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Trainee Forensic Accountant Lily Segrave on Financial Literacy in Curriculum & the Future of Finance

Lily Segrave, first-class Accounting and Finance graduate and recipient of the Dean’s prize, completed her degree throughout the pandemic. Lily, 23, studied at Leeds Beckett and received the highest grade on her course – something that she never expected.

Her tireless efforts resulted in her landing her dream role – Forensic Accounting Advisory Graduate – starting in September with BDO. But her learning of financial literacy was far from the standard of what she’s acquainted with now.

As the curriculum slowly begins to integrate a more succinct financial education for young people, we asked Lily to share her experiences as a recent graduate.

“I don’t recall hearing any guidance on how to make sound financial decisions at either primary or GCSE level,” says Lily. “I studied Business through years 10 – 13 but a lot of the focus is around business theories and how business structuring works… The whole time I was in education, I was thinking, ‘is anyone going to give us guidance on how to spend money, how to make good financial decisions’, or even basic things like what a savings account is.”

“I definitely think that there is a lack of financial literacy in the education system in the UK at the moment,” she adds.

Growing up, Lily’s mum handled the accounts for her dad’s business, which she believes had an influence on her decision. Likewise, her naturally-organised personality has allowed Lily to watch her spending and carefully manage different bank accounts: “It’s never really felt like a chore. I think studying business is when you realise that it’s essential. For me, the subject felt the most valuable for real life as it’s the most relatable outside of education.”

Lily reflects on her first year of university, stating that there is definitely an expectation of basic knowledge around topics such as pensions and mortgages. As her knowledge continued to grow, she found the workload more enjoyable as she familiarised herself with the transferable skills she would need in the working world.

The purpose of universities and obtaining degrees is not only to become an expert in your chosen field but to also learn valuable life skills. For Lily, she found that whilst her degree changed the way she handled her money, she was ultimately learning more from living independently.

“Throughout uni, I was living on a lot less than I was used to [from her part-time job and living at home] and I think that probably impacted my finances more than the actual content of my degree... I had some modules on tax, and it was interesting to see how our personal tax works compared to corporate tax, for example.”

Lily at her graduation. Image Credit: Lily Segrave

As undergraduate loans predominantly depend on the earnings of your parents, Lily’s loan failed to cover her living costs. Thankfully, Lily’s parents were in a position to help her out financially. However, this is not the reality for everyone – Lily appreciates that she was fortunate to be in this position and acknowledges that everyone’s situations differ. Additionally, Lily worked endless shifts throughout her summer breaks in order to aid her savings contributions.

“It was hard living on a budget for three years... If I couldn’t, as someone studying finance, then how can you expect anyone else? I found it difficult living so tightly, but it definitely taught me a lot,” she says.

Lily’s approach to financing in the current climate is one which we would all benefit from following. She advises that the topic doesn’t need to be so intimidating as, realistically, no one knows everything. She adds: “I would suggest having multiple bank accounts. The more places that you’re able to see your finances, structure it and organise it, the more you will understand where you are financially.”

“Banks like Monzo and Starling are great because they divide up your spending into sections. Here you can analyse where you’re spending your money. It’s really good to notice if you’re spending way too much money in one area, like me… spending way too much on eating out!”

For Lily’s peers, many are in a position where they’re looking to buy a house or begin contributing to their pension. Yet when this terminology comes up in conversation, many are at a loss for understanding.

“I know a few things but if I know so little, as someone who studied accounting and finance for three years, then it really goes to show the lack of information and knowledge around what we’re being taught. I don’t think we should rely on the internet because that’s unreliable. I definitely think there should be financial decision-making introduced into the curriculum.”

As for the future of finance, Lily hopes to see more transparency, accountability, and more readily available information: “More transparency and accountability for businesses would help with so much of the corruption that exists in our country.”

“I think there's going to be a significant increase in investing - I think we should all be taught more about investing. Some people are privileged to be born into families that know how to make money and how to get the best return whereas a lot of people have no idea and nowhere to start. In reality, we might just not have the information that we're supposed to be having to make informed decisions.”

As Lily prepares for the greatest role in her financial career thus far, she expresses a final need for improved financial literacy in the curriculum: “I think there should be an essential module. Children, teenagers, young adults, would to be told how to make financial decisions, what basic financial things are, what basic bank accounts are etc. And a lot of corruption could be tackled if people weren’t gatekeeping certain information.”

Improving your financial literacy doesn’t just have to be kept to endless Google searches. There is plenty of great education providers out there who can supplement your studies!

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