Love yourself — spend happier!
In this interview Anna Freeman, founder and CEO of ZavFit, explains to Pedro, Head of Ecosystem of Vesuvio Labs, why a healthy money mindset is a crucial dimension of personal wellbeing and is consistently overlooked as an issue by the health and finance sectors.
Research shows that in the UK alone, over 26 million people are feeling stressed right now because of their finances.
Recognising Anna’s mission to make the world a happier place by eliminating money stress, Pedro began by asking why it’s time to think differently about money and how ZavFit came about?
Anna replied “I’ve been passionate about health, fitness and well-being from a very young age, and I grew up absorbed in sports, competing at national levels. So, back during a challenging personal time, I asked myself what were the things that make me feel good. I realised fitness had been a huge part of my life. By finding a new sport to master, I rekindled a focus that made me feel happy and positive again. I never gave up sport.”
Anna added, “I had worked in the City for several years where it is all about using money to make money, so it can be a tough stressful place… A lot of “unwinding” after work involves pubs, and the habit can have a damaging effect on our health and finances. I began to realise that an important component of personal happiness is being free of the stress, guilt and anxiety we feel about money. Perhaps spending less on pubs and more on sport or other enjoyable activities can make us feel better”.
“Was that a light bulb moment then Anna?” asked Pedro. “Well, I guess it really developed looking at all our spending and social habits and how for me sport made me happier. These came together and sparked a real desire to change our attitudes towards money and the way we handle stress and financial anxiety. I wanted to provide an alternative, healthier, outlet for the wellness of people”. Anna went on to say “remember Pedro, things started to accelerate and change around Tech in 2019. The wellness industry has grown exponentially since then and I sought to be not only at its leading edge, but to focus on this new and neglected area of MoneyFitness”.
Anna reflected that, although most of us know about mental and physical health, it wasn’t until the pandemic struck and people faced the 18 months + reality of lockdown, they realised poor mental health could affect everyone, including themselves. “Going forward” said Anna, “there was a massive opportunity in the wellness world for a health app for money — ZavFit, because businesses, being people businesses, rely on the physical and mental wellbeing of their staff, pandemic or not.”
Pedro asked if gyms helped? “Yes, there’re plenty of amazing gyms around but they were closed, or people found it hard to get to them, so if gyms didn’t have a digital offering, they really struck” explained Anna, who went on to add, “the industry had to gear up digitally very quickly and we saw, for example, Lululemon’s acquisition of the home fitness live-screen business Mirror, but this was really about traditional exercise and workouts”.
Pedro then asked Anna about how the influence of the pandemic has heightened levels of money stress. “The pandemic changed all our behaviours around spending money that were previously normal and frequently driven by societal norms. In the history of time this had never occurred; instantly the lockdown happened, and our spending patterns and money habits alters. Even the way we could no longer use cash transformed our lifestyle, and we have now entered a new normal.” Building on this Anna stated, “At ZavFit we realised that money had never been seen as part of wellbeing. Our lifestyle, the way we spend and what we choose to spend on, can help us feel content or guilty; provide fitness or do damage; stimulate our happiness or create anxiety. That’s why ZavFit, which is all about a personalised MoneyFitness programme for each user, tracks how money is spent, alongside a four-week education plan”. In addition, ZavFit provides us with realistic possibilities going forward for our health and well-being and the correlation to the way we feel”.
“Reducing and preventing financial stress tends to make us happier of course”, said Anna. “Looking after our budgets, managing debt, changing the way we think about some of the negative emotions, even guilt that surrounds money, is a proactive process sometimes neglected. Let’s remember that excessive saving or perhaps failing to reward ourselves from time to time is as unhealthy as overindulging on online shopping! The pandemic wrought havoc upon our social lives; families couldn’t get together, especially if they were overseas, so buying a travel ticket or going to a social event might now be very good for our health. We need to improve those areas of our well-being that are suffering.”
Anna gave the example of a regular weekly spending on a Friday night “big-unwind” which many consider a social norm, but which adds to their health or financial problems. If they thought instead about spending it on a personal trainer, or a stimulating hobby, they mistakenly might feel that these are luxuries they can’t afford! Anna explained, “so it’s not a case of saving is good, spending is bad, or that investments and pensions are unimportant, far from it but we need our own individual balance of each. It’s not about how much money we have got, but how smart are we using it.
ZavFit created an app founded on good data and user feedback, analysing spending patterns and utilising the specialist expertise found in behavioural science. The app helps people look at the gaps and traps in their spending; where they want to improve and examine what’s bothering them. It asks the question, what’s your wellbeing points to the pound (£). “This data and the work of our behavioural psychologists help us to get to grips with what holistic health well-being really is, how to use our defined financial resources to feel better about ourselves”, added Anna.
Pedro then turned to the matter of the strategic partnerships that ZavFit has identified to raise interest and awareness of these issues and who these are. “Most importantly health partners”, Anna replied, “organisations that provide health and well-being solutions to their own customers or employees, including insurance or employee benefits companies, our potential partners might even be a gym or a sports brand! In short, we look to associate with companies that distribute health-based solutions. Those are the sort of companies we are working with creatively. We also see it as a potential enterprise partner willing to add value to its package proposition. Financial planning and specialist insurance business Lloyd & Whyte, is amongst the first to be taking part in its beta launch. Lloyd & Whyte through their Wellbeing Matters website offers an extensive line-up of wellbeing content and shares ZavFit’s passion to tackle a very real societal problem in a truly different and innovative way. Robert Lynch, Director of Wellbeing Matters at Lloyd & Whyte says:
“Working with ZavFit is giving our people a new and innovative way to
think about their relationship with money, reduce the stress it can cause and ultimately use it to make them healthier.”
ZavFit’s final route to market is social impact groups that signpost people to money health and the relief of stress, such as a mental health organisation or a purposeful charity.”
Referring to the ZavFit website, which Pedro found very interesting and insightful, he highlighted the emotions such as confusion, shame and regret we sometimes identify with things we buy for ourselves. He asked Anna if MoneyFitness was about making sense and being aware of our spending habits, to have good mental health and to control our emotions.
“It’s about shifting the way we think” Anna replied, “what needs to change are our preconceptions about money. Although it’s not something we talk about, we are all putting out a persona that we want others to see and even to believe ourselves. We attempt to control how much money we appear to have because we think it is a paradigm of outward success. One of our coaches in ZavFit is a leading UK therapist for CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which is an effective approach towards examining preconceptions, false perspectives, and emotional responses. Of course, if our basic needs are not met then we are unhappy” Anna said, “but the answer to the old question, does money buy you happiness is NO, the most you may get is to be unhappy in comfort and that’s just not the same is it?”
Anna described the difficulty we all face in understanding how spending triggers our ingrained emotions unless we have carefully examined them using psychology-based regimes such as ZavFit. Anna was impressed by Jeff Bezos’ shareholder letter on leaving Amazon, when he considered the true meaning of “value” and the importance of creating more of it than we consume. How he thought of value as a personal asset linked to happiness and why people wrongly think that the act of spending money will in itself make them feel good. Anna said, “ZavFit is a tool that helps you analyse how you use money as a value, both as an asset and an emotional trigger. One of my former colleagues told me how every day in London, he was spending money on coffees, snacks and didn’t think about how it added up because it became an unquestioned habit. He finally realised how he could have spent that money, for example, on some new sports equipment for exercise or learn to play an instrument to make him feel good; perhaps going to a music concert to be emotionally inspired.” Anna asked, “Did you know Pedro, they did a study about the difference in happiness between buying yourself a coffee or buying it for someone else. Of course, the act of spending that got the greatest feeling of happiness was buying the coffee for someone else! Psychologists at ZavFit say this is to do with the bodies serotonin levels induced by the act of giving to others, or on issues and causes such as charities that we really care about”.
“But there are obviously exceptions; buying yourself coffee every day may be the only time where you can have a chat and interact with someone.”
Pedro wondered if ZavFit also helped to raise peoples’ awareness “outside the box”. “Absolutely”, Anna replied emphatically, “often people just don’t understand the things they really like to do. Maybe they have an astonishing ambition in the back of their head. “I have one last question”, said Pedro. “I can feel that ZavFit is a very special place to work with its unique approach and people so what does it take to join the culture?” “I am a people person said Anna, that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning and it’s just the same for everyone else on the team. Our shared value is our mission to help solve this global issue of money happiness. Our culture is to value and trust all those people with whom we work. That includes investors in the business, or others that help us like the Vesuvio Labs, for us to go forward together with enthusiasm. We have an overarching commitment to fight Money as the leading cause of mental health.”
Pedro concluded the interview by thanking Anna for her time and her open exchange of views about this most important and innovative MoneyFitness concept, a term coined by the brand to recognise that worrying about money is the #1 cause of stress globally.
Excessive stress can contribute to unhappiness, anxiety, trouble sleeping and often causes chronic physical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses. Money is a top cause of stress and poor mental health around the world.
ZavFit is a HealthTech start-up and the “go-to” app to combat money stress. ZavFit’s mission is to make the world a happier, healthier place by addressing the guilt and anxiety that many of us feel about money matters. Its radical approach is getting noticed and has been called a game changer by the health industry and other pioneers in the wellbeing space. ZavFit’s team of behavioural scientists, psychologists, artificial intelligence experts and neuroscientists provide personal understanding of mindset to guide the use of money in a way that brings greater happiness and health.
Anna Freeman, founder & CEO of ZavFit, was born and brought up near London. Being both sporty and musical, her passion for fitness and wellbeing started very young. Later, as a teenager she represented England in Table Tennis and for many years was also a lead singer in a gospel choir. In her thirties she took up competitive boxing.
Having been awarded a BSc from UCL, in Technology & Management, Anna enjoyed a successful City career in the FinTech space, where she worked with start-ups, including a role within the founding leadership team at Calastone now the largest global funds network, connecting the world’s leading financial organisations.
Anna’s passion to make a positive impact on our well-being led to the creation of ZavFit in 2017. It was the first company to identify and specifically address, money stress as a fundamental component of personal fitness and mental health, which is consistently overlooked by both the health and finance sectors. ZavFit built the first digital tool for achieving a money lifestyle to focus on improving personal health and happiness.
Anna moved to Edinburgh in 2015 and now lives there with her family.
Email hello@ZavFit.com to hear more about this innovative app to support employee financial well-being and mental health.
Vesuvio Labs is a Venture builder based in London for the Insurance and Finance sector, helping entrepreneurs by accelerating the process of turning their ideas into scalable products. ZavFit app is one of those success stories.
In addition, we can connect entrepreneurs with investors, tax & legal advisors and to the wider tech ecosystem.
We would like to thank adviser Graham Ripley for his important contribution to this article.