Dame Jayne-Anne Gadhia climbed to the very top of the banking and financial career ladder before returning to Norwich to launch a business now helping a million people through the cost-of-living crisis.
Along the way she found huge success while coping with private heartache.
Jayne-Anne launched and ran a national bank and was about to join the Bank of England to help oversee the nation’s economy when she changed direction, returned to her Norwich roots and founded free financial app Snoop.
As the country was plunged into the first lockdown Jayne-Anne, made a Dame the previous year for her contribution to financial services and women in the finance industry, was convinced that whatever the future held, people would need new ways of managing their money.
This week Snoop celebrated its millionth customer. With budgets tightening Jayne-Anne expects the second million to be achieved even more quickly.
Alongside her stellar career she is also funny, friendly and endearingly open – and as willing to talk about heartfelt personal regrets as high finance.
Jayne-Anne, now 60, has loved Norfolk since moving to live near Diss with her family as a teenager.
Her mum had part-time secretarial jobs and had been a pioneer herself as the first female teller at the bank branch where she worked. Her dad was an electrical engineer and ultimately managing director of a small electrical company.
Jayne-Anne’s own first job was in the Norwich unemployment benefit office.
She went on to university where she studied history and met husband-to-be, Ashok.
“He should have had an arranged marriage. Our plan to avoid that was not to go back to where his parents were!” said Jayne-Anne. “He moved in with my mum and dad.” Ashok worked in Norwich while Jayne-Anne finished her degree and then she returned to Norwich to train as an accountant.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do. I’m not aware of having any career aspirations as a child,” said Jayne-Anne. “We didn’t know what the choices were. It didn’t really matter what the job was, I just needed a job in Norwich.”
A few years later she joined Norwich Union and was soon part of a team working on a project which became Richard Branson’s Virgin Direct. She thrived in the collaborative atmosphere before going, with the Virgin One account, to the Royal Bank of Scotland (working with Fred Goodwin whose knighthood was famously annulled after his part in the 2008 financial crisis.)
“When Richard Branson asked me to go back to Virgin Money I wasn’t really enjoying the RBS culture,” said Jayne-Anne, with some understatement.
She returned to Norfolk to run Virgin Money.
“Working for Richard Branson was good in many ways but even if you are the CEO you are not really your own boss,” said Jayne-Anne. “Having an idea and bringing it to life is success.”
But she said success can come at a high price.
“It depends what you mean by successful. I am one of the last left standing. I have known people who don’t fit in and say I can’t do this any more. I kept on fighting, and I think it is a fight. I don’t criticise people who give it up.
“You should be careful what you mean by success. I haven’t spent enough time with my family.”
She said that perhaps her most difficult decision was returning to work after having her longed-for daughter. She and Ashok had tried for years for a baby before Amy was born in 2002.
“Economically it was easy and emotionally it was hard,” said Jayne-Anne. “When we looked at who was the bread-winner it was me and when we looked at who wanted to stay at home it was me.
“She came to us very late and there is only her. If I had my time again I would start much earlier and have many more babies.”
Jayne-Anne is also frank about her experience of depression. She planned to write her book The Virgin Banker about building a business but found herself revealing her longing for a child, the many cycles of IVF, and the depression which hit after the birth and again as work became wildly stressful.
She compares depression to the hopelessness and desolation of being attacked by the dementors of the Harry Potter books.
Today she is acutely aware of the need for a good work-life balance and the importance of building exercise, free time and family into every day.
“Being CEO of a listed bank is really full-on,” she said, recalling the early starts, the long days, followed by late-night dinners which seemed essential.
“For a woman to be heard you have to be more assertive than a man and when you are, men don’t like it and accuse you of being difficult,” she said. “It’s been really hard for me and is really hard for lots of women and other diverse groups.
“I’ve been called, a ‘bloody difficult woman’ and can still feel what felt like stinging criticism at the time when an otherwise fab boss told me I could be brilliant, if only I was less emotional.”
As a woman at the top of the financial industry, and a top banker who is spoken of with admiration and warmth, she is still vanishingly rare.
In 2015 the then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne asked Jayne-Anne to investigate why more women didn’t progress as leaders in the financial sector. It led to the Women in Finance Charter and Jayne-Anne becoming the government’s Women in Finance Champion.
Her advice for girls and women considering careers in finance is that it is worthwhile, even world-changing, career because good money management helps people’s mental health; access to money for businesses supports innovation; and having savings secures future stability.
“All these outcomes are something that women, in particular, strive for,” said Jayne-Anne. “It’s well known across the world that women are focused on good financial outcomes for their families.
“For those women who want to make a difference by joining the world of finance I’d say – be clear on your purpose and stick with it. It can be tough because the culture in financial services can be hard and had, for too long, been driven by a white, male elite. But this now changing and enlightened businesses are encouraging more diversity. So – be part of the change you want to see in the world!”
She is proud of starting a bank from scratch and even prouder that she can call it a ‘good bank.’ There is an economic principle that suggests everyone can be better off. That is very much Jayne-Anne’s style. “Business is not all about making money. It’s also about looking after your customers and staff, doing something in the community,” she said.
One of her biggest career regrets is that after she left Virgin Money it closed Virgin Money Giving, which supported charities. “And many great people have lost their jobs. I’m sad about that because I believe that to generate good profits you need a strong purpose and to look after your people.”
As well as founding and leading Snoop, Jayne-Anne is a trustee of The Tate and was appointed Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) this year for services to the Prince’s Foundation architectural charity. She also chairs the HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) board.
Jayne-Anne’s career began in Norfolk and after living in the county for more than 30 years, it made sense to base Snoop here too.
“There are so many brilliant, talented people in Norwich” she said.
Most of the team which helped launch Snoop had worked with Jayne-Anne at Virgin. Based in a small office on Prince of Wales Road it now has more than a million customers across the country – and across the age ranges too.
“We’re pleased that we’ve been able to build a tech service which doesn’t just appeal to tech enthusiasts. Eighty per cent of our customers are over 30, 40pc are over 45, and 10pc are over 60,” she said.
Snoop was made possible by open banking technology and makes its money from commission and donations.
Users give it access to their financial comings and goings and it gives personalised advice ranging from better mortgage deals and bill monitoring to lower shopping bills and discount codes tailored to their spending habits. Its cost-of-living data cruncher is updated every week and it has just won two national open banking awards.
“Snoop is now an award-winning, revenue-generating business with significant momentum,” said Jayne Anne. “Our ambition is to help make everyone better off.”
From cost-of-living to Costa Norfolk. Q&A with Dame Jayne-Anne Gadhia
Do you have any insight into or solutions for the economic situation at the moment?
“There’s no easy solution to rising prices, but there are practical ways you can cut costs and boost your income to soften the blow.
To consumers my message is this period will not last forever and so it’s important to do what you can within your control. For some that will mean ensuring that they claim absolutely everything they’re entitled too (around £15 billion in benefits goes unclaimed each year!) For others it will mean cutting back or getting the best deal on bills and spending.
More broadly, the situation is complex. The increased cost of energy and food and the impact it is having for people struggling to make ends meet is a big worry. We need to give confidence that inflation will come down and plot a path back towards the Bank of England’s 2pc target.”
What have been the happiest parts of your working life?
“Setting up new businesses. Buying Northern Rock when everyone thought that was impossible. Meeting great people who have become long term friends. Hitting targets. Learning from Richard Branson and others. Going to Necker Island!”
What worries you?
The world is changing so fast, and we’re creating huge divides that I fear could undermine us in the future. Nationalism is on the rise and the consequences of war are grave. Care for the environment could suffer as a result of shorter term focuses elsewhere. I worry that we have created huge problems for our children – but I have every confidence that the next generation is up to the challenge of rebuilding and creating a peaceful world where everyone can flourish.
Are you still looking forward to new career challenges or does retirement seem an attractive option?
“I’m still very much enjoying everything I’m doing. In fact, in many ways I consider what we’re doing at Snoop to be the challenge of my life. I can’t imagine retiring. What would I do?!”
Do you have favourite parts of Norfolk?
“Holkham for the beach. Aylsham for the memories. Norwich for Snoop.”