New model for alumni engagement improves understanding of managing money

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The under-40s are less financially capable than their elders, according to recent research. Many people are taking on financial risks without realising the implications and 16% of us are unable to identify the balance on a bank statement. More than half of the UK population struggle to pay their bills and are worried about finances.

The current economic climate – coupled with the as yet unclear fallout from Brexit – has left many of us fearing a gloomy financial future.  But we at the Open University have looked to our community of 25,000 MBA alumni to help shine a light in the dark.

Alumni are vital to the continued success of academic institutions. They are our ambassadors, critical friends, advocates, product developers, industry advisors, marketers and more. At the Open University Business School (OUBS), our alumni are integral to our business model, our reputation, and our culture and values.

In 2013 we decided to deepen this relationship and devised a strategy to harness the strength of our MBA alumni. We set out to co-create ‘Centres of Excellence’, a model designed to combine rigorous research and free online learning to better serve society: delivering social impact through accessible, open, innovative, free resources in critical, as yet under-researched, areas.

Our first collaboration, The True Potential Centre for the Public Understanding of Finance (True Potential PUFin), was established in partnership with True Potential LLP, one of the fastest growing and most innovative financial services organisations in the UK today, and founded by one of our MBA alumni, David Harrison.

The Centre’s mission is to develop personal financial capability across the UK. The first and only personal finance research centre in the UK that has an active teaching programme freely available to the public, it has delivered several Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) via OpenLearn and FutureLearn. These courses, which include Managing My Money, Managing My Investments and Managing My Financial Journey, have helped over 250,000 people since launch.

The MOOCs have been successfully incorporated into OUBS’s provision of MOOCs for credit while Managing My Money has been incorporated into the Share Foundation’s ‘Stepladder of Achievement’, which provides life skills and financial resources to looked-after children.

Evaluation has shown that they have had a positive impact on people’s confidence, knowledge and bank balances. In a survey of over 800 Managing My Money learners, 94% reported they had improved their understanding of personal financial management, with 57% stating that studying the MOOC had actually resulted in them becoming financially better off.

Earlier this Spring, the collaboration between the Open University and True Potential PUFin was recently recognised through a Guardian University Award for Business Partnership of the Year.

True Potential LLP has committed to a five-year programme of financial support, totalling £1.4 million, to establish the Centre of Excellence which launched in 2014 and continues to attract significant philanthropic and research funding.

In the past 18 months, the Centre’s team, which includes two True Potential PhD students, has focused on widening partnership opportunities, developing and galvanising knowledge in the area of financial capability. We are also raising awareness of personal finance issues by disseminating our research to a wide finance and management audience.

In co-operation with experts from True Potential LLP, we are informing the industry’s understanding of risk and how the UK can be made more financially resilient. Last November, two of the Centre’s academics, Martin Upton and Jonquil Lowe, gave evidence at the House of Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion.

Following funding from the Money Advice Service (MAS) and the Chartered Accountants Livery Company (CALC), we are tailoring Managing My Money for specific audiences, for example, the more financially vulnerable in the UK and 16-18 year olds.

Based on this success, we have replicated the Centre of Excellence model to create the Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership, with further opportunities actively being pursued. It has provided a blueprint for alumni engagement in research, which sits at the heart of our distinctive mission and vision.

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