Brett Shanley, the Founder and CEO of “knowledge marketplace” Knoma, a fintech start-up operating in the education finance sector.
After attending Cambridge University Brett started his career in investment banking, working at Nomura Investment Bank on the equity trading floor. He later moved to Australia and started is first education finance company, before moving back to the UK to do the same here with Knoma.
The company aims to encourage and democratise lifelong learning by enabling individuals to spread the cost of tuition or course fees over a 12-month period with no fees or interest. With an exciting trajectory for growth, Knoma is already disrupting the edtech industry and is committed to becoming the leading learning payment solution provider both UK and worldwide.
You were originally a stockbroker Brett. Why did you leave such a lucrative career and how did it come about to start a company like Knoma?
After graduating from university I decided to pursue a career in investment banking and was able to land myself a job at Nomura Investment Bank, buying and selling stocks on the equity trading floor. I love a challenge but the pressure to perform 100% of the time was intense, and to be honest, I didn’t feel fulfilled.
If you don’t have passion for what you do, then you might as well move on and do something different. In my case I decided to move to Australia and try something new… start my own business. I was fortunate in that I had the money to change my life completely. For others looking for work or stuck in a dead-end job that can be tough to do.
After the Australia government announced £1.6 billion in cuts to its high education budget, I created ZeeFi, the precursor to Knoma in 2016. It was designed to fill the gap left by the government’s policies by independently providing alternative and supplementary funding sources.
Although the business charged reasonable levels of interest, I wanted to come up with a product that was easier to access and completely free of charge for the end-user. I saw my chance when open banking began taking off in the UK, so I made my return and launched Knoma after securing more than £21 million in investment.
Knoma offers a finance solution and marketplace for lifelong learning. What does that mean in practice?
Our mission is to tackle the digital skills gap as the global economy shifts into the fourth industrial revolution. The world is changing faster than ever. New technology is creating new industries, changing existing ones and transforming the way things are made. The UK needs a more agile approach to the funding and education provision.
Therefore we help people looking to future proof their career or move into new areas of work, by reducing the barrier of payment and removing the pain point of sourcing technical courses.
We believe education should be accessed in a short, but frequent manner; at a lower price point with a focus on skills and education that meet the demands of modern industry e.g. technical, digital and data skill sets.
Our customers can find a suitable course from over 120 education providers and can spread the cost of it over twelve months without being charged interest or fees. Knoma receives a small payment directly from the provider for filling empty places and taking all payment risk. To date its been well received and working brilliantly.
How much demand is Knoma seeing for its services and who is utilising them?
We’ve grown immensely over the last two years. Initially we started out with just two education partners but now work with over 120 and have approved over £3M in loans. The average of men and women using our services are 34 and 35 respectively. In terms of uptake our most popular courses are within tech and digital, including cyber security, software engineering; business and leadership; and finance and accounting
Do you think the government is taking the digital skills gap seriously or does a lot more need to be done?
The tech industry is expanding more than two and half times faster than the rest of the British economy, so the government is well aware of the need to address the digital skills gap and create the right conditions for it to thrive. Last month it unveiled the Digital Skills Council which seeks to encourage investment in employer-led training. It also released its UK Digital Strategy which aims to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a technology business.
Next year the government plans to open up access to digital and tech skills training and advice across the UK and improve regional support networks for start-ups and scaling companies. This is to be applauded but really should have been underway years ago.
What does the future hold for Knoma? Is there any direction you wish to take the business?
Scaling is especially important, and we’re very much focussed on continuing to partner with respected education providers whose courses offer our customers the very best career and salary opportunities. Education is valued all over the world and there is not one country that is not touched by the digital skills crisis. Therefore I expect Knoma to have an international presence within the next five years at the very most.
We’re also continuing to invest heavily in our offering because we want to offer our customers a more intelligent financial solution. The open banking data we gather now on the course choices people make and the careers they attain can be used to greatly improve our product offering and also provide advice to those looking to better themselves as to the most suitable course for them or even the best return on their time and energy.