“Open communication helps us find creative solutions to challenges.”

Simonne Gnessen is a pioneering financial coach, the founder of Wise Monkey Financial Coaching, and co-author of ‘Sheconomics’.

Originally practising as an IFA for 10 years, Simonne broke away from being a regulated adviser over 20 years ago because she saw a need that wasn’t being satisfied by traditional financial services. She started the UK’s first Financial Coaching practice to help clients build a better relationship with money and feel calmer, more in control and confident about their finances. Later, Simonne developed Wise Monkey’s Financial Coach Practitioner Certificate Training to support others wanting to create their own Financial Coaching practice.

How would you summarise your passions, both in and out of work?

Mostly, my passions involve people, shared experiences and a sense of adventure. I took a year out to travel in 2000, which was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. Indirectly, it led to me forming new ideas about how I could align my work with what I felt I had to offer the world. I’ve always loved learning about people and enjoy nothing better than getting lost in conversation with friends and feeling a deep sense of connection. Singing in a choir also brings that sense of connection. I developed a passion for personal development in my early 30s, which then led to an interest in coaching and desire to help create transformation in people’s lives through the lens of money. I’ve found a way to bring together the worlds of personal finance and personal development through my work and, to this day, get such soul nourishment from helping clients break through barriers that have limited them for years.

What’s your happiest memory?

One that springs to mind is from when I was 11 years old. It was 1977, the year of the Silver Jubilee. And, to commemorate this, a local travel agent was selling a limited number of holidays to the Algarve at 1952 prices. My family queued for 2 days and 2 nights and managed to get one of the last places. We had a fabulous two-week holiday, which we could never have otherwise afforded, and it was the first time we all went abroad as a family.

What do you wish you’d been told about finance when you were 15?

That you can start investing at any time, however small the amount. it’s not about big numbers – it can make a difference later on with the impact of investment returns.

What made you want to work in finance?

Like a lot of people, I suspect, I fell into financial services. I started my career training as an actuary with a firm of pension consultants. I realised after a couple of years that a number-crunching back-office role wasn’t for me. I preferred to be more client facing and dealing with people. Whilst openly seeking other jobs, I was offered the chance to move to another division of the company and train as a financial advisor. I began in a paraplanning role (although it wasn’t called that back then), before moving into an advisory role whilst studying for my ACII. I absolutely loved learning about personal finance and interacting with clients and it wasn’t long before I was given my own clients. I was a salaried employee, which meant that we had no sales targets and could provide totally impartial advice. Thankfully I never had to go through the experience that many others had back in the early 90s of being influenced by commission.

How did this lead to you becoming a financial coach?

I moved from there to a smaller company of female-only financial advisors specialising in advising women. In such a male-dominated industry, I loved the experience of being part of such a forward-thinking organisation which empowered women with their finances. But after a number of years, I became more disillusioned with the industry and how good quality advice mostly focused on clients who had already accumulated sizable assets. I felt that the sale of products as such a significant component of the advisory service muddied the water, not allowing time for the full range of support many people really needed. Back in 2002, the traditional advice model didn’t allow time for people to talk about how they interact with money and how that’s working for them. It didn’t allow time to help clients explore unconscious habits and behaviours or provide help with managing money. I wanted to offer a service where the approach wasn’t focused on product solutions and which totally addressed wherever the client was at, meeting their needs and allowing them to drive the agenda. Offering a coaching service, that specialised in personal finance, allowed me to use my knowledge and skills but widen the types of clients I could serve and empower clients to create profound and powerful changes in their lives.

How did you go about launching Wise Monkey Financial Coaching?

Financial coaching didn’t exist in the UK when I began to consider alternative ways to work with clients on their finances beyond the traditional advice model. I documented my thinking, developed different models and ideas, read widely, studied coaching skills and got some business advice. I then trialled my ideas with a sample of pro bono cases, developed systems and started to get ready to launch a new business.

In 2002, I launched Wise Monkey Financial Coaching, with a mission to demystify the world of finance, relieve people’s stress relating to their financial worries and help them use their resources effectively so that they could reach their highest aspirations in life. By following my own course and intuition, I formed the UK’s first Financial Coach service. The service changed and developed over the years as I integrated new coaching skills, tools and methodologies into my work. And in 2010, I developed the training arm of the business, training others in the skills and techniques to build their own Financial Coaching practice.

What prompted you to join the Institute for Financial Wellbeing?

I knew the Institute’s founder Chris Budd and admired the work he was doing and loved the idea of joining a community of likeminded professionals with a focus on helping clients beyond their money. When I first launched Wise Monkey, I was quite alone in my thinking. In time this changed as I grew my own community of Financial Coaches, but the IFW is another integral part of finding my tribe. It’s exciting to see all the work people are doing in this space and how it’s growing to enhance client’s lives.

What drew you to financial wellbeing in the first place?

I think financial wellbeing is at the heart of everything I do and everything that made me move away from traditional financial services. It’s paramount for me.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learnt about financial wellbeing since joining?

Everyone has their own definition of financial wellbeing and it’s not always the same. And that’s ok.

What is your top tip for someone wanting to improve their financial wellbeing?

Be honest with yourself about what creates anxiety, fear or shame, and your emotional response to money. Have a frank and honest conversation with yourself and your partner about money. Identify if anything isn’t working and find strategies to remedy that. And seek help if needed.

Who or what is your favourite wellbeing guru, podcast or book? 

I’ve recently started listening to Glennon Doyle’s ‘We Can Do Hard Things’ podcast. Her book, ‘Untamed’, really spoke to me. The podcast is an honest, authentic conversation about real-life challenges. It’s raw, vulnerable and hugely insightful.

I’m also a fan of ‘The Chimp Paradox’ by Professor Steve Peters as a way of understanding what’s going on in our minds. It enables us to have compassion for ourselves and find real ways to build strategies to challenging thoughts or behaviours that aren’t working. Brené Brown is another favourite. Many know her famous TED Talks, books and podcasts, but the one I would especially recommend is an audio book called ‘The Power of Vulnerability’. It’s not really a book – it’s like attending one of her workshops in her beautiful humorous style which also packs a punch. In the space of around six hours of listening, it creates many opportunities for personal insights and breakthroughs.

What are you doing to advance your own financial wellbeing?

For me, financial wellbeing is very linked to my own personal wellbeing. I see myself as my biggest asset. My capacity to earn, and continue to develop my work and training, are dependent on me being mentally and physically healthy. As well as the support of my team, I work with a coach and counsellor and try to maintain practices that keep me grounded and happy. I’m fortunate to live by the sea and find a cold water dip in the water to be invigorating. Lately that’s turned into a dip in my cold water pod every morning. As life takes its twists and turns, my partner and I ensure we keep an ongoing dialogue, recalibrating our financial goals and plans as needed. Open communication helps us find creative solutions to challenges.

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