Educator-turned-entrepreneur Andrew Toward is chief operating officer and co-founder of Edfundo, a FinTech and education technology start-up designed to foster financial literacy in children aged eight to 18.
Going live next month, it includes a smart money management app, a “learning lab” and a pre-paid debit card to help parents monitor spending habits and nurture a saving attitude.
Mr Toward, 38, is a former international athlete who was a Great Britain track and field runner alongside Olympic medallist Mo Farah before switching to teaching.
The father of two also launched the UAE’s Youth Football League and worked at Dubai Rashid School for Boys, alongside Edfundo co-founder and fellow father Simon Wing, until the school closed for renovation.
Mr Toward lives in Dubai’s Mira community with his wife, who is a teacher, and their sons, aged three and six.
How did your upbringing influence your money outlook?
I grew up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in north-east England. Life was good, very morally led. My father is a delivery driver for John Lewis and my mother works at the Inland Revenue. They worked hard to ensure that my sister and I didn’t miss out.
However, everything I received was earned and I was made to understand that was a privilege, not an expectation.
I entered the world of sport because of the driven mentality to succeed, led by my parents, to work hard, to not take life for granted and to try to work towards achieving whatever you can.
Did you work while you were at school?
From an early age, my mother and father always said that you work for your money to be able to understand its value. They worked on a “must needs” rather than “wants” basis. At the time, they didn’t have a lot of disposable income and when I first started [training], they said: “You have to earn your money to get public transport.”
They essentially sent me out to put my athletics to work … I got a paper round that paid £5 (Dh25). Their mentality was “you work harder, you earn more – you earn more, you get more privileges and more to life, depending on what opportunities you take advantage of”.
They were trying to build into my DNA that if you have a skill, you utilise that to the best of your ability.
When I went to university, my parents didn’t have the surplus cash to pay for my rent and tuition. I got a job in a sports shop, earning very little, about £700 a month, but I used that as a training opportunity; I used to run to work [and back]. It covered what I needed and set me on a journey of wanting to do better.
Why switch from athletics to education?
I reached a good level. I was an international athlete, but life catches up and reality kicks in; you have to pay bills and can’t always live that full-time athlete lifestyle.
You enter the world of work. Teaching was my passion, I wanted to give back to students what I was given. So, around 2007, I hung up my trainers and became a teaching assistant and then went on to my PGCE [postgraduate certificate in education].
I worked four or five years in London schools and decided to come to Dubai. My wife and I had zero assets in the UK and wanted to move as an opportunity to accelerate our future in terms of buying a house, starting a family and saving money.
What is your spending and saving strategy?
What’s important is to determine the needs and the wants and now I’ve got children, to try to instil that when walking through the mall surrounded by beautifully placed toys.
I have a spend, save and investment mentality, so spend within my means and save for emergencies. I try to invest into things like exchange-traded funds and make that money work for me. I’m happy with the safe option.
The golden egg is property. I don’t have any at the moment, but my ultimate goal is to buy in Newcastle and in the south of England, where I would probably base myself if I returned.
The second part is always making sure your children are provided for, their education … you can miss out the flashy cars, the expensive meals and nights out.
Do you have any cherished purchases?
Those initial air tickets to Dubai. We’d never been, we weren’t really knowing what we were rolling into.
But looking back in terms of the past 11 years, the two of us arriving in Dubai with a suitcase each to now with two children, opening Edfundo, and friends and family that we’ve met …
How did Edfundo originate?
My colleague and I were chatting about education and our children – his are slightly older – personal experiences with family and came to the conclusion that, essentially, schools weren’t doing enough to prepare children for their financial futures.
We came to the idea that we need to begin teaching financial literacy to best prepare them for not only accessing the digital economy, but to also provide an experience that will potentially help them for their financial future.
Covid-19 only sped that up because the economy is going digital and we’re dealing with digital natives.
What underpins Edfundo is the educational elements and the payments aspect of the platform, giving them access to the digital economy and actively participating in real-life applications.
Our ethos is learning through doing. Edfundo will offer children the independence they need, but also give parents the opportunity to have oversight on what that journey looks like.
We want to create an environment where children have good money habits and become smart money managers. You have to spend to survive, but it is proportionate spending against being smart with your remaining balance that can potentially make it work for you.
What financial advice would you give your younger self?
The money went out quicker than it came in because of the wants of being a child. If I was to give advice to my former self, it would be to spend within your means.
I wish I’d educated myself or been educated about the importance of financial literacy and investing and saving from an early age. Now, I lead a more balanced lifestyle where the majority of my spending is based on needs rather than wants.
What are your key financial milestones?
To be able to live a comfortable, safe lifestyle in Dubai and, from a business perspective, to raise the seed round capital for Edfundo ($1.5 million), which will then open doors from a personal level; a successful journey will pave the way to that end goal of properties in the UK.
Edfundo has been the best investment I’ve undertaken. The fruits of that investment I have yet to see, but the journey so far has been a successful one.
I’ve really enjoyed investing my own time and money, [although] we’re not taking a salary because money is going into the production aspect and the operational situation.
How does money make you feel?
My initial philosophy is money equals opportunity. It helps to make you happy, but it’s not the driving force of happiness.
It depends on how you take the opportunities, which will ultimately result in unhappiness or happiness.
We have savings, let’s take the opportunity to generate that into something different … a calculated risk.
What are you happiest spending money on?
I enjoy socialising. It’s important spending time with people, going for dinner. I enjoy staycations, rest and recuperation time with family, and having a work-life balance. Spending is not always negative.
What are your future financial goals?
We have plans to exit long term, by acquisition or potential initial public offering, depending on how we progress.
I always said I wanted to be a wealthy man by the age of 40; wealthy to me is being self-sufficient, not having to go hand-to-mouth from month to month, enjoying the luxuries of life, whatever those luxuries may be.
Not to retire but to go more into the investment world, look at creating a fund off the back of businesses I am running to invest further into the start-up phases of companies, take them through the journey I’ve been through and to potentially then recoup some returns on those investments.