Gemma Godfrey: Making a quantum leap

Hedge Magazine, 2015. Original article p62-64.

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Quantum Leap
When Gemma Godfrey realised no one else was going to create the next-generation investment company she wanted to join, she left Brooks Macdonald and started herself.

When you first hear about Gemma Godfrey, you may find yourself wondering how she gets so much done – she’s one of those people who always seem to be doing a million things. Right now, Godfrey is starting her own investment company, advising on boards, appearing on TV, and raising a child – all while tweeting the best, dorkiest fintech memes. But after a couple of hours in Godfrey’s company you won’t be wondering anymore: the woman is so energetic, so in-the-know, and so downright lovely that it seems about right she should be so successful at just 32.

Because who wouldn’t want to hang out with Gemma Godfrey? She’s full of interesting opinions, about life in London, doing your own thing, how tech is changing the world, and the best music to play while getting a sweat on – Godfrey is a keen runner. “It’s just freeing. You can go out, put on some music, you don’t need anything. I love it.” Godfrey likes to run to R&B, pop and hip-hop: “Okay, it’s quite hardcore hip-hop!” She laughs. “I really like boxing too. I’m really not that good though. I need to learn to duck, that’s the next step.”

But really, but if you want to see Godfrey properly on fire, ask her about – that’s her new company. “Oh there is quite a lot to do!” Godfrey left her job as head of investment strategy at Brooks Macdonald at the end of August, meaning she’d only been at it for two weeks when our meeting takes place in mid-September. But the idea of going out on her own has been brewing for a long time. We’re sitting in her office in a freshly painted Soho startup loft, surrounded by digital art and people working at standing desks. Godfrey is in white jeans and subtle gold top, accented by bright orange heels and stylish gold jewellery, just back from this morning’s BBC appearance. Everywhere are wall-to-celing charts and notes, reminding you that is being created before your very eyes.

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 15.35.18A next-generation company
Once it’s up and running, will be a wealth management company, or a so-called robo-advisor: an algorithm-based portfolio advice company. You could also call it a fintech startup. The idea, says Godfrey, using both hands to speak now, is to make wealth management more accessible, give people more control over their finances, and make it more affordable. “At the moment, wealth management is really only being offered to a restricted number of people,” says Godfrey, pointing to how IFAs require a minimum lump sum of £50k, and private banks need you to have a cool million. “So how can we offer advice to people who’re earning good money, but don’t have these massive lump sums? The so-called HENRYs: high earners, not rich yet.”

As opposed to the high-risk crowdfunders, will be far less exciting, laughs Godfrey, meant for people who want to see their money working for them. “Oh this is meant to be steady, stable! If you want to diversify a portfolio: a little bit in equites, a little bit in bonds, a little bit in property. … What’s exciting is that now, with technology, you can make it cheaper to provide this service to people. If you can lower the cost of providing this service, then you can open it up to more people.”

Godfrey is planning to launch some time in the spring, although it’s hard to say as it’s still so early: “You’re getting this at the very, very start!” She’s just hired a CTO, and she has some early investors on board as well. “We have a few different partners we’re talking to, in order to get it up and running as quickly as possible.” This won’t be just another investment company though – is a next generation fintech company, aiming to create a smooth user experience for people who’d rather use an app than going in to talk to an advisor. Godfrey doesn’t quite know what the details will look like yet – it’s only been two weeks! – but the idea is clear: “The differentiating factor is providing people access in a user-friendly way. … What we’re trying to do is get people from the point of having limited options, to having investments that help them progress towards financial freedom.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 15.35.13From physics to finance
Fintech is a hot topic in the London startup scene right now, but for Godfrey, feels like the natural development of a 12-year financial career. “I’ve been working in financial services for all these years, and I’ve been harping on about how we need to provide something that’s more customer-centric! It’s come to a point where I’ve realised that actually, technology is now advanced enough that we can give them that type of service.”

Because until now, Godfrey’s had a quite traditional financial career. Most recently she spent nearly four years as head of investment strategy at Brooks Macdonald, which manages £7 billion across 10 offices. Previously, she chaired the investments committee at Credo Capital, after stints at GAM and Goldman Sachs. She was an advocate for the Alternative Investment Management Assocation for five years, and remains on the board of several organisations. So why is she going out on a limb with, I ask – life must have been pretty comfortable! Godfrey laughs. “The big thing that motivates me,” she says after thinking about it, “is this feeling that you want to have an impact, you want to make a difference. I’ve always felt like that, wanting to work in smaller teams and be able to actually shape something. … I’ve realised I’ve spent the last few years waiting for somebody else to do this, and I thought I would join them! But there aren’t really that many people out there who’re doing this. This is a great opportunity to do it myself.”

Godfrey’s inquisitive streak comes from a place that may comes as a surprise: she focused on quantum physics at university. The roots go even further back though, to North London Collegiate School, where Godfrey can’t praise her physics teacher enough for encouraging her to follow her curious nature. “Science is all about solving problems. Why is the world the way it is? How can we do something about it? That’s applicable to so many things. … Quantum physics is all about challenging preconceptions. When everyone’s coming at it from one angle, let’s look at it differently, let’s take nothing for granted.”

The link from physics to finance is how they both call for creative solutions, says Godfrey, adding how both fields require taking something complicated and finding a way to make it easier to understand. The knack for clear communication around financial topics has led to Godfrey becoming a regular commentator on TV: “That also comes back to wanting to make a difference, and wanting to solve problems, and to communicate things that are complicated in an easier-to-understand way.”

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 11.25.01The realtalk advantage
Having her face on TV and in newspapers and magazines for the past seven years has made Godfrey that thing they call an industry thought-leader. This, she admits, helps with getting people to trust you with their money. But Godfrey thinks the financial sector is becoming more open in general: “The industry is realising they need to have more of a voice, as opposed to being a faceless institution. When you can be relatable to your own customer, that builds trust and helps you grow.”

Godfrey is the first to point out that being a good communicator is something you have to learn. In her TEDxWallStreet talk, ‘How to kiss’, she shares how her first TV appearance was something of a dud, and she echoes the same lesson now: “In the beginning, when you’re not quite sure what your view is, you hide behind jargon. It really does leave you vulnerable when you go out there and you say, ‘Look, this is really what I think is going on.’ If you don’t explain it in a really clear way, a lot of people are going to turn around and say they don’t agree with you.”

Ultimately, having different things on your plate means getting lots of interesting ideas to take back to your day job, says Godfrey. “I like variability. It stops you from getting isolated, and makes you think in different ways.” Her friends work across all sorts of industries, says Godfrey, whose husband Wayne is a film producer. He, and two-year-old Dexter, is all over Godfrey’s Instagram, alongside photos of days out, media appearances and inspirational quotes. “I’m surprised at how naturally things have progressed,” says Godfrey, when asked if she expected to be where’s she’s at today. “Even though I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit, I’ve liked the security of working in big organisations. What’s surprised me is how this transaction felt so natural! There are so many synergies with other things I’m doing. It’s tapping into so many exciting things that are going on, which are gathering momentum even faster than I expected.” She laughs. “It’s always a roller coaster! I’m excited that I’m here.”

Published by Jess

Journalist; Londoner.