From education to employment

The post-pandemic state of student finance

Vivi Friedgut, CEO and founder, Blackbullion

The last 18+ months have transformed student finances. As the financial wellbeing platform,  the whole Blackbullion team has worked alongside students and student support teams within universities and colleges to help students better understand and manage their money, access funding and prioritise their financial wellbeing. 

Earlier this year, we unpacked the impact of COVID-19 on student finances. Our Money and Mental Health report found that nearly half of students (48%) considered dropping out of university, or deferring a year, due to COVID-19. And new figures from our Insights & Trends Report paints a fuller picture of just how fast the world of student finance is shifting. 

This is a financially defining period for young people. 

What this means for universities and colleges is leveraging this dynamic to shape meaningful and effective recruitment, retention and inclusion strategies. Because by getting under the skin of students’ relationships with money, we can ensure student financial wellbeing is both prioritised and supported. 

Normalising personal finance for students 

Financial anxiety has catalysed a growing interest in personal finance. In the last few months alone, demand for Blackbullion’s student webinars has skyrocketed with thousands of students attending the sessions, and finance app downloads are up 20%. 

And while students showed themselves to be hugely resilient throughout the pandemic – be it adjusting to online learning through to negotiating massively disrupted social lives – young people are looking for ways to gain more control over their money, as they understandably, become increasingly anxious about their financial futures. This anxiety has manifested in an increased interest in personal finance and demand for financial education. 

It reflects a wider cultural normalisation of talking about money as the topic has been cracked open as the last taboo. It’s ok to talk about it now, to express concern or a desire to close a knowledge gap, where it wasn’t, even say, three years ago. 

We’re the first to advocate for financial education. But it has to come from trusted and credible sources. More and more, young people are looking to popular “finfluencers” for money tips – no doubt attracted by reports of their potential to make $500k+ a year. While social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok and YouTube support established figures in finance, there’s an alarming flurry of less than qualified “finfluencers” sharing the benefits of taking big financial risks.  It’s essential students are supported in receiving approved financial advice – not those ultimately benefiting from their misplaced trust. 

Meet the digital money makers 

Our latest Insights & Trends Report found a rise in the number of students relying on digital-first, often higher risk, ways to make money. At the same time more traditional issues, like payday lending and loan sharks, seem less relevant as threats to young people. 

Cryptocurrency is the trend that’s truly gaining momentum among students. And while 25% of students we spoke to are actively engaged in it, 72% of our student community told us they feel they lack knowledge around it. I’d guess this knowledge gap includes the range of financial risks involved, such as the loss potential given the huge volatility of cryptocurrency’s value, its vulnerability to market manipulation by governments and celebrities as well as a total lack of regulation and protection compounded by an excess of fake endorsements and scams.  

The dramatic increase in students trading and buying cryptocurrency has led to regulatory caution. But we need to better educate students to truly understand how these newer, online ways of making money work. Online investing and trading has also seen a huge uptick (54% of students cited a knowledge gap here). 

We’re working with support staff to stay ahead of these trends, ensuring they’re comfortable advising their students on new ways to earn money. 

Finances in the digital-first student experience 

We know that students are also happy to allow technology to do the heavy lifting when it comes to their money. Recent research showed that 67% of students want tech incorporated into the financial support application process. 

enabled financial support alongside a wider digital-first experience integrating 

even more of the university experience. This includes learning, communication, campus admin and managing their money. This means ensuring a seamless financial support offering is very much a part of this. 

This digital-first approach needs to be reflected by the institutions supporting them. Future-thinking universities and colleges are tying technology into their financial wellbeing strategies to digitise financial support processes. Earlier this year, Blackbullion launched its Instant Payments feature to make financial support faster and streamlined. Built into our Funds Management System (FMS), this means universities can manage disparate pots of financial support across the institution and deliver secure, instant payments to students in seconds. Its core aim is to improve student experience around funding, and minimise applicant stress as part of the digital educational environment students have come to expect. At the same time, it frees up time for staff and adds much-needed capacity, helping to address the ongoing challenge of needing to do even more with less. 

Today’s digitally savvy student cohort has clear expectations around technology: delivering a seamless financial support offering is very much a part of this. At a macro level, this means students are activated to learn. But they want this woven into all areas of their student life.  

Destigmatising financial support 

These new patterns of behaviour show that we’re moving into a brave new world of student finance.  And while the money conversation has shifted, very much for the better, we’re still seeing evidence that more needs to be done to destigmatise the need for financial support. Not least in our report, where one in four students (24%) said they were reluctant to turn to their university for financial support for fear of being judged. 

Money is still an emotional topic. We found that hardship funding, in particular, triggers feelings of embarrassment and shame, meaning students avoid the help that could keep them in their studies. 

There’s nuance too. A key finding from our Money and Mental Health report was the disparity between female financial wellbeing compared to their male counterparts: 69% of female students said worrying about money negatively impacts their mental health compared to 59% of male students. Despite this, women find it harder to talk about money, or worryingly, ask for help: 30% of female uni students felt they couldn’t ask a parent or guardian for money while 16% of male students felt this way. 

Financial support needs to reflect these different needs, respond to discrete requirements and speak to the individual. 

The fall-out of COVID-19, the subsequent uncertainty and rise of new digital opportunities have combined to transform the financial landscape for good. It’s through a shared vision of an empowered financial future, that together, universities and colleges can work towards creating a new normal for students – a normal rooted in financial wellbeing. 

Vivi Friedgut, CEO and founder, Blackbullion

Blackbullion is launching the first Student Festival of Financial Wellbeing in February 2022. Focusing on the four building blocks of financial wellbeing, the festival brings together online financial education, live webinars, resources and prizes.  

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