Alice Kahrmann catches up with Holly Mackay, founder of Boring Money, an online magazine dedicated to cutting the financial wheat from the chaff.

January (over phew), resolutions (all done, errrrr), money, (top of the list, and perspire). Yes, it’s the same story up and down the country, hundreds upon thousands resolving to change their relationship with cash, once and for all.

But how do you do it? Well, you could do worse than logging onto Boring Money, the brainchild of Holly Mackay, a blend of Which? and Trip Advisor, an online magazine dedicated to cutting the financial wheat from the chaff, sifting out the prohibitively complex jargon so beloved of the financial services industry and delivering a simple translation in layman’s terms, on all manner of investments.

It’s a brilliantly simple idea, editorial on strategy and product, that democratises the entry point and allows the seasoned or novice investor to make quick decisions for themselves. It’s an innovative, not to mention disruptive side of the industry that is booming, (much to the chagrin of stockbrokers up and down the country).

Mackay is at the vangaurd, here to fight the good fight; ‘I’ve been working in the investment industry for about 20 years,’ she says. ‘The trigger point for me was when I had my son [prior to this she worked in television production] I was at home with a newborn, struggling under baby grows and cabbage leaves. At the time they had junior trust funds instead of ISAs. I remember getting this pack, I kid you not it was about a hundred pages long. I couldn’t make head nor tail of it. I thought, someone who read economics at a posh university, who’s not sleep deprived clearly wrote this.’ That was the lightbulb moment, an awareness of ‘the massive disconnect between people who are good at maths and engineering, those kind of brains,’ and the rest of us, who simply want to make ‘sensible financial decisions.’ Boffins beware, Mackay’s bugbear is ‘content which nobody understands. Very few other industries lecture their customers, I think it’s very self serving and arrogant really.’

Money is ‘scientific and complicated on the one hand,’ Mackay says, ‘but emotional on the other… Ask most people about money and it brings up really negative emotions. Most of us feel we’re not smart enough, we’re not rich enough. So many have been made to feel bad about investing for so long,’ her greatest challenge is to undo that.

But what of February resolutions? (Forget January, you were doing well to make it through the dry part). ‘If people have expensive debt, credit card debt, pay day loans, pay that off first,’ Mackay says. ‘The second misconception is that you need hundreds of thousands of pounds to be an investor. You can start now online from as little as £25 per month. Getting started is the hardest thing.’

‘Make 2018 the year you overcome the fear factor and put a relatively small amount aside,’ she urges. ‘There’s lots of information online, read what other investors have said.’ Which brings us to other services lining up alongside Mackay to cut out the stuffy middle man, such as Nutmeg for example, a platform that offers up simple, easy to digest investment packages and manages them for you. ‘What’s interesting about some of the newer offerings such as these,’ Mackay says, ‘is that they take you by the hand and they ask you questions. You don’t have to spend hours agonising over the ingredients and make this thing yourself.’

Speaking of the setting up, what challenges has Mackay encountered, given this is her second business? (She successfully sold her first in 2014). ‘The second time round is almost harder because I’ve been more ambitious and grown the business more quickly,’ she says. ‘I’m much more aware of what I’m doing, with my first business there was a certain naïveté, I didn’t quite have an appreciation of the risks involved. I blindly followed my nose, whereas now I have higher expectations of myself. I’m also more acutely aware of the risks of failure!’

‘For me, the hardest thing though,’ she continues, ‘is that it’s quite lonely and you sometimes you need a sense check from people. I read a lot about entrepreneurs now, and it’s become quite gung ho. There’s almost a mythical figure of the entrepreneur out there now. Someone who has no doubt, has their vision and is going to execute. That to me doesn't ring true, a healthy dollop of self doubt is important... I never thought to myself, I’m going to set up a business, I never saw myself as an entrepreneur,’ she says wistfully, ‘I’m not sure I would have had the guts to write a business plan and borrow lots of money.’

Mackay is very self aware, ‘I do have a lot of ideas, I’m enthusiastic and optimistic, and I want to do it all’. The discipline of the people around her is key in reigning these in, saying, ‘we haven’t got the facility to do these at the moment.’

Other issues that weigh heavily are the fact that for the first time Mackay has backers: ‘I have shareholders and I find that level of responsibility quite daunting. I’m quite a proud individual and I’m absolutely determined that the people who backed me will get their money back and more besides. I’d be extremely reluctant to ever take money from friends and family because of that level of responsibility.’ Sound advice for anyone looking to follow in her footsteps. There is an overriding sense when talking to Mackay of someone who really cares about inspiring others, both her readers, and those looking to set up businesses of their own. ‘Money takes a lot of time to earn and it’s precious,’ she says as the interview draws to a close, ‘and if I can help people feel better about themselves and get that money off their backs, that makes me feel proud.’ Which says it all really. Boffins beware.

February 2018

Interview by Alice Kahrmann