the way it is. That’s what the valuation you’re like, No, thank you. So you went down the rabbit hole, looking at how everyone else was doing it? And what made you go, you know, say, I have to solve this? Was there an a-ha, was there a moment? Was it just a series of like, This is crazy.

Christina Hobbs 6:00
I think I’d always sort of wanted to have my own business. And I think, you know, somebody that was like, one day, I’m going to get this great idea. And suddenly, I was just like, oh, my God, like, this is just a huge name that needs addressing, and no one’s addressing it. And then largely, I’ll just say it was naivety because you know, I called up my co founder, and I called up one of the women I wanted to work with me who had a background I knew in superannuation was really passionate about women’s economic equality. And she sort of jumped on straightaway. And we started Googling women’s financial coaches in Australia and went through about 20, before I called, who’s now our third co founder, Zoe, and she was sort of gardening in her own portion. And she said, and she, you know, we had this conversation, and we never met each other. And she said, Oh, I was thinking of starting a women’s bank, actually. And so she sort of came on board. But after we launched in the process of launching, we actually had probably about, you know, 50 to 100 people contacting us saying, we’ve been thinking about doing this as well. In fact, the other time when we were getting more people contacting us telling us that they thought about it, and could they be involved and actually members. But you know, I think it was in a way that naivety of, because I hadn’t worked directly in the superannuation sector. So I didn’t know all of the challenges. And I think that a lot of the people that have thought about the idea before were quite in the system, and it is really challenging to set up a financial institution—these are the most heavily regulated financial institutions in Australia, because they’re looking after people’s retirement savings. So it is really complex. So I think it was a little bit of probably naivety as well as passion that got me over the line.

Vicki Saunders 7:39
I love that. I mean, that’s one of my favorite things, too, is thank God for the naivety on a lot of these things. Right. So how hard could it be? It just doesn’t make any sense that it’s done? And then you’re like, Oh, banks have a bunch of rules. These funds have a lot of rules. So how did you get started and tell us a little bit, just some of the highlights on the way to where you are now and then where you want to go?

Christina Hobbs 8:01
Yes, so it was sort of about six months of work to just see if, if this is going to be possible and that required getting jumping through different regulatory hurdles, bringing different partners on board who had the expertise, and really just seeing if we could get it off the ground. And for a fee that would be you know, fair and offer something really good in the market for our members, because what we didn’t want to do is sort of launch something and actually sort of women to be worse off because they’ve gone into like a specialized women’s fund. So we sort of really needed to work out, could we push it could we squeeze so that we can, you know, really kind of come into the market with a competitive product. So that was sort of the initial get go, and then it was raising a small amount of capital to get us off the ground. And I had no idea what that meant, who to go to. And so at the time, I secured $100,000 which just seemed like so much money for me. I was like, This is fantastic. Off we go. And of course that barely covered the legal fees. So you know, we ended up sort of launching with a product and you know, only us three working on a fund that was me and Alex full time and Zoe part time because she she has two children. And so we were you know and it was us two and we got sort of a friend of a friend to develop this really rickety website. And you know, we did our own PR launch and off we went and you know, it was for a long time. I think almost the first year it was us answering the phone calls us managing people’s insurance us doing trying to do PR us trying to do Facebook ads as well. So that was really the first year of the business. And I remember that first year was largely just like, what have I got myself into? And you know, probably made the mistake or not the mistake but i think you know really not sort of understanding how to access capital and not being looped, into the ecosystem. Also just meant that individually I put a lot of my own money into the business, which became this whole other stress on itself. So those first sort of year and a half year, year and a half was really was really challenging, then I sort of got a bit more looped into the ecosystem, we were able to bring on, you know, a small amount of additional investment. And then we were sort of off, on our journey and able to hire some staff.

Vicki Saunders 10:21
Awesome. And then so the first 18 months, like, what was your growth, for signing up people? And like, What did it look like having to acquire people to join in?

Christina Hobbs 10:31
Yeah, we had a really brilliant sort of first couple of months, which was amazing, because we still had a small marketing budget left, we were using out and, you know, we really got some, some good, strong traction, and then we just really quickly ran out of money, which just kind of then led to sort of two or three months of just sort of desperately trying to scramble around. But like, once we got funds again, and we were able to go out and market we had really strong traction. And we and we have continued to since and, and really the what has worked exceptionally well for us is that even from day one, when we got our first 10 members, we knew that those 10 members were already off telling their friends about the product. And so the reason that we have been successful is just because so many of our members and community members do tell their friends about us, which means that, you know, we’ve been able to really focus the budget that we have on serving our members and, and doing a whole lot of things like free financial coaching and events and webinars rather than you know, spending all that money just on marketing.

Vicki Saunders 11:35
That’s so great. Yeah. And we were so excited when you applied to SheEO, and made the semi finals. And then so tell us a little bit about your SheEO journey, and what point that came in your business and what impact it’s had.

Christina Hobbs 11:49
Yeah, it came in a really critical time for us, we were at a really sort of capital crunch time for us. So we were in between raises, we were really tight on cash flow. And we heard about SheEO. And we actually didn’t know much about it. So we were like, Oh, great. We can we can borrow some money. Let’s go. And so that was really our, you know, why we joined SheEO. And then it was sort of once we got in, we discovered that it was so much more and it was this whole amazing network of support, mentorship, we’ve, you know, since we got through, we’ve been able to have one on one coaching sessions with the SheEO coach MJ, it’s just been amazing. So it was this really sort of interesting experience of really kind of getting in and then really having the whole, you know, programming network open up and, and you know, I think it’s just so incredibly powerful. And it’s it’s been really wonderful experience for us.

Vicki Saunders 12:43
Well, I’m very hopeful that all of our Activators in Australia will become members of Verve Super, which would be amazing. And I tell us a little bit where you are now and and what the future looks like, where you’re going and what do you need?

Christina Hobbs 12:55
Yeah, so we’ve just brought on an amazing group of women investors, we had a SheEO Activator join as well in a round which was amazing. And so we’re now really looking forward to, you know, really stepping up our growth, and then we’re also really looking from the investment side as well. So where we’ll be launching this quarter, a gender index, which means that it’s like an index that we’ll be using to actually rank companies based on how they perform on different gender diversity and inclusion criteria. And then we’ll actually be investing in those companies. So we did some modeling on this, what this index would look like. And we did some back modeling, and actually showed that it was performing better than one of the current indexes that were invested in. So we’re really excited to see where that goes, I think it’ll be the first time it’s ever been done in Australia for a superannuation product or a public finance product. I think similarly, without impact investing the environment in Australia for impact opportunities, that are agenda focused is still pretty small. But I’m really excited about the fact that we’re now in the market. And so, because we’re here, we’re able to generate those opportunities as well. So people are coming to us and saying, I’ve got an idea for, you know, a housing based product for elderly, single women. This is what it could look like, is this something you would invest in? And you know, just because we’re now we’re in Australia, we’ve got a significant amount of funds under management, people seem to think more about what the opportunities are, which I think is so exciting. So for us, it’s really just growing the fund, you know, looking at those investment opportunities, and then really ramping up our financial coaching as well. So hoping to bring more tech into that as well to really enable our members to learn the basics that they need to manage their money well.

Vicki Saunders 14:39
Well, and it’s so exciting, to start to control some of that wealth in larger numbers to be able to influence local markets and to support the kinds of ideas that really are going to have an outsized impact in a socially sustainable space, I would imagine.

Christina Hobbs 14:56
Yeah, I think it’s really it’s really exciting and definitely it feels like being on the forefront of something new. So I think that’s a really, it’s a really wonderful space to be in.

Vicki Saunders 15:06
So in terms of where you’re going, what would you like this to look like next? What’s what is the big sort of like next hill to climb for you?

Christina Hobbs 15:16
Yeah, I think for us, it’s really shifting from, you know, really going into the mainstream. So it’s really taking Verve I think as an organization, you know, we’ve been around for two years, we’ve got a really dedicated group of members. But I think for us, it’s really shifting into the mainstream. So really being able to grow the fund. But, you know, also from an impact side as well, I think, you know, we would like to be able to reach over a million women in Australia with our free financial coaching resources, I think that would be an incredible goal to hit. We know there’s just such a demand for information, but more importantly, that, that coaching support. So really, what we see in Australia is this huge gap in women wanting to access professional financial support, but not being able to because of the cost barrier, or because of the trust barrier. So we would also really like to see, Verve as being our number one destination Australia that that women go to, to manage their wealth. And I think if we achieve that I would feel great sense of satisfaction.

Vicki Saunders 16:17
That would be so huge, because I know that like what are the biggest problems that are out there, in our existing models, and Wealth Advisors are worried about this all over the world is the first thing that women do when they inherit money has changed their financial advisor, right, because they’re really looking for that kind of advice, and support. And so I think, to get that financial acumen out in the marketplace, in ways that resonate with women is just a massive opportunity. So I’m really excited for your business as well.

Christina Hobbs 16:45
Thank you. Yeah, it’s great, great time.

Vicki Saunders 16:48
Thank you so much, Christina, for all you’re doing. How can people find you in the world?

Christina Hobbs 16:54
They can head to VerveSuper.com.au to check out Verve. We’re also on Instagram, or I’m on LinkedIn as well, it’s just Christina Hobbs.

Vicki Saunders 17:03
Great every woman in Australia, superannuation go to Verve Super, we’ll put this information in the show notes. And we hope that you grow to your million women as soon as possible. And thank you so much for your leadership. It’s important that the world has this and we hope you’ll be a model for all other countries.

Christina Hobbs 17:19
Great. Thank you so much, Vicki.

Vicki Saunders 17:20
Thank you.

Thank you for listening to the SheEO.World podcast. Please leave a review, share with a friend and subscribe on your favorite podcast player. We invite you to join a global community of radically generous women building a $1 billion perpetual fund to support women working on the World’s To-Do List. Invest in women and invest in yourself at SheEO.World.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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