Jo Evershed is an economist turned psychologist with a love for applied maths education. She created IndexMatch to bring data analysis skills and evidence informed decisions out of the specialist realm of corporate finance and into a wider range of businesses and social enterprises.
What is it with you and numbers, Jo? How did that love story start?
I've always loved numbers, because I think they tell stories. As a child, in Brussels, we'd go to the local baker, count how many baguettes and croissants he had, try to work out how many ovens that would require, and how many customers he sold croissants to. I liked working out that the food he sold brought not only my family together, but other families too.
You see, having the right number of ovens is important. Too few, and you bring less joy to your community. Too many, and the cost to your community is too expensive. The right calculation allows you to bring the most joy for the lowest cost. For whatever reason, this appealed to me!
What did that make you campaign for these days?
We would like to be instrumental in bringing about a financially and mathematically literate world. Many of the challenges we face as a community unfortunately come down to decisions about the cost and the benefit. Should we save the NHS? Should we invest in renewable energy? Should we scrap the congestion charge?
To ensure our politicians make the right decisions, we need mathematically and financially literate citizens to shape debate, and therefore policy. The quality of public debate is shockingly low, because our journalists assume that the public are not interested in the detail. This creates a vacuum that can be filled with political spin. And the consequences? The decisions are made behind closed doors, and the public doesn't understand the tough choices and trade-offs that are being made.
Financial and mathematical literacy would transform the debate. There are many uncomfortable truths facing our generation about the cost of living, the cost of retirement, cost of welfare and benefits, and the cost of public service. Until the electorate is prepared to engage in the detail of how to fund the services that we expect, our government won’t have a mandate to take the action that is needed.
You told me that excel sheets can be as powerful as stories, how does this work?
Yes, I did! A well-structured Excel work book should follow a narrative, and lead to a decision. Most of us are taught how to write well, we know we should write an introduction, how to structure paragraphs and how to make a conclusion based on the evidence presented. We also know to write in short, comprehensible sentences and to eschew obfuscation! The same ‘rules of written arguments’ apply to numeric argument.
Apply these numerical arguments to Excel and you can develop a dynamic modelling environment; you can build models that allow the user to play with the assumptions and see what impact that has on the decision. It’s that powerful.
But, finance is not just for business, it’s also relevant at a personal level. A friend of mine is a theatre director, and her husband is a composer – she asked me to build a model of their projected incomes and liabilities, with Excel switches to account for children, childcare, pensions, investments. It sounds unromantic, but I actually think it is a mark of genuine commitment to understand what “For richer, for poorer” actually means, and still mean it.
What did you understand when people wishing to get a job in the city as analysts had put themselves on to a training such as "get this dream job in the city" actually realised they couldn't get on with the job - or worse couldn't even get it...
Graduates leave university with exceptional research and essay writing skills. Some leave university with excellent mathematical or statistical skills. But they aren’t used to using basic software (Excel) to answer analytical questions. It’s not that it’s difficult; it’s just that they haven’t done it before.
The current job market demands that graduates pass modelling tests. They are given an hour to answer an analytical questions using Excel. Fresh graduates, those that haven’t learnt any financial modelling, don’t have a chance. They understand the questions, they know how to go about answering it, but they don’t have the skill set to do it.
This is why we created the IndexMatch ‘Modelling Fundamentals’ course. It covers the flexible and dynamic techniques required to value an asset or company, and then run sensitivities on that decision. For instance, if growth rates are lower than expected, should we still buy the asset? If the costs are higher, do we still make enough return?
In just 8 hours, our students learn to use Excel in a completely different way. With a bit of practice, they can then ace modelling tests and when they start their new job, they also bring impressive technical skills that can transform business analytics.
The IndexMatch curriculum gave me confidence not only in my Excel skills, but also my ability to tackle analytical problems in a structured manner. The modelling techniques taught in the course were easy to learn and relevant to many modern industries. I entered my first interview assured that I had the necessary skills to generate value, and I really think IndexMatch helped me achieve that. I secured the job and am now employed by a management consultancy firm in London. Jason Chow
The ‘Modelling Fundamentals’ is just one of 15 courses in the IndexMatch ‘Training Tree’ – we like to think that money really does grow on our trees!
What's kind of training should people focus on if they are a one man band company or with only 1 or 2 business partners as opposed to someone working for a large organisation?
If you are a small company, you probably don’t need complex projection models. What you need is an easier way to do the things you already have to do, and if by chance this also provides you with some business insight then that’s great.
Our productivity and communication courses show you how to use Excel in a reliable and flexible way that will save you time. We show you a whole new way of thinking about Excel. To use a painting analogy; where other courses tell you about colour, we show you how to create art. To use a cooking analogy: where other courses tell you about boiling, we show you how to create a dinner party. To use a writing analogy, where other courses tell you about words, we show you how to create persuasive arguments.
One of the really powerful examples we show is how to turn a simple list of all your income and expenses into the income and expenses by category and by months with just one formula! Essentially, it reformats your data into financial accounts. No more laboriously putting costs and expenses in different columns, or manually working out which month they should be in.
Too many entrepreneurs are struggling with cashflow management problems. Simple data analysis can provide tremendous insight to this challenge. Knowing that you have enough money to meet your current and future commitments takes the worry away, and allows you to get on with the important job of running and growing your business.What about more advanced entreptreneurs?
For entrepreneurs that want to raise venture capital our ‘Modelling Fundamentals’ course teaches the techniques needed to build a projection model of where your business could be in 5-10 years. In building a model like this you sometimes end up with interesting insights: I worked with a company that realised they needed to grow faster than Facebook to meet their targets. That’s a stretch! However, this company does now have a target number of new users to reach each month, and they can compare their actual growth against it. Ambitious but realistic targets focus business decisions.
We believe combining business data with business instinct transforms business strategies, thereby increasing profits, and improving services.
Women social entrepreneurs on our incubator have all realised they needed to be more financially literate. What would be your top 3 tips to manage the learning journey to the best of your ability - and not give up under way?
There are some really important things to know about finance.
1. Take control of your cash flow.
You just need more coming in than going out. At the very least, this will allow you to accurately forecast and provision for your tax liabilities so that you can pay the tax man!
2. Finance is a lot easier than you think.
As long as you know that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, finance operates exactly as you would expect. If it doesn’t look equal and opposite, then it is risk that is changing hands.
3. Venture Capital is not a silver bullet and is not for everyone. (Particularly valid for social entrepreneurs)
Investors seek companies that will take huge risks knowing that most will fail and a few will succeed and just one’s success will be stratospheric. In contrast, owners are more interested in slower growth and long term success. These two growth strategies are not compatible.
We teach quite differently to most people in our industry, because part of our research is into evidence-tested approaches to maths education. We specialise in understanding abstract cognition and how to facilitate its development. As a result, our lessons are practical and easy to understand. Once you’ve mastered the techniques, we teach you to apply them to business problems.
It’s genuinely fun!
The course was very relevant; it used examples that I use every day and expanded on them. Too many courses do not know how Excel applies to the subject material! Thanks again for making Excel modelling fun and exciting (hard to do given the subject matter!), relevant and very useful! – Max Pollock, InvestecConnect with Jo at IndexMatch