will.i.am

Will.i.am explained last night to a room of perspiring journalists at a sweltering London location why he decided to become an advisor to UK FinTech firm Atom Bank.

The Black Eyed Peas musician, TV talent show judge and entrepreneur became the rather unlikely strategic advisor to Atom back in April to “provide the Durham-based bank with an external perspective on culture, philanthropy and technology”.

He explained last night that when he signed a record deal at the age of 20, he decided to save his first cheque, rather than spend it. However, the young star wasn’t aware of the concept of a savings account, so he placed the cheque, and subsequent cheques, in the glove compartment of his car.

“When you are in the projects you don’t know about bank accounts – there are just cheque cashing stores in the ghetto. People in the hood, they live check to check … I have learnt about saving money the hard way,” he said.

Will went on to say he saw an opportunity to work with Atom Bank to educate young people who are growing up in similar circumstances to himself.

“[I want] to make it easier for them,” he explained.

The 42-year-old said philanthropy has become a core part of his life and he focuses on giving back to the community, not only in the form of promoting financial literacy, but also in “instilling tomorrow’s skill sets today”.

He went on to say young people are starting to think about banking differently – they do everything from their phones, so there’s a real opportunity for new technology-focused banks to gain some traction. “It’s the right time for Atom Bank,” he concluded.

Anthony Thomson, founder and chairman of Atom Bank, said the idea of contacting Will to get him involved with the company in some shape or form came when he was sat one sunny afternoon with a glass of wine. “I was thinking ‘if Atom were a person, who would it be?’”

He said the person would clearly have “a great understanding of millennials, a great understanding of social media … someone with a real understanding of technology and someone who was entrepreneurial in their nature”.

“Will.i.am sprang to mind,” he added. “The more I thought about it the more I thought he embodied all of those qualities.”

The two parties made contact and the rest, as they say, is history.

Atom Bank, which was founded in March 2014, currently offers savings accounts and mortgages, and is looking to offer current accounts in the future.

It’s one of a handful of ‘challenger banks’ that have broken into the financial services space in recent years, joined by the likes of Monzo and Starling Bank.

Atom, however, is the example with the most funding, having raised £190m in three rounds from six investors including Spanish banking group BBVA. Earlier this month, the firm received a further £30m in debt financing. In contrast, Monzo and Starling Bank have, to date, raised £34.7m and $70m (£55.3m) respectively.

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